James Matheson Knight Weir OBE of Oakham, who died on 11 September 2020 at the age of 89 after a year-long battle with cancer, will be remembered in England’s smallest county of Rutland for his tireless commitment to almost every area of public life in the county and the wider East Midlands.
Born in Aberdeen on 3 March 1931, Weir was in his 40s when he moved to the Midlands with his young family. As a child, the five-year old James and younger sister, Wilma, left Aberdeen with their parents to move to Edinburgh.
Weir showed a flair for sport at a young age, and later gained his ‘colours’ for athletics at the competitive George Heriot’s School. On leaving Heriot’s, he became an articled pupil in a firm of chartered quantity surveyors in Edinburgh.
Weir had a lifelong passion for rugby. During the 1950s, he was one of the top try scorers in Scottish club rugby. His rugby career began in the under-20s Sevens for Heriot’s Former Pupils Rugby Club, and he was selected to play for Heriot’s first fifteen. He was a regular with Edinburgh District and the Co-Optimists, played in two Scottish International trials, and in 1958 played for the Combined Cities of Scotland against Australia.
Throughout the 1950s Weir played in Sevens tournaments in Murrayfield, Melrose, Hawick, Langham and Jedburgh, winning medals in all venues. As Melrose is the home of Rugby Sevens he was pleased to have three winners and two runners up medals in that tournament.
In 1954, Weir was called up for National Service, and was posted to No. 3 Training Regiment, Royal Engineers at Aldershot, where he revelled in engineering tasks such as building Bailey and Pontoon bridges.
Weir was selected for officer training at the Royal College of Military Engineering after which, in 1955, he was commissioned into the Royal Engineers, with postings in Dusseldorf and Antwerp.
Career in construction
Weir was to become a renowned figure in the construction industry in Scotland. On his return from National Service in 1957 he took up a position with Wimpey, and later joined Mitchell Construction Kinnear Moodie (MCKM), to set up their operations in Scotland. He established a subsidiary which erected some of the first pre-cast concrete buildings in central Scotland.
In 1973, Weir was approached by the Corby Development Corporation (CDC) to take on a house-building contract in this growing Northamptonshire town. James invited a trusted colleague, John Jeakins, to join him and they set up Jeakins Weir Ltd in Corby, building housing and industrial buildings. The company has grown from strength to strength, and is now run by Weir’s sons, Jamie and Alistair.
Territorial Army, Cadets and Army Charity
Weir had a long-standing involvement with the Territorial Army. As a young man in Edinburgh, he served in 71 (Scottish) Engineer Regiment, becoming Squadron Commander of 585 Field Squadron. He later commanded 102 (Clyde Field Squadron) in Paisley. When he moved to the Midlands in 1973, Weir was attached to 4 Armoured Division in Germany.
In 1983, Weir began his involvement with the Army Cadet Force. He became County Commandant (in the rank of Colonel) of the Leicestershire and Northamptonshire Army Cadet Force. He took the unorthodox decision to run it on a military basis – a popular move that increased recruits by nearly 50%. His force was also the first in the Midlands to take in girl cadets.
He chaired the Rutland Branch of the ABF The Soldier’s Charity (formerly The Army Benevolent Fund) and remained an active supporter from 1990 until his death.
For his service to the Territorial Army and Army Cadet Force, Col. Weir was Awarded the Territorial Army Decoration and clasp, and in 1987 was appointed as an Officer of the Military Division of the most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
In the 1980s, whilst chairman of the Oakham Branch of the Conservative Association, Weir represented Rutland on Leicestershire County Council. When a Mori Poll revealed that around 95% of Rutlanders wished to regain their county status, Weir took on the fight. Fittingly, on the return of county status in 1997, Weir was appointed as first chairman of the new Rutland County Council.
He became Deputy Lieutenant of Leicestershire in 1984 then Deputy Lieutenant of Rutland in 1997. He was later appointed Vice Lord Lieutenant of the County – a position he held until 2006.
Trustee and governing roles
In the late 1980s, Weir was appointed trustee of the Peterborough Cathedral Preservation Trust, and remained a trustee for 21 years.
Weir was governor of numerous schools and colleges, including Rutland Sixth Form College, Oakham C of E Primary School, Vale of Catmose Community College, the Orchard School in Melton and Casterton Community College. He was also a trustee of Oakham School for 21 years.
During his time on the board of Anglian Water, Weir was influential in turning Rutland Water into a leisure destination, and also served as President of Rutland Sailing Club and President of Rutland Scouts.
In 1954 Weir met the girl who was to become his wife at a dance in Edinburgh. He often said that he knew he would marry Mary from the moment he set eyes on her. Theirs was to be a long-lasting, supportive and happy partnership.
Weir will be remembered as the consummate gentleman – a generous, hospitable host and loving family man, who delighted in playing golf and kicking a ball with his grandchildren until only months before his death. James is survived by Mary and his two sons, Jamie and Alistair, and four grandchildren.