Dec 3, 2014 1:23 AM

Thousands gather in hometown for Hughes funeral

The Associated Press

MACKSVILLE, Australia (AP) The funeral for cricketer Phillip Hughes turned into a celebration of his life on Wednesday despite the grief and sorrow still evident from his death.

Australia captain Michael Clarke and the rest of the test squad were joined by former and current players from around the world, and friends and relatives from Hughes' hometown of 2,500 people on the northern coast of New South Wales state, 575 kilometers (350 miles north of Sydney).

Clarke was to be a pallbearer and speaker at the funeral service held at the Macksville Recreation Centre and which opened to the song "Forever Young" by Youth Group.

The service was to be closed by Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," the same song the famous entertainer and avid cricket fan performed at a concert last weekend in Germany in tribute to Hughes.

Hughes died last Thursday, aged 25, after being hit near the ear by a ball during a match at the Sydney Cricket Ground. His 26th birthday would have been Sunday.

In steaming temperatures of nearly 30 Celsius (85F) early arrivals to the service, including Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, fanned themselves with papers. Most of those who wore sports jackets and blazers had taken them off, some with sleeves of their white shirts rolled up to their elbows.

At the front of the hall, near the altar for the Roman Catholic service, was Hughes' oak brown casket. Flowers and cricket bats, one with his test cap on the handle, were nearby.

Leading the service, which included a video tribute, Father Michael Alcock remembered the batsman as a "shining light" and said Hughes had been baptized at nearby St. Patrick's church in 1993.

"In his short time he walked as a child of the light, not in an ostentatious way but in a natural, unassuming and passionate way," the priest said.

Clarke, who has described Hughes as the brother he never had, broke down frequently last weekend at the SCG when he first commented on his close friend's death.

On Wednesday, he took several deep breaths before his began his remarks at the funeral, saying "you can definitely call me a sook right now."

"I don't know about you, but I keep looking for him," Clarke said. "I want to see his face pop up around the corner.

"I can see how he has touched so many people around the world ... so rest in peace my little brother, see you out in the middle."

The funeral was broadcast live around Australia on commercial television stations and on video screens at the Adelaide Oval, where the rescheduled first test with India will start next Tuesday, and the SCG, where a row of 63 bats were propped up against pickets, each with an inscription of a special moment of Hughes' career.

Television footage showed residents of Macksville gathering in a park near the funeral for a telecast. Owners of many shops and businesses shut down to attend the funeral, and schoolchildren were let out of their classes early Wednesday to watch or attend the service.

Among those to send their condolence messages was West Indies great Viv Richards, who posted on Twitter: "My heart goes out to the family, friends & the people of Macksville honouring their favourite son Phillip today. Viv."

Commemoration ceremonies for Hughes were held in Rome, where the Vatican's cricket team held a memorial Mass. Vatican team captain, the Rev. Anthony Currer, presided over the Tuesday evening service at the Venerable English College, a seminary in Rome. He said the team wanted to show its closeness to Hughes' family "bringing his life before God and bring it to our prayer."

Back in Macksville, Hughes' cousin Nino Ramunno spoke at length about Hughes' youth in Macksville as a keen cricketer. One, who, if he lost a toss to determine who bats at the beginning of a match, kept suggesting it would be a best of three, five, or seven, or longer, until he won it.

Ramunno ended his remarks with a saying he said he received from a family friend, in reference to Hughes: "He who lives in the hearts of so many, never dies."


AP Sports Writer Dennis Passa in Brisbane and AP photographer Rick Rycroft in Sydney contributed to this story.


--  Dealing with the Disease of Addiction? Click here for help --

More from

NH1 News Debates
NH1 News Replay

NH1 on Twitter

NH1 SkyView Cameras

NH1 on Facebook

Check out NH1 News Rail Polls on LockerDome on LockerDome