David Webster

Born: September 18, 1928;

Died: October 18, 2023

David Webster, who has died aged 95, was a major figure in strength athletics and Highland Games and successfully promoted the sports worldwide. He was a universally acknowledged leading authority on their history as a prolific author, researcher and avid memorabilia collector.

He was also an accomplished participant, highly regarded coach and well respected technical official and referee while also establishing an excellent reputation as an international sports administrator. From the 1950s onwards he was involved in these roles at Commonwealth and Olympic Games, Highland Games and international weightlifting championships which took him all over the world.

In recognition of his services to sport, particularly Commonwealth Games, he was awarded an OBE in 1995. He served as vice-chair and chair of Commonwealth Games Scotland, was team manager in 1994 and chef de mission in 1998 in Victoria and Kuala Lumpur respectively, later appointed honorary life president. His contribution was described immense to the Games movement in Scotland and beyond as immense. “CGS owes him a debt of gratitude for over 65 years’ service,” said CEO Jon Doig.

Reflecting on his impact internationally in strength athletics, the renowned Stark Centre for Physical Culture attached to the University of Texas, where David engaged in research, placed his photograph on the Wall of Icons in its museum alongside other legendary figures in the sport.

David Pirie Webster was born to Ronald and Elizabeth nee Rennie in Aberdeen, where he was brought up in The Spital, Old Aberdeen, with elder brother Ronald. His father was a corporation transport inspector and mother a photographic developer.

David attended Old Aberdeen and Linksfield primary schools, thereafter Skene Central School near Garlogie, Aberdeenshire, where he was first evacuated in wartime. After another evacuation he attended Crowlees Boys School in Mirfield, Yorkshire.


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When the war finished he worked in an aircraft factory in England before undertaking national service in the Gordon Highlanders in Aberdeen and Edinburgh. By then he had been introduced with his brother to the Aberdeen Health and Strength League which fired his lifelong passion for strength sports and led to his founding with others the Spartan Physical Culture Club in Aberdeen.

After qualifying as a PE teacher at Aberdeen’s Woolmanhill PE College, he taught for a period and participated successfully in steel strand [“chest expanders”] pulling competition, then very popular. In 1949 he won the British Championship while in1954 he won the World Championship.

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He also took part in competitive weightlifting, winning the Northern District lightweight title, setting District and Scottish records in the process, and was awarded a British medal for all-round ability. As late as 1999 he won a Masters’ weightlifting title, his final competitive appearance. With friend Alex Thomson he also did demonstrations of hand balancing, involving one effectively doing a handstand on the outstretched palms of the other.

Once appointed as a senior technical representative to the forerunner of Sport Scotland, he furthered his coaching career and developed a deep interest in the techniques of weightlifting, being an early advocate of the benefits of film analysis, for example in 1962 travelling by car to Budapest to film the World Championships.

He was variously Scottish Weightlifting chair, Scottish and British national coach, technical official and referee, attending Olympic Games in 1960, ’68 and ’72, and numerous World, European championships and Commonwealth Games. The murder in 1972 in Munich of Israeli weightlifters, some of whom he knew, devastated him; “the Olympic flame…will never again kindle quite so brightly,” he wrote.

David played an important part in the establishment and success of the popular televised World’s Strongest Man contest, helping devise several featured events. Stone lifting was another activity he championed, reviving interest in the Dinnie Stones near Aboyne, whose 773 lbs the famous Games strongman Donald Dinnie carried across the Potarch Bridge in Victorian times.

Highland Games was another lifelong enthusiasm, especially heavy events like caber tossing and hammer throwing whose profile he raised considerably through media contributions, encouraging athletes, mentoring organisers and promoting Games here and worldwide.

In 1980 he initiated the first World Heavy Events Championships which have since been held annually in Scotland, America, Canada and Nigeria and elsewhere. Before that in 1964 he took a party of Games athletes on a six-week exhibition tour of America and Canada, to Sweden in 1968, Japan in 1969 and Australia in 1973, extending the Games’ appeal worldwide.

In Fergus, Ontario he was highly involved in the development and sustained success of their Games, and was appointed chieftain in 2014 and similarly in Bressuire, France where he was chieftain in 2010. An acknowledged world authority on Highland Games, he wrote extensively on the subject. It was reckoned he wrote over 40 books, some 1,000 articles and gave innumerable lectures on strength athletics.

After roles with Scotland’s Sports Council, David became director of leisure, recreation and tourism with Cunninghame District Council, Ayrshire, which included responsibility for Irvine’s Magnum Leisure Centre and following retirement in 1987 pursued full time his strength athletics and Highland Games’ interests in promoting, writing, researching and collecting.

One prized memento was a gold medal gifted him by Britain’s top weightlifter Louis Martin, whom he coached, after winning the World Championship in Iran, 1965.

In 1953 he married Mavis Pilkington in Sutton, Surrey whom he had met at PE College and with whom he had six children. They later separated and David became partner of Betty Gillan who predeceased him. A popular, energetic figure dedicated to sport, he shared his knowledge generously and is survived by his children and 18 grandchildren.