Clem Sunter

Two Great South Africans

2010-11-17 12:30

Clem Sunter

Last week saw the death of a great South African. His name was Rob Filmer and his life should serve as an inspiration for all of us who live at this end of the continent.

Together with his wife Julie, he established Eco-Access, an organisation to help disabled people discover the beauties of nature and to make the nature reserves in South Africa – in particular the camps – accessible to such people. They started a “green revolution” of their own for which they have deservedly received numerous awards.

There was a twist to the tale. Rob Filmer was diagnosed with diabetes at a very early age. By the time he met Julie, he had lost his sight due to this condition and had to have regular dialysis. As he himself declared: “Jules and I have enjoyed the most special relationship. Many people stand in awe and admiration of the love and closeness we share. Maybe it is because of my vulnerability and maybe it is in spite of it.”

I remember a dinner for Eco-Access at which I was asked to speak. Rob went through a series of dramas over his health beforehand, but he was the life and soul of the party at our table. He was always joking, yet underneath the humour lay a soul which always rose to the challenge and made as its chief objective the happiness of others.

Julie put it this way: “Back in 1997, we were troubled at how people did not seem to comprehend our situation. Now we have began to realise that perhaps it was not for them to understand. It was ours to deal with, learn from and come to terms with, in whichever ways we chose to do so. They were on their own paths, doing their own thing, dealing with their own personal process, joys, challenges and difficulties.

“Although we are all interdependent beings supporting each other to cope, progress and survive, we are also each on our particular delicate journeys, with their meanings or lack thereof. We all move to our own particular drumbeat. Only we can change our rhythm.”

What a beautiful way of describing life in general and that of her husband in particular!

A book of Rob’s life is due to be published shortly. Interaction with people was always part of Rob’s medication. I have always felt that to improve your own quality of life, you must improve the quality of life of the people around you. Rob and Julie have done this for years under exceptionally arduous circumstances.

Now Julie is left to carry on the honourable tradition of making the wonders of nature something that anybody – whatever their health and whatever their circumstances – can marvel over. She will be successful because she too is a great South African.

To Rob, goodbye and thanks for all the good times from a fellow guitarist.

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