Doddie Weir OBE
Scotland and British & Irish Lions legend Doddie Weir OBE died today (26 November); he was 52.
The 61-cap internationalist passed away at his Borders home with his family by his side as his extraordinary battle against Motor Neurone Disease came to a close.
Doddie’s colourful and positive character won the hearts of fans on and off the pitch whether it be for his athletic and eye-catching performances in the Dark Blue of Scotland or for the inspirational response to his MND diagnosis.
Rugby and family were at the centre of Doddie’s life and having attended Stewart’s Melville School in Edinburgh his sporting ability saw him eventually turn for the school’s own club side before moving on to Melrose as a young lock in 1991.
He had previously been invited to tour New Zealand with a Scottish Schools side in 1988 and went on to win a sole Scotland B cap against Ireland in 1989.
Doddie went on to win 61 full Scotland caps having made his debut in 1990 against Argentina in a resounding 49-3 victory, in the first test match between the two sides.
In his book, Weir said: “I knew I was in with a shout of playing against them and when Damian Cronin was injured, I was drafted in for my first cap.”
His form for Scotland and Newcastle saw him selected to the British & Irish Lions touring party to South Africa in 1997, which was immortalised in the ‘Living with the Lions’ series and brought Doddie’s character and famous humour to a wider rugby audience.
It wasn’t all laughs though playing in a midweek fixture in a heated clash against Mpumalanga, Weir had his knee stamped on by lock Marius Bosman, and ultimately ruled him out of the rest of the tour of South Africa.
His tour was over with the moment Lions and Scotland Team Doctor James Robson broke the disappointing news captured by the cameras.
Doddie took his own form of revenge by naming his household boot-scraper after the South African who regularly got the worst of Doddie’s farmyard for its troubles.
His international career spanned 10-years and saw him score 19 points before his final appearance for Scotland in 2000 against France.
He was part of the generation that crossed from the amateur era to the first forays of professional rugby, which saw him join an ambitious and ultimately successful Newcastle Falcons side, with his close friend and fellow Borderer Gary Armstrong, that secured the English Premiership title in 1997/98.
He was also part of the victorious side that won the 2001 Anglo-Welsh Cup, beating Harlequins 30 – 27 at Twickenham.
As a player he moved back to Scotland to join the newly reformed Borders team in 2002 where he remained until his retirement from professional rugby in 2004.
After hanging up his boots his experiences and exuberant character remained in demand and perfectly fitted the after-dinner and hospitality circuit where his trademark tartan suits and quick wit extended the affection fans felt for him. He worked regularly on matchdays at Murrayfield and was renowned for his mischief and legendary tall stories.
It was only fitting then that when Doddie received the life changing MND diagnosis the launch of his new Foundation came at the home of Scottish Rugby in November 2017.
In a now iconic moment in the Edinburgh stadium’s history Doddie, accompanied by his three sons, Hamish, Ben and Angus delivered the match ball ahead of Scotland’s game against the All Blacks to a rapturous ovation from the capacity crowd.
His fight with MND was now public and the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation launched officially that night would be the focus and the inspiration for the next five years.
His connection with the public, who he had thrilled and entertained throughout his career, was now fully engaged, everyone knew what was at stake and they dug deep.
The combination of his own battle with MND and the positive, headlong drive he launched to both raise funding to increased research into MND and public awareness of living with the condition generated a wave of public support rarely matched in recent times.
Friends, teammates and complete strangers were inspired and activated to raise money in his name, from schoolchildren to Scotland Captains people gave their time, their energy and their money to support a cause which was sobering and essential.
By putting his name to the campaign Doddie was able to access support on a global scale for his drive to ensure MND research was properly funded and the challenge of living with the condition understood and respected.
His efforts did not go unnoticed and the former lock was given an OBE in 2019 for services to rugby, MND research and to the wider Borders community.
Scottish Rugby commissioned the Doddie Weir Cup in 2018 to raise awareness of his work and recognise his contribution to the game, which is now contested between Scotland and Wales each time the teams play.
In 2020, Doddie was inducted into the Scottish Rugby’s Hall of Fame. As the 27th inductee, his humorous personality was evident, “This means so much to me,” Doddie said. “And it’s great that there are four Melrose men in the Hall of Fame and only two from Gala!”
It was only two weeks ago Doddie was back at BT Murrayfield, again with his sons and wife Kathy to present the match ball as Scotland once again took on the All Blacks.
While his physical condition had clearly deteriorated the warmth and love for him from the crowd and society at large was deeper than ever.
He could proudly return with his Foundation having committed £8 million in the intervening years to research projects across the UK. And still he kept pushing, with the annual Doddie Aid challenge only launching again this week as just one of the many innovative and enjoyable ways the public could support his work.
His passing will leave not just a powerful legacy for MND awareness but for the power of kindness and taking on seemingly insurmountable challenges with humour, dignity and innovation.
In their family statement his wife Kathy described Doddie as an “inspirational force of nature”. He certainly was.