Weir, Andrew John (‘Jack’) (1919–2000), presbyterian minister and missionary, was born 24 March 1919 at Moukden in China, the son of Irish presbyterian missionaries, the Rev. Andrew Weir, who came from Claggan, near Cookstown, Co. Tyrone, and his second wife Margaret (née Grills). His mother, who wrote a biography of her husband, was one of three sisters who were missionaries in China. An only child, ‘Jack’ (as he was known) was educated at a local Chinese school and then in Chefoo, the China Inland Mission's school for the children of missionaries. In 1932 he enrolled at Campbell College in Belfast, then in 1936 proceeded to QUB, where he studied experimental physics, graduating B.Sc. and M.Sc. In preparation for ordination he read theology at Edinburgh and the Presbyterian College, Belfast, graduating BD from QUB.
Ordained in 1944, Weir served in Manchuria as a university chaplain and theological teacher before being expelled from the country in 1950 following the communist revolution. After a period as an assistant minister at Dundonald, he was installed at Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, in 1952, where he remained until 1962. In that year he was appointed assistant to the clerk of the general assembly, Dr Andrew Gailey, and succeeded him as clerk in 1964. The clerk of the general assembly, as general secretary of the presbyterian church, occupies a pivotal position in a church in which the moderator of the assembly is a largely representative figure, holding office for one year only. The clerk is ex officio a member of all assembly boards and committees, and one of Jack Weir's achievements as clerk was to preside over a complete revision of the church's constitution and government.
He was clerk during a period of sharp division and conflict in church and community. Irish presbyterians were divided over the question of ecumenical relationships in the context of violent political and sectarian conflict. Weir's calm and careful leadership helped to hold his church together when a majority in the general assembly decided in 1976 to ordain women and in 1980 that the church should withdraw from the World Council of Churches. He served on a wide range of national and international ecclesiastical bodies, including British, Irish, and European councils and conferences of churches, and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, sharpening his awareness of the need for the presbyterian church to respond positively to a rapidly changing world. His retirement address to the general assembly in 1985 was a plea to Irish presbyterians for greater openness to other churches and to the outside world. He himself was active in promoting reconciliation and mutual understanding. He risked misunderstanding and criticism when he participated in a group of protestant churchmen who met leaders of the IRA at Feakle, Co. Clare, in 1974, but his sincerity of purpose was recognised and he was elected moderator of the general assembly in 1976. In 1979 he led the Irish presbyterians who met Pope John Paul II in Dublin, and in the same year he and Bishop Cathal Daly were awarded honorary doctorates of divinity by QUB.
Weir's sharp, scientifically trained mind was always impatient of obfuscation or cant of any kind and he did not suffer fools gladly. Unmarried, he gave himself wholeheartedly to the service of the church, finding occasional recreation in hill climbing in Kerry and Mayo. China remained close to his heart and he was overjoyed to be a member of a British Council of Churches’ delegation, led by the archbishop of Canterbury, visiting Chinese churches in 1983. In 1996, though suffering from advanced Parkinson's disease, he paid a last visit to the land he regarded as home.
Jack Weir was first and foremost a disciple of Christ. He refurbished the chapel in Church House, headquarters of Irish presbyterianism, in memory of his parents and the church's missionaries, and not long before his death he published a devotional commentary on the Lord's prayer. He died 18 September 2000; paying tribute to him the moderator of the general assembly, Dr Trevor Morrow of Lucan, claimed that ‘there was no one in the Presbyterian church and in the wider community who did not respect and genuinely admire him’ (Presbyterian Herald, Oct. 2000).