Don't Weaken

A blog by Director Terry Todd

Our Davie

By Terry Todd

Posted March 24, 2010

Sorry to be away for so long but the combination of our work here at the Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports and the month-long run-up to the annual Arnold Strongman Classic we direct for Jim Lorimer at the unimaginably large Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio left us with little time for blogging. However, before my iron game-lifelong pal David Webster actually leaves Texas to his home in the bosky dells of seaside Scotland I wanted to share with readers how fortunate Jan and I feel to have had him with us at the Stark Center since the middle of January.

I first met David way back in 1964 in York, Pennsylvania, while I was living there and working as a managing editor of the York Barbell Company’s Strength and Health magazine, which by that time had been the leading iron game publication in the U.S. for over 30 years. As it happened, David was the organizer of a group of Highland Games athletes who were touring North America as part of a show made up of lesser-known sports such as synchronized motorcycle riding, cliff diving, and the Highland Games; and because the show was booked in Baltimore he had called the office of the York Barbell Company to say he would soon be in the area and would like to bring a group of his “heavies” to York to see the famous lifters and bodybuilders who trained there. As David was already a major figure in the strength sports he was invited to come, with “heavies,” and so the next morning he and his kilted laddies arrived at the York Gym for what turned out to be a fascinating visit.

This photo was taken in the fall of 1964 in the York Barbell Gym. The occasion was the visit to the gym of a group of Scottish Highland Games athletes led by David Webster. From left to right, we see Tony Garcy, Bob Hoffman, Joe Puleo, Isaac Berger, Terry Todd, Sandy Sutherland, Bill Anderson, Dave Webster, Gary Cleveland, Tommy Suggs, Bill Andrews, Steve Stanko, Norb Schemansky, and Bill March.

Later that evening Bob Hoffman, John Grimek, and their wives along with several other members of the York Gang drove down to Baltimore to watch the Highlanders perform. However, not to put too fine a point on it, their performance was terrible. They couldn’t seem to throw the 56-pound weight over the bar, they kept falling out of the ring as they tried to put the stone, and several of them were almost hit in the head by misdirected cabers that failed to turn over properly. At the conclusion of this debacle David began working his way up the steps of the big hall to where we were seated, and we did our best not to let our disappointment show. But the first thing he did when he got to us was apologize, explaining that earlier in the afternoon his athletes had gone to a garden party in their honor in the neighborhood where they were all being housed, and that the hosts of the party kept filling the glasses of the young men. “They were drunk!” Grimek exclaimed, laughing, and David nodded and said, “Aye, that’s the boys’ Achilles heel.”

Over 45 years have passed since that Baltimore night, and the more I’ve learned about David Webster since that time the more admiration I have for the “wee mon.” For the last 60 years, few if any men have done more to advance the cause of physical culture around the world and particularly in his beloved Scotland. It’s hard to know where to begin, really, but here are a few of his accomplishments. Born in 1928, David joined the Health and Strength League at age 14, took a college degree in physical education, became a fine all-rounder in hand-balancing and lifting, and was able to stretch a custom-made set of cables no one else as of 2010 has been able to stretch. (The cable is now and will remain at the Stark Center and be available to any challengers.) In his professional life he worked his way up in until he became the Director of the Magnum Leisure Centre in Irvine, the largest such center in Scotland, and then for 12 years he was the Director of Leisure, Recreation, and Tourism for a large section of Scotland, with over 2000 people working under his direction.

In multi-sport organizations David has been a Life Vice-President of the Commonwealth Games Council for Scotland since 1990, the Chief of Mission for the Scottish team in the 1998 Commonwealth Games, a member of the selection committee of the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame, and the founder and (for over 30 years) still the promoter of the World Highland Games Heavy Events Championships. He is also the world’s leading authority on the Highland Games and has done the color commentary for many hundreds of Highland Games worldwide.

In weightlifting, David was part of almost every British team at the World Championships and Olympic Games as a coach, technical official, or referee through parts of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s; and he organized and directed the World Junior WL Championships in 1985. He has been the Chairman of Weightlifting Scotland for years, and in his last competition, in 1999, he won the 148 pound class in the Scottish National Master’s Championships. In bodybuilding, he competed as a very young man, went on to become a founding member of the National Amateur Bodybuilding Association (NABBA), and served as a judge at many Mr. Britain and Mr. Universe contests.

