Rugby world and beyond unite to pay tribute to icon Doddie Weir

Doddie Weir’s memorial was a tapestry of tartan seen no better than in this photo of his wife Kathy and three sons Hamish, Angus and Ben – Peter Summers/Getty Images

Amidst a tapestry of tartan there were many tears inside Melrose Parish Church for Doddie Weir’s memorial service.

As per Doddie’s request, the 500-odd guests wore tartan of varying hues and shades, none brighter than those of his sons, Hamish, Ben and Angus, who emotionally recited the poem Requiem for Doddie (The Mad Giraffe ) by Timmy Douglas. Even a butterfly that danced mischievously around the heads of mourners wore stripes for the occasion.

A conservative estimate would suggest there were at least 2,000 international caps put together from 1997 Lions team-mates such as Martin Johnson to World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont and current Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie. New England defense coach Kevin Sinfield missed his big unveiling at Twickenham to be there, while perhaps most impressive of all, Ally McCoist pushed him away after commentating on the final of the World Cup in Qatar on Sunday night to sneak into the back of the church in time.

Former Lions team-mates and England opponents John Bentley, Martin Johnson, Austin Healey, Will Greenwood and Neil Back were among the horses of former internationals to pay tribute to Weir - Peter Summers/Getty Images

Former Lions team-mates and England opponents John Bentley, Martin Johnson, Austin Healey, Will Greenwood and Neil Back were among the horses of former internationals to pay tribute to Weir – Peter Summers/Getty Images

A short hop down the hill from Greenyards, where Weir had first made a name for himself as a lanky second-row for Melrose under the watchful eye of Jim Telfer, more than 1,000 people had braved the pouring rain, which was repulsive even by Scottish Borders standards, to listen to the audio of the service. For those unable to attend in person, the Scottish Rugby Union was also streaming around the world, including in Hong Kong where 500 people gathered for a dinner in honor of Doddie.

All this for a player who, as former Scotland captain Rob Wainwright pointed out during his tribute, had only a passing knowledge of international silverware. Weir has never won a Calcutta Cup. He has never won a triple crown. He was injured halfway through Scotland’s Five Nations title triumph in 1999 and so missed that historic day in Paris.

Weir's former Scotland and Lions team-mate Rob Wainwright has paid a moving tribute - Andrew Milligan/PA

Weir’s former Scotland and Lions team-mate Rob Wainwright has paid a moving tribute – Andrew Milligan/PA

In the record books, Weir the player does not stand out. In the flesh, Doddie was a force of nature whose personal magnetism brought together the disparate communities of rugby greats, farmers and scientists inside this crowded church. All the men and women there loved him. Some may have only known him briefly, but within five minutes you felt like his best friend.

In that context, trophies are a poor barometer of a man’s worth, especially when it comes to Doddie’s reaction to being diagnosed with motor neurone disease six years ago.

It is somewhat commonplace to refer to every disease as a battle to be fought and lost. What is true, however, is that Doddie has declared full-scale war on MND on behalf of approximately one in 300 people who are diagnosed with the disease in this country. He simply wouldn’t accept the idea that there was nothing to be done and that the disease was underfunded rather than incurable.

As former teammate Scott Hastings said, no individual has transformed awareness of the disease or done so much to break the scientific complacency that had allowed the development of a single drug in the 22 previous years. The My Name’5 Doddie Foundation has raised over £8million for research, funding 28 different projects, including the largest clinical trial ever undertaken in the UK, and has awarded hundreds of thousands of grants to other patients.

In his tribute, John Jeffrey pointed out that the foundation only came about because Doddie flatly refused to accept any further personal donations for him and his family after an initial fundraising dinner. His attention was always on others. Finlay Calder, another trustee of the foundation, told Jeffrey to expect a flurry of activity for six months before it died down. Instead, he turned into a runaway train, driven by Doddie’s relentless optimism. Even more important than the financial numbers was the effect Doddie had within the MND community. He gave hope to the hopeless and a voice to the voiceless.

Current Scotland manager and former Lions and Scotland team-mate of Weir's Gregor Townsend - Andrew Milligan/PA

Current Scotland manager and former Lions and Scotland team-mate of Weir’s Gregor Townsend – Andrew Milligan/PA

Former Scotland internationals Andy Nicol and Scott Hastings were among many at Melrose to pay tribute to Weir – Andrew Milligan/PA

Former Scotland internationals Andy Nicol and Scott Hastings were among many at Melrose to pay tribute to Weir – Andrew Milligan/PA

Doddie was clear that his death should not diminish that momentum. Indeed, he appeared to take his passing to publicly shame the Government for delivering on last year’s broken promise to donate £50million to MND research. Jeffrey, Wainwright and Carl Hogg, who delivered the eulogy, all ended their speeches with the clear message that Doddie’s legacy will only be complete once a cure is found.

And yet, for every tear of sadness shed on Monday, three or four others burst out laughing. Hogg, one of Doddie’s oldest friends from his Melrose days, recounted how he wrapped Telfer, the toughest of master builders, around his little finger and the lengths Doddie went to avoid the coaching. Wainwright revealed the origin of Row 19 Whiskey Club in the upper deck of a British Airways jumbo jet. And Jeffrey described Doddie as the ultimate pest — which he meant as a compliment — as an adversary, as a drinking buddy, and especially as a kicker for scientists.

Doddie would have hated it all. For someone who wore such blinding tartan and was such a natural storyteller, he was a surprisingly shy man who always deflected compliments.

What he would have loved was how everyone decamped to the Melrose clubhouse afterwards to swap their own personal stories about Doddie. More than a few small glasses were lifted skyward and you can bet somewhere above God’s whiskey cabinet suddenly got much emptier.

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