Farewell to ‘The Pope’

2010-06-26 00:00

HUNDREDS of people gathered at the Hilton College chapel yesterday for the memorial service of Graeme Pope-Ellis, who died last Thursday, at the age of 62 in a tragic accident while driving his tractor on his Table Mountain farm road outside Pietermaritzburg.

Chairs were set on the lawn outside the chapel, which was filled to capacity, where mourners listened to a live sound feed of the ceremony.

The service was led by the Reverend Ron Nicolson.

Pope-Ellis’s wife, Wendy, also spoke to the congregation. “He was taken too soon. He was my first and only love and the rock around which my life revolved,” said Wendy Pope-Ellis.

“One night he told me that he would be lost without me if I had to go first and I am glad that he has not had to go through the same pain and suffering that we have all gone through.

“He will leave an enormous void that nobody will ever be able to fill,” she said.

Family friends and paddlers who had raced with and against Pope-Ellis, including Martin Dreyer, also spoke.

Dreyer was clearly emotional. “Pope, I want to be just like you,” he sobbed. “He taught me how to pay attention to detail, how to have discipline and that hard work will always pay off. I owe my first Dusi win completely to him.

“He was my father away from home.”

Similar tributes, all of an emotional nature, were made by the likes of Lloyd Darby, Anthony Edmonds, Charles Mason and Rick Whitton, who shared stories and fond memories of their time with “The Pope”.

One of Pope-Ellis’s fiercest competitors during the 1980s and four-time Dusi winner, John Edmonds, was also present.

“I was eight or nine when I became aware of who he was and he became an inspiration for us all,” he said.

“It is a huge loss to all of us here. He was an example to everyone and was never arrogant, in victory or in defeat. There will never be a Dusi where his name is not mentioned. He is the benchmark, the fabric of the whole history of the event.”

Son Lee Pope-Ellis shared some thoughts about his father.

“He was an incredible father, and not just to me,” he said.

“He is still with us in spirit and in the memories we have of him.”

Pope-Ellis won the three-day Hansa Powerade Dusi 15 times during his dominance of the race in the 1970s and ’80s.

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