In the Strongman sport, he is one of its true founding fathers, having organized in 1955 the first televised Strongman competition, which featured the lifting and carrying of heavy stones. He also consulted with the developers of the first “World’s Strongest Man” contest in 1977 and went on to serve that show for over two decades in contests all over the world. What’s more, he was a central figure in the creation of the International Federation of Strength Athletes (IFSA), and for the last ten years has served as my chief of officials at the Arnold Strongman Classic in Ohio. In fact, when Jim Lorimer and Arnold S asked me to create and conduct a heavy-duty Strongman contest at the Arnold Sports Festival, the first man I asked to help me was David Webster.

This photo of a be-kilted David Webster, Bill Kazmaier, and Terry Todd was taken in Columbus, Ohio, during a break in the competition at the 2003 Arnold Strongman Classic. These three men, along with Jan Todd and with input from many others, have been primarily responsible for the events and the choice of competitors in the Classic, which is generally considered to be a genuine test of pure brute strength.

David has also done a great deal of television work related to physical culture activities, and most of his media work has been in either the Highland Games or strength sports such as weightlifting and Strongman competitions. He has also created and helped to produce several special tv programs, including two about the Highland Games and one, called “Glamazons,” that was a contest for women strength athletes.

Although David has received many honors and been inducted into most of the halls of fame in the iron game, his most significant honor came in 1995 when he was “invested” by the Queen as an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. He was given this very singular and coveted O.B.E. because of his wide-ranging and effective work in support of physical culture and sports and because of how that work had introduced people all over the world to the ancient sport known as the Highland Games. One thing related to his O.B.E. happened when we asked David to send several letters of recommendation to us as we needed to have the letters as part of his application for a brief term of employment at the Stark Center. Since David hadn’t needed letters of this sort for many decades he was at a loss to know how to proceed. Finally, he told Jan that he did have something which might qualify but added that he’d have to take it out of its frame. Puzzled, Jan asked, “Who wrote it?”–to which he replied quietly, “The Queen.” We didn’t use that document although we were tempted, believing as we did and do that he would have probably been the only job applicant in the history of the University of Texas with a “letter of reference” from the Queen of England, especially one which referred to her “most beloved subject.”

One little-known aspect of David’s remarkable career is that in 1959 he founded the Scottish Amateur Trampoline Association, the first organized association for a backyard and circus activity which went on to become an Olympic sport. Even more significant, David was perhaps the first sporting official to convince a group of scientists to work with sports officials and create a method of drug testing which could be applied to the sports in which ergogenic drugs were already a problem. He began this effort in 1969. David was also a pioneer in the application of film analysis to the “Olympic Lifts,” and in this work he filmed many major championships and conducted clinics about his analysis and research in many parts of the world.

One of the reasons David, Jan, and I have become increasingly close as the years have passed relates to our shared interest in collecting materials about physical culture, and particularly the aspect of physical culture dealing with the history of the strength sports. David began collecting well over 60 years ago and, through his diligence and thorough knowledge, has built one of the largest private collections in the world, if not the largest. This stupendous collection – which includes significant portions of the collections of W.A. Pullum, W.S. Pullum, John Valentine, George Kirkley, Oscar State, Al Murray, Gerard Nisavoccia, Harry Hill, John Massis, Doug Fales, George Dardennes, and many others – is highlighted by what is widely regarded to be one of the best collections in the world of old-time strongman photographs as well as of correspondence from famous men and women in the iron game.

One of the things separating David from most serious collectors is that he has always made full use of his collection by writing about many aspects of the world of physical culture. The Stephen King of physical culture writers, David has written approximately 1000 articles in over 50 publications as well as more than 30 books, including such landmarks as Modern Strand-pulling (1953), Scottish Highland Games (1959), Complete Physique Book ( 1963), Defying Gravity (1964), Scottish Highland Games (1973), The Iron Game (1976), Barbells and Beefcake (1978), The Ultimate Physique (1984), Developing Grip Strength (1986), Sons of Samson Vol. 1 (1993), Sons of Samson Vol 2 (1997), and Donald Dinnie (1999). As of this moment he has three titles awaiting publication – one a history of the Highland Games, one about kettlebells, and one a history of wrestling around the world that we hope to publish as part of the Todd Book Series at UT Press.

David Webster was with us at the Stark Center as super-graphics of the “Icons” were mounted on the walls in the lobby near the entrance to the Weider Museum. After the remarkable amount of work David has done during his life he deserves a wee sit-down.

