Obituary: Doug Edmunds, world caber tossing champion and businessman

Doug Edmunds, strength athlete and businessman. Born: May 29 1944. Died: October 30 2020, aged 76

Doug Edmunds established the iconic World’s Strongest Man competition

Doug Edmunds was a larger than life character who crammed a wide range of experiences into his life – from being a 20-year-old student boxer doing exhibition bouts in the Bahamas to playing rugby for Zambia to twice being World Caber Tossing champion and, later, managing director of a business with a multi-million turnover.

Other examples included being presented to the Queen for his heavyweight exploits at Braemar Games and being a guest at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s birthday party at Planet Hollywood in Piccadilly Circus. Doug could never be accused of being mundane. An individual with a formidable presence, as befitted a champion heavyweight athlete, his straight-talking manner belied an extremely likeable personality with a good sense of humour and compassionate nature who left his mark wherever he went.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

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 sat barking out instructions. Doug was delighted to be given a Lifetime Achievement Award by his peers in front of a crowd of 10,000 when the programme was staged in Manchester.

Douglas Morris Edmunds was born in Rottenrow Maternity Hospital, Glasgow, one of four children, brother to John, Amy and Eva. His parents were John and Izabella. His father’s surname was Morris but he adopted his mother’s maiden name to avoid detection as a deserter and active Scottish Nationalist during wartime.

Early years were spent in what had been Netherton army camp on the south side of Glasgow, temporary post-war accommodation for those awaiting rehousing, where his father was warden. Aged eight he became a boarder at St Columba’s RC prep school at Largs, where he won art and poetry prizes before attending St Joseph’s College, Dumfries, also as a boarder. Despite initial challenges, his experience there was essentially positive, through his determined mindset, aided by his sporting and academic abilities. Doug won Scottish Schools’ titles at shot and discus, represented Scottish Schools, played rugby for a strong school XV and was selected for South of Scotland Schools against Wales.

He initially went to Glasgow University before switching to Strathclyde, where he graduated in applied science before obtaining a Ph.D. in metallurgy. He was a Blue from both universities and in the 1960s claimed seven Scottish shot and discus titles as well as three British Universities’ titles and was Scottish weightlifting champion.

While in Zambia as a mining engineer for three years in the early 1970s he won a national weightlifting title, organised the country’s first Highland Games, played for the national rugby team and represented Zambia at the World Powerlifting Championships in the USA.

Over the next decade, while working for British Oxygen, he concentrated on Highland Games, competing successfully throughout Scotland, winning the World Caber Tossing Championship in 1976 and 1978, the Braemar Games heavyweight championship and on two occasions tossing the “special” Braemar caber, a rare feat. Braemar meant a lot to him, his “Field of Dreams” as he called it, and he was particularly proud that he and his son Gregor were the only father and son to win both the title and toss the special caber there. 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 to Scotland he joined the family milk business, Drakemire Dairy, originally based in Castlemilk, later becoming managing director. Through hard work and entrepreneurial flair he built it up in the face of stiff competition to be one of the country’s biggest dairies, with a multi-million pound turnover before selling it. He also started staging his own Games and strength contests, initially in his village of Carmunnock and elsewhere, including East Kilbride, Blair Atholl, Callander and Aviemore, while finding time to promote the career of famous Icelandic strongman and good friend Jon Pall Sigmarsson.

Doug founded the International Federation of Strength Athletics and developed the World’s Strongest Man competition, bringing his business skills and knowledge of the sport to the table. The concept became very popular, with competitions held across the globe, and Doug travelled to officiate, as a result of which he was a “hub” for international strength athletes, many of whom he attracted here to compete. His house in Carmunnock was often like a staging post for athletes who enjoyed Doug and wife Linda’s hospitality. He and Linda, who he married in 1992, enjoyed a happy and fulfilling marriage and had a son, Kristian. Doug had two children, Rothnie and Gregor, from a previous marriage to Moira.

His religion was important to him and he became a regular attender at St Bridget’s Church in Eaglesham after regularly accompanying his elderly mother there. Diagnosed with cancer in 2013 he fought courageously against it, remaining positive throughout and appreciative of the medical and other support received. During this time he wrote three entertaining and informative books about his sporting life and a touchingly candid memoir of dealing with cancer.

George McHugh, schoolmate, sporting rival and lifelong friend, stated,” 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.”

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