Reg Sweet ... there goes a doyen, an officer and a gentleman

2011-06-23 00:00

HE should have departed to the sounding of trumpets and the beating of drums, but instead Reg Sweet’s death earlier this month has hardly raised a murmur.

Doyen is an over-used word but certainly the label sits comfortably with Sweet, a prolific writer and author who was highly respected internationally during his lengthy career as a journalist.

Sweet, a former sports editor of the Daily News and Sunday Tribune, died at Ermelo earlier this month and a memorial service for him will be held at Flame Lily Park in Malvern, Durban, tomorrow at 9.30am. He was 89.

Born in Paarl and educated at Paarl Boys’ High, he joined the South African Air Force as a 17-year-old at the outbreak of WW2 and it started a lifelong love affair with the Spitfire.

He was twice shot down and ditched in the Mediterranean while on missions over north Africa. Fittingly, he was the author of a book on Durban’s Spitfire squadron Phambili Bo! and his career as a fighter pilot had a strong impact on his life as he maintained strong links with the SAAF and the MOTH organisation until his final days.

Sweet, following his war-time exploits, also became an ardent ham radio operator

In 1980 in his Durban North home he picked up a faint SOS distress call from a stricken Australian yacht in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

The family of five had been drifting for five days when Sweet heard their morse code signal and within hours a ship had been diverted to pick up the family.

“I confess I went to bed a very happy man,” said Sweet, who had himself been plucked from the sea off Malta some 40 years earlier after sending out his SOS.

Shortly after the war he joined the Argus Company and for 37 years covered rugby and cricket for the Sunday Tribune and the Daily News before retiring in 1982.

He covered more than 100 rugby internationals – and at a time when Tests were not a dime a dozen - and wrote a series of books on major tours. In 1990 he produced the excellent Natal 100, the centenary of the Natal rugby.

Sweet also enjoyed covering cricket — this was an age when the sporting codes stuck to their seasons — and it was a time when the Currie Cup cricket trophy annually returned to Kingsmead.

On his retirement he spent five years on the Natal Rugby Union staff as press officer before moving to Clanwilliam in the early 1990s. Eddie, his first wife, died in Clanwilliam and four years later Sweet married Angela.

The couple moved to the MOTH Village at Flame Lily Park in Durban in 1998 where they stayed for 13 years until they both fell ill earlier this month and moved to Mpumalanga to live with Angela’s son, Leon Hoenderdos.

Sweet was charming, cheerful and generous and he brought these qualities to his writing. A nod of approval from him would be accompanied by his favourite expression “you are a scholar, sir, and a gentleman”.

His happiest times as a writer came in the late 1950s and 60s. Natal, with Izak van Heerden as the enlightened coach of a light, mobile team and with Keith Oxlee weaving magic at flyhalf, thrilled supporters and dismayed opponents with their brave, fast and expansive rugby.

Sweet, in his own style, perfectly captured the mood and adventure of those times. In a letter in 1990, and shortly after Natal had won the Currie Cup for the first time, he warmly praised the efforts of Ian McIntosh’s team.

“But I sigh for the Natal rugger style of the 50s and 60s – but we old codgers are always impossible to please, aren’t we?

Sweet was of the old school, objective, accurate and positive in his writing. He enjoyed creating the atmosphere and mood of sporting occasions rather than picking off individuals or highlighting moments of controversy.

Reg Sweet was, above all, an officer and a gentleman.

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