Before David came to Texas to help us put the finishing touches on the Joe and Betty Weider Museum of Physical Culture I always wondered how he had accomplished so much in so many fields. However, I no longer wonder, because every morning when we arrive at the Stark Center David says hello to our other staff-members and then goes straight to his office, shuts his door, and immediately begins working at the task he had put down the previous evening when we left the university, usually around 8:00 pm. During those long hours David never comes out of his office except to have a quick lunch in our break room or to ask one of us where to find a particular book, magazine, or photograph. His “secret” is further revealed every night after the three of us get home, eat dinner, and he goes across the yard to our guest house. By the time Jan and I get upstairs to our two home offices and I look out of my window, David is already sitting in front of his computer at his desk and he generally stays there until around midnight. Most nights, if he’s still up then, I’ll usually go over with a bottle of single malt scotch in my hand, knock on his door, and ask him if he’d care for a “wee dram” before turning in. He never says no.

Watching David work these past ten weeks makes me think of elbow grease, grit, dedication, willpower – call it what you will – but a word that works for me is love…a deep, abiding love of the iron game. Having David here to help us shape our shared dream of building a facility in which people with a similar love can see, and read about, and study in detail the history of our game has been a blessing and a gift we can never repay. David has already given us many of the hard-won treasures he collected over the years, including our oldest book – Mercurialis’ sixteenth century De Arte Gymnastica – but the gift of his precious time here, in the late fall of his long, full life is the most precious gift of all. But when he leaves us physically in a few days his spirit – and his image – will remain. In fact, we’ll still see him every day at the entrance to the Weider Museum standing larger-than-life between Steve Reeves and Eugen Sandow on our Wall of Icons. He has earned his place.

13 Comments

  1. Senga Dinnie, February 21, 2017:

    The respect and admiration my late husband, Gordon Dinnie, had for David is immeasurable . The ongoing friendship and support David has afforded me in keeping the ‘Dinnie’ memory alive is a tribute to his compassion and kindness appreciated beyond words.

  2. jackkelly, March 22, 2011:

    Ifound your blog quite by chance when checking out the date when the Scottish Trampoline Association was founded.Having been British National Trampoline Coach and responsible for developing two World Champions, I am now writing a technical book to pass on the benefits of my 40 odd years experience in the sport.(Hence the need to check certain dates)
    My day was “made” by your article on David Webster who was an inspiration to me as a schoolboy in Aberdeen and later as a young phy.ed.teacher in the city. Dave may remember my name as we both followed careers in Recreation Management.
    Hello Dave!Fit like an’ foo are ye deain’?
    Jack Kelly ex. Aberdeen Grammar, Spartan Club, Bon Accord Swimming Club,Harlow Sportcentre, British Gymnastics etc.

  3. Tamsin Webster, March 18, 2011:

    Hey. David Webster is my gran dad and i can’t say how proud i am of him

    love you GRANDAD!!!!!
    xxxxx

  4. Dale Harder, August 9, 2010:

    For those of you who would like to see a wonderful highland games there’ll be one in Pleasanton, California, on the Alameda County Fairgrounds on both Sat. and Sun. of Labor Day weekend. Combined two day attendance often reaches 30,000 to 50,000. Guess who the master of ceremonies is? That’s right–David Webster. He’s definitely a fixture at the games–having been the MC of these games for many years. Terry you need to find out David’s list of travels and publish them. In any given year it seems like he attends at least a half a dozen major strength events counting of course your Arnold Classic Strongman show. BTW, regarding your historical photo above. I can vouch for Sandy Sutherland above as being a very capable highland games athlete. I competed against him in Invergordon, Scotland, in 1962, and the best I could do against the man was to take a 3rd place in the heavy stone. Anyhow, nice to read your tribute about David and find out that he has six children

  5. Mike BonDurant, July 22, 2010:

    I haven’t seen David since we worked the “Glamazons” in Orlando in 2000 I believe. A true gentleman and well deserves the attention he is getting at the Stark Center. No one is more devoted to the Iron Game than David Webster!

    I once asked him if the Scots drove on the left side of the road like the Brits and Aussies…he told me they always drove on the sunny side!

    Good health, my friend,

    Mike BonDurant
    The Muscle Museum

  6. gilbert, May 11, 2010:

    will we see sons of samsons book three..

