Doddie Weir – a personal tribute
Doddie Weir - A personal tribute by Graham Law, Scottish Rugby’s Head of Stakeholder Engagement.
Obituaries are never easy to write, especially if the individual who has passed away was someone you regarded as a friend.
Someone who brought joy, happiness, huge dollops of mischief – never malicious, always good-natured – and whose spirit refused to bow to the awful physical ravages of motor neurone disease.
Even those who met Doddie Weir fleetingly, were touched by that giant personality and a quiet, steely determination driven by an inestimable zest for life.
So, this tribute won’t follow the formulaic . . . because even now I can hear Doddie chiding me against being maudlin.
Doddie, or George Wilson Weir OBE, to give him his Sunday name, died yesterday aged 52. He lived – and, boy, did he live – for longer than the average appalling fate that awaits those diagnosed with MND.
We should never forget that he was a supremely gifted international rugby player, winning 61 caps for Scotland and touring with the 1997 British and Irish Lions to South Africa in a career that spanned ten years at the top of the game.
He was only 20 when he made his Scotland debut – against Argentina at Murrayfield in 1990.
The following year, when he became an influential member of Scotland’s squad at the home-based Rugby World Cup, I remember writing a profile piece in The Scotsman, where I mused that Doddie, only 21, was already driving a Mercedes Benz.
The fact it was a tractor rather tickled him. Here was a man who never lost touch with his roots.
From his emergence via Stewart’s-Melville College, Scotland age-grade sides and the championship winning Melrose side of the late 80s into the 90s, Doddie and his mum, dad, brothers and sister, were always great company, especially at the most local of local derbies, Gala v Melrose, given family loyalties were split between the clubs.
His late mum, Nanny, was quietly (or maybe not in Nanny’s case!) his biggest fan.
I remember visiting the family farm at Cortleferry just off the lovely straight stretch on the A7 near Stow, and Nanny had a room, packed to the rafters with Doddie’s rugby memorabilia and also a few items from his days in eventing, on board his beloved steed, Arpal Glider.
Doddie’s massive humanity shone incessantly.
Late in 2016, I had a conversation with Doddie about a former Scotland team doctor, the late Jimmy Hay, whose own health was deteriorating markedly. Jimmy had provided a combination of medical and spiritual guidance on the 1993 Scotland XV tour of the South Pacific, Doddie’s kind of tour.
Doddie wanted contact details for Jimmy and thought nothing of rearranging his schedule to “show some love for Dr Hay”.
Since news of Doddie’s MND diagnosis was made public in 2017, his own charity, the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, has raised more than £12 million towards research and in assisting victims of the condition – for which, there remains no cure.
Doddie retained the ability to laugh at himself. With his friend and fellow Scotland (and Newcastle Falcons) icon, scrum-half Gary Armstrong, it would never be any other way.
Gary travelled with Doddie to a big fundraising dinner in Switzerland. Picture Doddie, getting ready to return to Scotland, having convinced some generous corporates to part with hundreds and thousands of Swiss francs.
“Aye,” piped up Gary, “most folk like you that go to Switzerland only get a one-way ticket!”
Doddie loved it. His shoulders would rock, and he’d laugh. MND did not take that away from him.
His charity has also played a pivotal role in convincing the UK government to put £50 million towards MND research.
Even at the fifth anniversary dinner for the Foundation at Prestonfield House Hotel in Edinburgh earlier this month, Jill Douglas, polished broadcaster and CEO of the charity, felt able to mention, however reluctantly, the “L” word, legacy, and pledged the charity would continue.
But even in his final days, Doddie was still, well, just Doddie.
The match-ball delivery, which celebrated the launch of the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation in 2017, at the Scotland v New Zealand game, was a spine-tingling moment.
On email, as we discussed the arrangements for the visit of the All Blacks this year, Doddie was keen to “pass the baton” to his own family, wife Kathy, and sons Hamish, Angus and Ben.
He had made his own charity dinner on the Thursday before the New Zealand game and, in spite, of advice from Kathy, he was determined to head to BT Murrayfield in the early hours of the Sunday morning, to see off Kevin Sinfield, on his latest ultra-marathon run, to raise funds for MND.
Doddie arrived, resplendent in pink trainers in tribute to Sinfield, and later that day, he travelled back to the stadium, to get ready for the next version of the match-ball delivery.
He must have been knackered, but he was determined to be there. On arrival, at the President’s Suite, he ordered, what else, a pint of GUINNESS and his trusty straw was soon at the ready.
Many tears were shed, when Doddie appeared down that BT Murrayfield tunnel for the last time, but the impact of the big, gangly, “mad giraffe” will live on.