October 20, 2013

Feature Obituary: George B. Weir dies at age 81

He was widely known for Auto Talk, his newspaper car column.

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

George B. Weir, who died Thursday at 81, was a man of many interests, a trait that ran through his personal and professional lives.

For work, he was an editor for McGraw-Hill Book Co. and then for the Portland Press Herald. At the paper, he also wrote news, editorials and music criticism, but was perhaps most widely known for Auto Talk, his weekly car column that ran in the Maine Sunday Telegram.

Away from the paper, he was a youth hockey coach, volunteered for the Maine Highway Safety Committee and served on a regional advisory committee for the Maine Department of Transportation. Closer to home on Orrs Island, he served on the Harpswell cable television and recycling committees.

Along the way he also found time for fishing, gardening, bird-watching, poetry, fine wines, music – dozens of interests that he jumped into with both feet, said his wife, Martha Weir.

“He always had a new interest and pursued it with great passion,” she said. “He wasn’t a dabbler.”

Mr. Weir, who grew up in Medford, Ore., had a lively life even before he got out of the Army. Assigned to a NATO post in Paris, he befriended professional race car drivers, who managed to get him behind the wheel of a race car at the famed Le Mans track.

After his tour of duty ended, he joined McGraw-Hill and became a senior automotive editor in New York before he and Martha – a Portland native – decided to move to Orrs Island in 1970, figuring they’d settle the how-to-make-a-living question after they got here.

“We were young – what can I say?” Martha Weir said. “We took a risk to do what we dreamed and we ended up on Orrs Island, which is paradise. He loved being here. He loved his garden with a passion. He was a great vegetable gardener and fed half the neighborhood.”

Mr. Weir soon landed a job with the paper, never mind the hourlong commute each way. His background in automotive publishing landed him the car column.

He would often work the automotive pursuits of his son into his car column, Matt Weir remembered.

“I spent years mud racing, ice racing, autocrossing and he usually got stuck behind the wheel of one or another of them and would give it a shot,” Matt Weir said. “We put him behind the 700-horsepower mudrunner and he did pretty well – he kept it on the track.”

For his daughter, Leslie Weir Lang, he instilled a love of hockey, even if, for her, the best part of the game was the fights.

Mr. Weir introduced his daughter to some of the players on the Maine Mariners, Portland’s former American Hockey League team. He often skated with members of the team, including one who was known as the enforcer, whose main role was to start fights.

When the enforcer came out on the ice, “I would scream, because I knew there would be a fight. My father would laugh and we would shake our hands like we were throwing off the gloves,” she said.

Lang enjoyed the hockey, but grew to appreciate that her father, after a full day of work, would drive an hour to Orrs Island, get her and drive an hour back to Portland for a game and then another hour’s drive home afterward.

“These are the things that I think of now as a parent, that he drove that extra couple of hours to spend time with his daughter,” she said.

Mr. Weir’s wife and children said that one of the things that impressed them most was how he could connect with people and share what he learned.

“He loved to be with people and he never stopped talking except, well, when he was sleeping,” Martha Weir said.

And for all his interests and pursuits, she said he valued a well-turned phrase – clear and precise language – above almost everything else.

“He liked a fine-tuned car, but he liked a fine-tuned sentence better,” she said.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

emurphy@pressherald.com

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