PMB's town crier falls silent

2012-02-20 00:00

IN his flamboyant royal navy and red suit with gold brocade and his tricorne hat, Pietermaritzburg’s recently departed town crier cut a striking figure.

 

Peter Southwood will be buried in the suit he loved to wear and his bell will sit atop his coffin.

As condolences and messages of sympathy have poured in for this much loved character, Southwood’s passing will be noted by the silence at events where he would have been a familiar figure.

Southwood died on Friday after battling ill-health and diabetes-related complications for the past year. He chose to go home for his final hours to be surrounded by his family.

Many Pietermaritzburg people will remember Southwood for his larger-than-life personality and his character as South Africa’s only town crier.

In 1991 he was approached by Dick Jones, the former director of publicity in Pietermartizburg who had seen a town crier in Chester in England.

He thought it would be a good idea to have a similar institutiion in Pietermaritzburg as the city was full of colonial buildings and it would bring a sense of occasion during important public events.

The wheels were set in motion and Southwood was enthusiastic about doing the job.

John Buckle, who had designed the costumes for the characters in the movie Zulu Dawn, designed his fancy costume.

Southwood was in the banking profession as a young man and an accomplished insurance broker. He was also described by friends as having a passion for the English language and a flair for the dramatic.

His town crier exploits were captured on various television features like Vertoon Venster’s Focus on Pietermaritzburg, and last year’s Car Quest introducing Cars in the Park.

Most Maritzburg citizens encountered him at the Liberty Midlands Mall where he strutted up and down ringing his bell or at the farmers’ market.

Southwood was also an accomplished toastmaster and public speaker. He liked to teach these skills to others, travelling as far as Port Shepstone to coach children in speaking classes.

His booming voice and gentle manner were encouraging.

Old friend Ray Ballantyne said Southwood was a great inspiration to many with his speaking techniques and he had a knack of setting the tone for functions. “He was a very popular MC for functions and his crier costume was like a second skin for him. People loved it.”

Southwood’s daughter, Penelope Hardman, said her father had been ill for a while and was ready to move on.

“We are all very sad, but it was time. He would have been 74 yesterday.”

Hardman said her father had performed as town crier for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip and the Lord Mayor of London, and had “bayete-ed” for the King of the Zulus.

“He competed at two international crier’s competitons in Australia and Canada.”

Melanie Veness, CEO of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business, said: “Peter was large in stature and large in personality. He was so enthusiastic about his role as town crier and he brought a special magic to this role. He made his presence felt at any occasion he was at, and we will really miss him.”

Msunduzi Municipality spokesperson Brian Zuma said: “The passing away of our town crier, Peter Southwood, leaves an indelible dent in the legacy and heritage of our city.”

Southwood leaves his wife, Anne, and four children — Wayne, Philippa, Amanda and Penny.

His funeral will be held at the Holy Trinity Church on Cedara Road on Saturday, February 25.

• trish.beaver@witness.co.za

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