Hilary, Lady Weir

Charity activist and authorBorn: 31 May, 1945, in Kent. Died: 2 November, 2008, in London, aged 63.

FOR anyone who had encountered Hilary Weir, OBE, the impression was extraordinarily forceful and supremely reassuring. The elegance, poise and bearing of this classic English woman, who had made her spiritual home somewhere between Dumfriesshire and the Hindu Kush, only thinly disguised a fierce intellect, unswerving loyalty and inextinguishable courage for the many causes, charities and voluntary organisations she supported and worked for.

Hilary Beatrice Weir was born in Kent, was head girl of Benenden School and read English language and literature at Oxford. On leaving, she joined the diplomatic service and so began a distinguished career with postings to New York and Tokyo. It was in this job that she met Sir Michael Weir, whom she married in 1976, after which they took up residence in Cairo whilst Michael was the UK's ambassador to Egypt.

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Returning to the UK in 1986, Hilary was appointed secretary of the Architectural Heritage Fund, a charity set up to offer advice, grants and low-interest loans for the rescue and re-use of historic buildings. Under her strong, incisive and formidable leadership the charity set up and fostered support mechanisms for hundreds of building preservation trusts throughout the UK, ranging from communities wishing to repair village war memorials to groups taking on Victorian factories in the mill towns of northern England, friends of city cathedrals and crofting communities in the Outer Hebrides.

Hilary was an inspirational speaker and author. Her classic text How to Rescue a Ruin is still the bible for anyone wanting to breathe new life, pride and hope into a building or place that matters to them. She would tackle authority, bureaucracy and legislation head on with her unmatched knowledge of the systems and procedures of government and mastery of her subject, and was an unequalled champion of real issues versus paper or political posturing.

Hilary retired from the Architectural Heritage Fund in 2000 while she was still, "at the top" to spend more time with her husband until his death in 2006. Throughout that time, she maintained an exhaustive schedule of charitable work as a trustee of Solway Heritage, a member of the Cathedrals Fabric Commission, former chairwoman of the Wissa Wassaf Tapestries Foundation and as chairwoman of the Brooke Hospital for Animals – offering sanctuary and assistance to working animals, mainly donkeys and other equines in developing countries.

With the Brooke she travelled in the past few months to Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and – in the final week of her life – to Egypt, ensuring as ever that sufficiently high-level political connections were made to ensure action and not just lip service.

She was recently diagnosed with an aggressive and advanced illness, and her sudden death must be seen as a release from the difficult months that would have lain ahead. Those who knew her, however, feel cheated of a truly inspirational, funny, self-effacing, brave and brilliant friend.

Anyone fortunate to have met Hilary Weir would almost certainly describe her in terms of her unshakeable integrity. The world is a far dimmer place without her brilliance.

She is survived by her sons, Alexander and Malcolm, and her four stepchildren.