Obituary: Duggie Pillay — bodybuilder, philanthropist

2009-06-05 00:00

A STALWART in the Pietermaritzburg community, R.N. “Duggie” Pillay, died on Monday after a short illness. Pillay, who would have celebrated his 88th birthday on June 16, enjoyed good health until a few months ago.

His children, Meera Chetty and Sanjaya Pillay, said that despite being frail, Pillay did not succumb to his illness but continued to try and help himself.

Pillay and four friends opened the first black-owned shoe factory in the city in the 1950s, called Lincoln Shoes.

The friends had started their wor­king life at Eddels shoe factory and opened their own business with no capital — just their skills and an entrepreneurial spirit. The factory was first run from rented premises in Plessislaer, then from its own building in Failsworth Road from the early 1970s until its closure in 1982.

In 1950, Pillay won the Mr Maritzburg title for body-building as a member of the Henry Christian School of Physical Culture.

The highlight of this time was his meeting with international body-building legend Reg Park. When Park died in 2007, Pillay paid tribute to him in The Witness, saying he was especially impressed that, despite apartheid, Park made the effort to vi­sit their gym.

Pillay featured in the newpaper again in February this year, when he responded to an appeal for Park memorabilia to be used in a documentary on the three- time Mr Universe winner. He submitted the historic photograph when Park visited the local Henry Christian School of Physical Culture.

Chetty said her father’s body-building was less about ego than about the development of mind and body. “This is how he lived his whole life and I remember he would wake us up every morning to do brea­thing and other exercises, which usually ended up with us children falling around laughing.”

Being a healthy human being also meant contributing to the upliftment of the community, and Pillay was both a political and community activist. He was part of the group of stalwarts with Dr Chota Motala, A.S. Chetty, Dr Vasu Chetty and C.D. Moodley, who were involved in many of the civic protests during the apartheid era.

He received a citation from the Natal Indian Congress for his contribution to the struggle. He served in various organisations, including the Child and Family Welfare Society, where he set up a self-help “shoelacing” project to help the unemployed. He was a member of the Hindu Young Men’s Association (HYMA) , the Aryan Benevolent Society and the Mountain Rise Ratepayers’ Association, and served on the commitee of the Siva Soobramoniar and Marriamen Temples.

Chetty said that of all his achievements her father was proudest of being a founding member of the Sunrise Senior Citizens Club. “He would say, ‘This is my other family, a place for old people to be loved and cared for and have a family.’”

His son, Sanjaya, said his father was a great follower of Mahatma Gandhi and he lived by Gandhi’s words, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’

“… he lived by this maxim. An award that sums it all up is one he received in 1953 from the Automobile Association of South Africa for helping a stranded motorist who wrote to the AA about his good deed …”

Pillay lost his wife Lalitha in 2002 and a son in 1974. He is survived by his two children and four grandchildren. His funeral takes place tomorrow at the VVPS Hall, 5 Claremont Road, Mountain Rise, from 10 am.

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