I remember the day Rod Conacher died. It was a hot summer in Astros, Greece. Glorious for a beach holiday with my father and brother and his children. We lived in the air conditioned flats and moved into the sea for the morning and sat under the thatch pergola of Costa’s psarotaverna for languid lunches.
It was a Monday when Mom told us Rory had called her about Rod’s passing. We had to tell dad. He was in 7th heaven on holiday in Greece with his sons and grandchildren. But he was fragile. He had had his defibrillator for two years and was coming to terms with the loss of his daughter. Just earlier in Greece he had met his confessor at Agio Dimitri, the church in Tripoli where his parents were married. He needed to rest in the morning heat as we climbed the hill that housed the old harbour houses of Astros, overlooking two beautiful bays. On Tuesday Peter and Nico came with us, in their shiny basket ball long shorts and fancy running shoes. We jogged a bit ahead of dad, and joined him on the way back to get fresh pastries from the bakery for breakfast.
On Wednesday dad and I went walking alone in the heat of the early morning. Sometimes we could talk easily, sometimes things were awkward. This was an awkward walk, and I convinced him to sit at a coffee shop on the beach along the way from Costa, to have an iced tea or frappe or something. Then I just blurted out that Rod had died. I swear my father died before me in that moment. Yet he was so full of life. The same thing happened three months later. He was so full of life, at the 80th birthday celebration of his friend George Bizos, yet he died at 430 am the next morning.
Rod and my father met when my father was chairman of the governing body at Alberton High and Rod was appointed Headmaster. He was a breath of fresh air, a leader ahead of his time. My father and he shared a passion for life and people and learning. They both respected everyone, from cleaner to teacher to banker to grandparent. They both believed in people. They both harnessed the power of other people to improve the world.
Rod managed to get my father on a wilderness trail in Zululand with Jim Feely. My dad took over by sourcing fresh prawns and Rustenburg wine from a small village bottle store and they had a party in the bush not quite in keeping with the traditions of the Wilderness Leadership School. But in keeping with life!
He advised Rod on financial matters. Rod bought a Peugeot, after dad was so happy with his 504. He made Rod keep his first house when he moved to Pretoria as an Inspector, and saved him from selling t a loss when the market was down. They met every now and then, at a function or just to meet, and recharged each other’s batteries.
Rod moved on to become Rector at JCE, the College of Education. His secretary would treat me like a visiting professor as she called him on the intercom to advise him that a distinguished visitor dressed as a sloppy student was waiting for him. We would always have tea and chat, and he would hold a real conversation.
Then he became head of Crawford College and developed the private system into what it is today. The last I saw him was in 2002 when he attended my 40th birthday at Mbona. He died in 2009. In those 7 years we shared conversations and spoke of dreams of finding the Lost City of the Kalahari.
A part of me died too when he died.