  7. David G Webster, April 3, 2010:

    Hi Terry
    Firstly thank you for looking after my father for the last few weeks, I know from speaking to him how much he loved working with you and Jan at the UT, and if you’ll have him back, how much he will relish it.
    As you can imagine, myself , three brothers and two sisters have been immersed in our father’s love for the Iron Game throughout our childhoods. Each one of us was cajoled into helping him with some aspects of sorting his books and magazines or photographs at one point or other while growing up.
    You article awakens many memories and one in particular comes to mind. As a kid, your father is your father and we never really know who they are or what they have achieved. In the early 80’s I had a stall selling books at a highland games just outside my home city, Glasgow. During the day, a group of Americans came to my stall and saw some of my father’s books for sale, they went on to tell me how much they admired him and why. This opened my eyes and gave me sense of pride and a small insight into my father, his achievements and the man you know today.
    Since then, I have been fortunate enough to meet many of his friends, people like yourself, Tom Lincir of Ivanko, Bill Pearl, Bill Kazmaier, and many more, and on each occasion, I learn more and more about what he has achieved in his life and the reverence in which he is held.
    You describe in your article ‘the deep abiding love’, our father has for the Iron Game. In reading your blog and the responses, I personally, and I’m sure I speak for my brothers and sisters, feel a deep sense of pride, but the biggest emotion that comes to the fore when reading your article and the responses of your contributors is humbleness, hairs on the back of your neck, lump in throat stuff, and I thank you and your readers for the appreciation of our father. I hope his work and knowledge is put to good use for many generations to come.

    David G. Webster

  8. terry todd, March 28, 2010:

    Just a quick word to report that as of yesterday at about 4:00 Texas time David Webster left Austin for a trip back home to his beloved Scotland, although before he got all the way back to Irvine he attended Saturday’s gathering of a group of iron gamers in the south of England. The gathering was the brainchild of Di Bennett, awell-known gym owner with her late husband Wag. Di was for years a regular at the annual Heidenstam Dinner in London as well as at the Arnold Classic, and this Saturday’s meeting is intended to partially fill the void left by the recent discontinuation of the “Heidenstam” in London.

    David was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at last year’s do and he was looking forward to being back home with some of his old mates–like David Gentle and David Prowse, the Three Davids. But we had him for awhile at the Stark Center, we did, and he was a boon companion–always ready to answer a question, take a walk in the woods, amaze the young’uns, or just have a coffee and a sweetie at teatime. David did more things to help us at the Center than I’ll ever have time to describe, but one of his favorites was to look over some of our as-yet-unidentified people depicted in our photo files and give them a name. In this regard, you blog-readers might want to take a quick glance at the caption below the most recent blog’s first photo. It shows the group of men in the York Barbell Gym back in late 1964, and until today one of those men has remained unidentified 46 years after the magazine was first published. How I know this is because David, after reading the caption on Friday, mentioned to me that one of the Scots was misidentified, and it took me until today to make the correction. The man has always been known to readers of Strength and is that I have a distant memory that when I was writing the captions for that month’s Iron Grapevine I simply made up a Scottish-sounding name when we were in a hurry to put the issue to bed and I had no way of getting the correct name from David, who was still on tour. Thus it was that Kevin McAngus lived for almost a half century before he stepped aside for the real Highland Heavy, Sandy Sutherland.

  9. Carl Linich, March 26, 2010:

    Thanks, David for all of your efforts. I have many of Davids books, and of course have enjoyed meeting him years ago at the AOBS dinner. More power, and years to you..

  10. Joe Roark, March 26, 2010:

    Men of David’s hunt for the truth are rare these days, as are, sadly, those who wish to read such detailed results. Truth is on a tightrope with the internet playing the role of someone shaking that tightrope, not caring if truth stays online. Details are dismissed in favor of the overall picture, when in fact there would be no overall picture without details.

    Thanks to David we have source material which is a cornerstone of any serious strength/muscle historian’s library. His life, in addition to his body of work, shines. If you do not own his books, GET THEM!

    David, may you live long and prosper.

  11. Larry Aumann, March 25, 2010:

    I cannot express how much I like and respect David Webster. He has no ego, despite all he has accomplished in life. I have talked to him on the phone many times over the years, and I feel honored that he has time for me. I hope that some day we will see a biography or an autobiography published of this wonderful man.

  12. Bob Hornick, March 25, 2010:

    Thank you so much from one who is also in his winter years. I have long admired David Webster and feel that this wonderful article adds much to my knowledge of the man. May you all be blessed with happiness, good health, wealth and many sunrises to come.

  13. Dr. Kurt, March 24, 2010:

    Awesome! David (and you) inspire me to never quit. The visions I have for my goal are fired by people who have a genuine love for the miracle that is the human body and what it can do when asked and trained properly.

    Dr. Kurt
    New Motion Machines

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