Doug Edmunds: An appreciation

DOUG Edmunds, who has died aged 76, was a larger-than-life character who crammed a wide range of experiences into his lifetime, from being a 20-year-old student boxer doing exhibition bouts in the Bahamas to playing rugby for Zambia against an international touring team. He was twice the World Caber Tossing champion and, later, managing director of a business with a multi-million pound turnover.

He was presented to the Queen for his heavyweight exploits at Braemar Games and was a guest at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s birthday party at Planet Hollywood in Piccadilly Circus, London.

The mundane was alien to Doug. An individual with a formidable presence, as befitted a champion heavyweight athlete, his straight-talking direct manner belied an extremely likeable personality with a good sense of humour and compassionate nature, who left his mark wherever he went.

Well-known to many for his role as referee in the World’s Strongest Man TV series, he was a highly recognisable figure, clad in black with trademark Stetson as he barked instructions. He was affectionately referred to as The Godfather of Strongman in appreciation of his influential contribution to the sport and he was delighted to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from his peers in front of a crowd of 10,000 in Manchester.

Douglas Morris Edmunds was born in Rottenrow Maternity Hospital, Glasgow, on May 29, 1944, one of four children, brother to John, Amy and Eva. His parents were John and Izabella, who was of Lithuanian extraction. His father was a friend and colleague of SNP leader, Professor Douglas Young, and supportive of his war-time anti-conscription stance. Such was the regard in which he held him that he named his son Douglas.

Douglas’s early years were spent in what had been Netherton army camp on Glasgow’s southside, where his father was warden and which was then temporary post-war accommodation for those awaiting rehousing.

At eight he became a boarder at St. Columba’s R.C. prep school, Largs, where he won art and poetry prizes before boarding at St Joseph’s College, Dumfries. Despite initial challenges, his experience there was essentially positive through his determined mindset, allied to his sporting and academic abilities.

He won Scottish Schools titles at shot and discus, represented Scottish Schools internationally, played rugby for a strong school XV, and was selected for South of Scotland Schools against Wales.

He initially went to Glasgow University but after a year switched to Strathclyde, from which he graduated with an honours degree in applied science before obtaining a Ph.D. in metallurgy. A Blue from both universities, in the 1960s he claimed seven Scottish shot and discus titles as well as three British Universities titles; he was also Scottish weightlifting champion and represented Scotland five times in athletics internationals.

While working in Zambia in the early 1970s he won a national weightlifting title. He organised the country’s first Highland Games, played for the national rugby team against the Penguins, and represented Zambia at the World Powerlifting Championships in America.

Over the next decade, while working for British Oxygen, he concentrated on Highland Games, competing successfully throughout Scotland and winning the World Caber Tossing Championship in 1976 and 1978 and the Braemar Games heavyweight championship. On two occasions he tossed the ‘special’ Braemar caber, a rare feat.

Braemar meant a lot to him; it was his ‘Field of Dreams’, as he called it, and he was particularly proud when his son Gregor repeated his feats there. They were the only father and son to do so.

He also competed many times in Indonesia, France, Australia, and Nigeria, having spent time working in Lagos in the early 1980s when he organised Games there.

On returning here he joined the family milk business, Drakemire Dairy, rising to become managing director. Through hard work and entrepreneurial flair he built it up in the face of competition to be one of the country’s biggest dairies.

He also started staging his own Games, initially in his village of Carmunnock then in such places as East Kilbride, Blair Atholl, Callander and Aviemore, while also promoting the famous Icelandic strongman, his good friend, Jón Páll Sigmarsson.

Doug used his business skills to develop the World’s Strongest Man competition. The concept became very popular; competitions were staged throughout the world and Doug would travel to officiate, resulting in him being a ‘hub’ for international strength athletes, many of whom he attracted here to compete. They would enjoy his and wife Linda’s hospitality in their house in Carmunnock.

He and Linda married in 1992 and they enjoyed a happy and fulfilling marriage and had a son, Kristian. Doug had two children, Rothnie and Gregor, from a previous marriage to Moira.

Religion was important to him and he became a regular attender at St Bridget’s Church, Eaglesham. Diagnosed with cancer in 2013 he fought it courageously, remaining positive and appreciative of his medical and other support. During this time he wrote three entertainingly informative books about his sporting life and a touchingly candid memoir of dealing with cancer.

George McHugh, his old schoolmate, sporting rival and lifelong friend, said: “Despite our strong rivalry we never once quarrelled. Douglas was a loyal and courageous friend, a great human being who always wanted the best for his friends and always enjoyed having them around him.”

Doug is survived by his wife, daughter, sons, four grandchildren and a great granddaughter.