A good man gone

2019-05-06 10:03
Stephanie Saville.

Stephanie Saville.

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On Tuesday afternoon, I received some bad news. I was scanning through The Witness classifieds when I came across a death notice, out of the blue, for a contact I had worked with for many years.

I had chatted to him via WhatsApp and e-mail just a month ago and I had no idea he was so ill.

News of John Campbell’s death hit me quite hard. I’m a jaded old news hack, and contacts come and contacts go, but there was something special about John.

We got to know each other because over the years I had done news stories about his very important work with Working on Fire and the Lion’s River Fire Protection Association.

He had willingly helped on many occasions with good information, rainfall stats and other snippets of news, and I can’t remember how it happened, but while we were chatting one day, I let him into a family joke.

Each year on the Ides of March (March 15), the day Julius Caesar’s senators did one on him, my sisters and I have a competition to be the first to SMS and then more lately to WhatsApp each other the words “Beware the Ides of March”, sometimes in Latin too.

We pretend to be really superstitious about the day. It’s a silly family tradition, but with most of us having studied Latin at some point, it became a ritual.

And, we take it all fairly seriously, the five of us. Anyway, one year John and I were chatting about something or other and one of us mentioned the Ides of March. I told him of the tradition and complained that my one sister kept pipping me to the post with the warning each year, very, very early in the morning on March 15.

That must have been a good 10 years ago. And, every year since without me asking him to, John has sent me a reminder on or before March 14 to set my alarm to send the text and beat my sisters. I always let him know the outcome, which of us had won.

When I won, he rejoiced. When I lost, he commiserated. He became part of the fun of it all. And if I hadn’t heard from him for a while, I would send him a text or e-mail and he would reply.

We would grumble a bit about our health or the weather or whatever to each other at times, but he was always, always upbeat, with a joke or quip that made me laugh.

In our latest Ides of March exchange this year, he WhatsApped on the morning of March 14: “Tomorrow IDES OF MARCH. Time to set your alarm for tomorrow morning to keep your winning streak running. (Smiley face and red exclamation mark emojis.)”

I thanked him in my reply and warned him to beware the Ides himself. But, alas, one of my sisters sent the first message at 5.04 am.

I was still fast asleep and hadn’t won. I felt so bad telling John because I almost felt like I’d let him down. But his reply back made me giggle. “Dammit, send her a box of sleeping pills next year!”

John was one of those constants in my career. If there were fire stories John was often the go-to man for the Witness reporters and I.

I did a great feature on him in 2008. You see, besides being a font of fire knowledge, John was also a very interesting fellow. He was a water diviner and a flood predictor. He also dabbled in predicting fires.

When we finally met for the story I did on him, on a field near Darvill, he showed me his skills.

I wrote that his divining rod made from two six-millimetre nylon rods, a piece of gas pipe and a glob of Pratley’s putty, were combined to form the mystical tool which guided him somehow to where the underground water was.

In a touching tribute, Bobby Hoole, fire protection officer of the Lion’s River Fire Protection Association, wrote that John had volunteered there as chairperson since 2006.

He had been active in the Midlands fire fraternity for the past 33 years, having been directly involved in the area since 1985, initially with Natal Midlands Fire Protection Association (NMFPA) and in 1991 as chairperson of Lions River District Fire Control Area.

John’s spirit of volunteerism was great, and I will miss him, especially around  the Ides of March each year. Rest peacefully John and thanks for all the help, with all the stories and especially, the Ides.

Lastly, I also want to pay tribute to local snake catcher Zane Barnard who died this week in a car crash.

Zane was also generous with his help to our reporters and we will miss him as a font of knowledge and someone who was, like John, so very passionate about what he did. It’s good to remember these men.

Let’s do it often. But now it’s time to go out and grab life by the horns and enjoy your weekend!

You’ve earned it.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  opinion and analysis
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