Nicola Sturgeon led tributes to George “Doddie” Weir last night after the rugby legend died at 52.
His acclaimed sporting career made him a hero among Scotland fans but his final years were even more inspirational as he raised almost £10m for research into Motor Neurone Disease after being diagnosed with the devastating condition six years ago.
The first minister joined his family, friends and fans in paying tribute last night, saying: “Doddie was one of our nation’s sporting legends, but the brave way he responded to MND surpassed anything ever achieved on the rugby pitch. He refused to let it dim his spirit and did so much to help others.”
Two weeks ago, the former Scotland and British & Irish Lions international was given a hero’s welcome by 67,000 fans at Edinburgh’s Murrayfield Stadium, when he delivered the match ball with his three sons, Hamish, Angus, and Ben, ahead of Scotland’s clash with New Zealand.
The former lock forward, who earned 61 caps for Scotland, represented the British and Irish Lions on their successful tour to South Africa in 1997, and won championships with club sides Melrose and Newcastle Falcons. He was given an OBE in 2019 for services to rugby, to MND research and to the Borders community, where he lived on his family’s farm.
Wife Kathy said: “Doddie was an inspirational force of nature.
“His unending energy and drive, and his strength of character powered him through his rugby and business careers and, we believe, enabled him to fight the effects of MND for so many years.
“Doddie put the same energy and even more love and fun into our lives together, he was a true family man. Whether working together on the farm, on holiday, or celebrating occasions with wider family and friends, Doddie was always in the thick of it.
“We are lucky to have shared our lives with him and we cherish all those memories, his love and warmth, his support and advice, his quick wit, and his terrible jokes. It is difficult to put into words how much we will miss him.
“MND took so much from Doddie but never his spirit and determination. He battled MND so bravely and whilst his own battle may be over, his fight continues through his foundation until a cure is found for all those with this devastating disease.”
Former Scotland captain Gavin Hastings called his friend a “giant amongst big men”, adding: “You have never complained, never felt sorry for yourself but have sought to make the world a more comfortable place for those who come after you.”
The British and Irish Lions said: “We’re devastated to hear of the passing of Doddie. A Scotland legend, his determination to raise awareness and help find a cure for MND epitomised his personality.”
The Six Nations said: “A truly sad day for rugby with the passing of one of the game’s most-loved characters.
“The reception he recently received at Murrayfield spoke volumes about his standing in the game and in the fans’ hearts.”
World Rugby described him as a popular and inspiring figure with an incredible legacy.
The website for his My Name’5 Doddie Foundation was changed last night to show pictures of Doddie wearing his signature colourful tartan suit and in a Scotland rugby shirt running with the ball.
Foundation CEO Jill Douglas said: “Doddie enjoyed a full life full of fun and love. And it was this approach to life which shone through in his determination to make a difference and help others when he was diagnosed with motor neuron disease.
“He inspired us every day with his positivity and energy and was fully committed to the work of the foundation he launched with his close friends in November 2017. My Name’5 Doddie Foundation continues to shine a light on MND and the need to seek meaningful treatments and one day, a cure for this devastating disease.
“The foundation has raised significant funds through the amazing efforts of our incredible supporters and has committed £8 million to MND research over this time. We have also given considerable funds to people living with MND and their families to help them live as fulfilled a life as possible.”
Rachel Maitland, chief executive of charity MND Scotland, said Weir was a huge inspiration, adding: “His bravery in sharing his experience of living with MND helped raise vital awareness across the country and beyond.”
Weir remains the only Scot to have scored two tries against New Zealand, in the quarter final of the 1995 World Cup.
His first Scotland cap came against Argentina in 1990. He was selected for the British and Irish Lions in 1997 but his tour of South Africa was ended prematurely by injury.
The number “5” in the foundation’s name refers to the playing number on his jersey for his clubs and for Scotland.
One of the bravest, funniest and kindest men to grace our game
by David Sole, Former Scotland Captain
The news that every Scottish rugby fan feared but hoped would be postponed as long as possible came through yesterday when it was announced that Doddie Weir had finally succumbed to MND.
The whole rugby world will be mourning one of the bravest, funniest and kindest men to ever grace the game for some time to come.
Doddie was a man who had time for everyone and after a few minutes in his company, the world suddenly would look better, whatever the circumstances. Looking down on you from 6ft 7inches, his quick wit and razor-sharp sense of humour was just a joy.
He won his first cap in 1990, having toured New Zealand with Scotland as a 19-year-old. That was a tough tour, but one of only three in the history of New Zealand rugby where the touring side was undefeated in the games outside of the test matches.
Doddie had a few handy men around him in the midweek side, but it was clear to see very early on that the Melrose man would have a long career in the Scottish jersey.
Doddie was a great raconteur and storyteller – and more often than not, the stories would revolve around some of his own antics – many of which should rightly remain privy to those involved rather than shared too widely. He was a man who loved life and even when things weren’t going well, he could be relied upon to be the one to lift everyone’s spirits.
This resilience and love of life shone through in his own, darkest circumstances. Diagnosed with MND in 2016, he started and led a campaign to raise money to find a cure for the most horrible of conditions.
He did so with such courage in the face of his own adversity and inspired so many to rally to his cause, there can be no doubt that this will be his most important legacy.
The moniker of “legend” is far too widely used in my view – but in Doddie’s case, there is no better way to describe the man who will be very sadly missed.
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