I can’t believe it. Steph. Died in a car accident today. Near Frankfort.
I’ll write later.
Here’s how we’ll always remember you, Steph. Us who knew you in the 60’s and 1970 – your matric year.
His more recent friends and family remember him like this: Mad keen fisherman, yachtsman, can-do builder, taker-on of major projects. Big-hearted friend, builder of schools for underprivileged people, generous to a fault, though he would dispute the ‘fault’ part.
Later: JP, his boet, his family, his workers and his colleagues put on an amazing memorial service and wake for Steph at The Pines this Saturday. Entertained and feted us royally. His daughter tells me he has seen to it that each of them are set up with something to do to keep going. ‘Kom ons organise dit,’ was his saying. There were grandkids running around and the day was just as if he had organised it himself. It typified Steph de Witt, as it was Generous and Inclusive. The family did him proud.
I have written about our schooldays here:
We were a gang of five that came of age together. Really fun days. Beer, wit, song, wisdom, ‘borrowed’ cars, adventures and escapades * and um, extra homework (some of these things may be disputed by some) . . . Pierre du Plessis and Steph and Larry Wingert, our American Rotary exchange student, were 1970 matrics, me and Tuffy Joubert were 1972 matrics. I phoned Larry in Ohio to let him know the sad news last night.
One of the things I am most grateful for (I’m in awe, really) and I try hard to apply some of it in a balanced way to my Jess & Tom, is just how tolerant and patient our 1960’s and ’70’s Vrystaat parents were! I’m sure Steph’s Mom Alet and my Mom Mary, Pierre’s Mom Joan, Tuffy’s Mom Joyce often knew we were out and about but they would just check we were OK in the morning. ** Larry’s Mom would have been blissfully unaware of her son’s shenanigans in Africa!
Steph’s Dad the legendary Koos de Witt died when Steph was in Std 6. He was a prominent builder: Built many Much Deformed churches all over SA. Steph did civil engineering at varsity then started building. Made and lost fortunes. Owned a huge ocean-going catamaran, house in Cape Town, ‘cottage’ in Kommetjie, game farm in Limpopo. Then he was back – bought the biggest stone house in Kestell while he had big contracts to build roads and a shopping centre in Qwa Qwa. I looked him up there on our way to Lesotho once. He was driving a huge imported Ford F250 pickup truck. When I told him which road we were taking into Lesotho in my kombi he said “You can’t go that way, Koos! I built the road to the border and that’s fine, but after that you’ll never make it!” Well, we did, but Aitch veto’d that route thereafter.
He always kept The Pines – or Shady Pines – their big old house in Harrismith and ran it as a B&B. He wanted to start a museum and had bought and restored his Dad’s big old Dodge and his Mom’s old Karmann Ghia.
Next month Steph was going to take another exchange student from my year who they hosted to his game farm – Greg Seibert’s first visit back to SA since 1972. We’ll have to fill in that part of his itinerary.
His year had their 45th matric reunion last week. Older sister Barbara was in his class and was involved in organising it. But Steph didn’t go. Getting together with the hele klas wasn’t his style. A few beers with the boys would have done it. Although: For their 40th reunion he and Pierre organised, hosted and paid for the whole thing. Wouldn’t take any money from the rest of the class! Generous people. His funeral was organised by his brother JP, his kids and his wife and ex-wife just as he’d have wanted it. All his workers invited, all his friends and more. LOTS of food and drink and lasting the whole day. At The Pines.
Now he’s gone. Well, none of us would have predicted Steph dying of old age in bed, that’s for sure. But this soon? No, no, no!
Our last reunion was in 1996 when Larry visited from Ohio:
*I told you how we stood innocently in assembly while the headmaster promised threateningly that he would catch the blighters who had left tyre-mark donuts on the netball courts – “Ons sal hulle vang!” – and we thought “No you won’t”.
** The other day I was about to growl “Turn down that noise!” to Tom when I thought to myself I don’t remember my folks ever doing that to my full-blast Jethro Tull or Led Zeppelin! Amazing!
Pierre at Steph’s funeral:
I pulled over to catch this moonrise over Bobbejaanskop, Platberg as I left Harrismith that sad day:
“The great pleasure in a schoolboy’s life is doing what people say he cannot – may not – do.”
- paraphrasing Walter Bagehot, British journalist, businessman, and essayist