Tributes have been paid to “warrior” Doddie Weir after his death following a prolonged battle with Motor Neurone Disease.
The larger than life rugby player who made his name playing for Scotland and the British and Irish Lions during the 1990s, died aged 52, his family confirmed on Saturday.
He was diagnosed with MND in December 2016 and went on to found the research charity My Name’5 Doddie Foundation (MNDF).
It is five years since Weir revealed his MND diagnosis and founded the foundation – which has committed almost £8m to research projects across the UK.
In a statement, his wife wrote: “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. 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.
“Hamish, Angus, Ben and I would like to thank everyone for your support and for respecting our privacy at this difficult time.”
The Prince and Princess of Wales led tributes to the rugby icon, writing in a personally signed tweet: “Doddie Weir was a hero – we are so sad to hear of his passing. His immense talent on the pitch as well as his tireless efforts to raise awareness of MND were an inspiration.
“Our thoughts are with all those who loved him. He will be hugely missed across the entire rugby world.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “This is so terribly sad. 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. My condolences to his loved ones.”
Fellow motor neurone disease sufferer and campaigner Rob Burrow also paid tribute to the inspirational “warrior”, writing: “So sad to hear the news of the passing of my MND hero Doddie Weir.”
The former Leeds and Great Britain scrum-half, who is now confined to a wheelchair because of the disease, praised Weir for his work in helping to raise funds for MND research, calling him a “friendly giraffe”.
Weir’s death came less than two weeks after he made a rare appearance at Murrayfield in Edinburgh where Scotland lost to New Zealand.
The Scottish team wore specially created shirts with numbers in Weir’s famous blue and yellow tartan to mark the foundation’s five-year milestone.
The Princess Royal, patron of MND Scotland, said: “What a sad day. Doddie Weir will be greatly missed. He was truly larger than life, determined, generous and humble. He transformed people’s understanding of MND and funding for research.
“I am so grateful to him and his family for their unselfishness in sharing their experiences. My thoughts and prayers go out to all of his family.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tweeted: “Rest in peace Doddie Weir OBE. All my family’s thoughts are with Kathy and her sons.”
Sports broadcaster Jill Douglas, MNDF chief executive and a close friend of Weir’s, said the foundation will work to honour his name and deliver on his legacy.
She 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 neurone 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.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross tweeted that Weir’s “brave fight for a cure to MND was an inspiration,” while Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar wrote that Weir “became an inspiration to many and a champion for those battling MND”.
Mr Ross and Mr Sarwar both said their thoughts and prayers were with Weir’s family and friends.
Kevin Sinfield, who completed seven back-to-back ultra-marathons to raise money for MND causes, said: “I am honoured to have been able to call Doddie my friend and I know his spirit lives on in all of us who knew him. He will always be a champion.”
Charities praised Weir for his work to raise awareness about MND.
Rachel Maitland, chief executive of MND Scotland, said: “His bravery in sharing his experience of living with MND helped raise vital awareness across the country and beyond.”
The MND Association tweeted: “Since sharing his MND diagnosis in 2017, Doddie became an inspiration to many, raising awareness and campaigning tirelessly on behalf of those with MND.”
Writer Ian Rankin said on Twitter: “Hellish news. He did so much to raise awareness of MND – and also raised a lot of money for charity after his diagnosis. Rest easy, Big Man.”
JK Rowling tweeted a picture of herself with Weir, writing: “Incredibly sad to hear about the death of Doddie Weir. A wonderful, funny, warm and courageous man who’ll be deeply missed.”
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