Doddie Weir dies, aged 52, after battle with Motor Neurone Disease

Doddie Weir in action for Scotland - Doddie Weir dies, aged 52, after five-year battle with Motor Neurone Disease - Tom Hevezi/Getty Images
Doddie Weir in action for Scotland - Doddie Weir dies, aged 52, after five-year battle with Motor Neurone Disease - Tom Hevezi/Getty Images

Former Scotland legend and Telegraph Sport columnist Doddie Weir OBE has died at the age of 52 after an almost six-year battle with Motor Neurone Disease.

Since his diagnosis in 2016, Weir fought tirelessly for greater research and funding into the neurodegenerative disease, raising millions through his own charity, My Name'5 Doddie Foundation; the '5' a reminder of the former lock's famous Scotland jersey.

Weir's achievements and service have been consecrated over the past few years; Scotland and Wales now compete for the Doddie Weir Cup – including in their Six Nations meetings – while the former lock also has his own entry on the Scottish Register of Tartans.

Over a glittering career which peaked with the 1997 Lions tour to South Africa, Weir won 61 caps for Scotland in the second row and won the Premiership with Newcastle Falcons in 1998. After his time in the North East, Weir moved back to his homeland, making almost 100 appearances for Border Reivers between 2002 and 2005 before his retirement, upon which he successfully transitioned into after-dinner speaking.

After his 2017 diagnosis, Weir was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the 2019 New Year Honours for services to rugby, to motor neurone disease research and to the community in the Scottish Borders.

Doddie Weir and Gregor Townsend - PA
Doddie Weir and Gregor Townsend - PA

That same year Weir was announced as the recipient of the annual Helen Rollason Award, presented during the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year awards show.

The Scotland lock was selected by fellow Scot and Telegraph Sport columnist Sir Ian McGeechan to tour South Africa with the Lions in 1997. While Weir's tour ended prematurely due to injury, his exchange with broadcaster John Taylor during the Lions' media training has gone down in tour folklore. When asked his response to a hypothetical question about being caught in a nightclub after the tour's curfew, the 6ft 6ins Weir simply replied: "Mistaken identity."

Weir, born in Edinburgh and educated at Daniel Stewart's and Melville College in the Scottish capital, made a name for himself as an athletic line-out forward and a dynamic loose operator. Before moving to Newcastle, Weir won six Scottish titles with Melrose RFC in the Borders.

Weir is survived by his wife, Kathy, and three children, Hamish, Angus and Ben. Just two weeks ago, flanked by his four family members, a wheelchair-bound Weir delivered the match ball onto the Murrayfield pitch ahead of the Autumn Test between Scotland and the All Blacks.

A statement from the Weir family signed off by Doddie’s wife, Kathy, read: “It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our beloved husband and father, Doddie.

“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.

“MBD 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.

“Hamish, Angus, Ben and I would like to thank everyone for your support and for respecting our privacy at this difficult time.”

Foundation vows to carry on Weir’s fight to find cure

By Jeremy Wilson

Friends of Doddie Weir have vowed to honour his “tireless” and “inspirational” campaigning for people with motor neurone disease by finding a cure for the condition. In what became his final Telegraph Sport contribution last month, Weir was still using his influential voice to hold the Government to account and make an urgent plea for delivery after helping to win a £50 million MND funding pledge last year.

“It’s vital – MND is not incurable, it is only underfunded – and the more money we can generate the more answers to unknown questions we can gather,” Weir said, before providing a typically cheery response to an inquiry as to his health: “I’m still managing to annoy the wife and kids – I’m still enjoying the odd Guinness and red wine. I’m recovering from a fabulous weekend – 12 of us went to the Isle of Coll to see Rob Wainwright for lunch, and visit a distillery.”

Weir was diagnosed with MND in 2016 and, following the establishment of a charitable foundation the following year, dedicated himself to positively using his platform to campaign for further funding into potential treatments and cures.

His foundation, My Name’5, has raised £8 million and Weir was personally credited by the Scottish Conservative MP John Lamont with providing the decisive push to secure the Government’s £50 million pledge. Jill Douglas, the chief executive of Weir’s foundation, said “our vision of a world free of MND remains at the heart of our strategy” and, following his death, pledged to “honour Doddie’s name and deliver on his legacy”. As well as his fundraising for research, Weir’s upbeat outlook served as an enormous comfort and inspiration to people suffering from MND and other devastating diseases.

Through his regular television appearances with Rob Burrow and Stephen Darby, as well as his Telegraph Sport columns, he used his vast popularity to not only highlight the limitations in funding for MND research, but to show that it was still possible to live a fulfilling life.

“My attitude is that you should do what you can today and only worry about tomorrow when it comes,” Weir said. “This is the card I’ve been dealt, so I’ve just got to crack on.”

Only two weeks ago, Weir was among those who greeted the rugby league legend Kevin Sinfield following his seven ultra-marathons, which raised more than £2 million for MND research. He also made a poignant appearance at Murrayfield this month, with wife Kathy and sons Hamish, Angus, and Ben, ahead of the Scotland international against New Zealand.

“We lost the most lovable man in the world today,” Scott Hastings, Weir’s former Scotland international team-mate, said before promising that, “we will honour your legacy & find a cure for MND”.

The former Wales player Sam Warburton said that, “despite knowing his fate”, Weir was an “absolute hero and inspiration in adversity” who would leave an “immense legacy”.

JJ Chalmers, a television presenter and former Invictus Games medallist, said that Weir’s spirit would “live forever” and that his MND legacy would “continue and save others”. A statement from the British and Irish Lions emphasised how Weir’s determination to raise awareness and help find a cure had “epitomised” his personality.

After being awarded the OBE in 2019 as well as the BBC’s Helen Rollason Award for “outstanding achievement in the face of adversity”, Weir also received an honorary degree from Abertay University.

Weir urged people with MND to retain hope. He said he was “flabbergasted” to still be alive six years after being diagnosed, adding:  “There’s always another way to achieve your goals – find it.”