Of the seven billion people on Planet Earth only one called me ‘My Handsome Oke’. This blog is a tribute to that perceptive lady – Trish – ‘Aitch’ – our sweetheart and Mom!
What a busy character, she took our lives by storm. From headgirl in Muizenberg (she was Humphrey, hence the ‘Aitch’) to working on hearts with Prof Chris Barnard to coastal and celestial navigator of yachts to Brazil, the Caribbean and onward; After leaving government hospital service, she took to selling pharmaceuticals with gusto, first to pharmacies, then doctors, then specialists – ending up selling the oncology drugs she herself then used when she got breast cancer; Nature and wildlife, especially local KZN plants became a passion and she grew them, sold them, gardened with them and advocated for them with love;
Then she started raising kids and omigoodness, did she revel in that! Fostering at first, then adopting and raising Jessie to 13 (“and a half”) and Tommy to 9 (“and a half”). Those early child-infested days was the only time she didn’t work fulltime, so she baked wicked fattening cakes for coffee shops.
Four years as an estate agent followed, then back to selling cancer drugs.
Energy! Drove me mad.
We miss her intensely, we loved her as dearly as she loved us, and we dedicate this site to her memory, which now has us laughing fondly often, and ooh!-ing when we do something wrong or not ‘up to standard’!
— PS: I do occasionally check the site, but mostly it’s pretty static — Do please comment if you knew her – thanks —
The quote about the loss of a friend was by Robert Southey, English poet d.1843
This was Aitch before me. She and her twin Janet were born in Johannesburg in 1958 and placed in the JHB Children’s Home, from where Neil and Iona Humphrey adopted them.
The new family moved to Cape Town while the girls were still tiny.
Muizenberg, Cape Town – She’s Head Girl! 1975
Boyfriends and Biking! Here she’s seen ready to leave for the Buffalo Rally in East London, dressed in yellow rainproof kit; Cars, too. She had a little VW Beetle, but would say ‘You should buy me a sportscar. I used to drive an Alfa Spyder you know!’ – but this is the only pic of an Alfa I can find in her albums. She was a Girl Guide; Here too are her Dad Neil, Mom Iona (and a previous fiancee! shh!).
Coming of age! Trish & Janet’s 21st:
I found some of her old diaries. Boy, was she busy! Here’s one week in the life of a cardiovascular perfusionist who is learning to sail, becoming a navigator, going to braais, catching movies and plays and having friends round to meals in her flat; All while working at Grootte Schuur hospital. After reading each page I had to go and lie down for a while. That January she clocked up 12 hours overtime, running heart-lung machines while surgeons did their open heart surgery.
Aitch wanted to go overseas, couldn’t afford an air ticket, so decided she’d work her way over. She started sailing weekends while taking evening courses at Cape Town’s General Botha Naval Academy.
Her course: ‘Coastal & Celestial Navigation’ and ‘Ocean Navigation’.
Her plan: To earn a place on an Atlantic crossing.
Eric & Lola had a 36ft boat called Danné. They wanted to head off into the wild blue yonder but they couldn’t navigate. A perfect fit! So they offered Trish a berth as navigator and crew to sail from Cape Town to the Caribbean via St Helena and Brasil. She decided to do it, resigning her job as cardiovascular perfusionist at the provincial hospital. Notes in her diary tell of weekend days spent sailing and nights spent preparing the yacht for departure. ‘We varnished food tins, then packed them under the floorboards’.
Her dear old Dad Neil was so worried when she was about to set sail from Cape Town off across the Atlantic that he pulled her aside once and said “Trishy, you know boats drag a rope behind them. If you fall overboard, make sure you grab that rope!”
Brasil – a local water taxi in Salvador returns Aitch to Danné after shopping ashore:
In the Caribbean she left Danné and looked for a new berth. She joined Chrismi II – an 85ft aluminium-hulled, teak-decked charter yacht. She was the catering deck hand, cooking for mainly French guests. Despite having to scrub the teak deck, she loved that boat!
Chrismi II cruised around here: *click on pic*
To sail on to Europe she’d have to find another ride. She signed up as navigator and crew to deliver Drumbeat, a 1957 Clare Lallow 60ft wooden cruising sailboat, to France for a refit, via the Bahamas and the Azores. Despite having to scrub and polish the deck, she loved that boat!
Aitch always told a tale of a whale that surfaced alongside: “It was bigger than the boat!”
And of how she was swept off her feet by a wave during an Atlantic storm. She hung onto the wheel for dear life. All the other hands were belowdecks. As the water receded they shouted out “Are you still there?!”
And of being becalmed in the English Channel in thick fog, hoping not to get run over by big smelly metal vessels; being hugged and feted when her navigation proved spot-on when they first spied land in France.
In Durban before I met her she was taken on as crew on a yacht but then got a call saying the opportunity had fallen through as the boat had been sold. Turned out later it had been sold to bank robbers! The boat was the Lily Rose, used by notorious bank robber Andre Stander.
Later, whenever she’d talk about “completing her circumnavigation” I’d say “OK. But I’ll fly in and meet you at anchor behind a sheltered reef on an island somewhere.”
Diary entry the day she sailed, 5 August 1982: ‘I was seasick’
Then I found the postcards Trish sent from Brasil! – Salvador, where they sailed up the Paraguacu river; then on northwards to Recife, then Joao Pessoa.
Then they left Brasil, sailing Danne on to Union, Mayreux and Bequia Islands in the Grenadines. Their main anchor was in Admiralty Bay.
Then to Petit St Vincent and Palm Island. Tobago Cays and Mustique (17 Jan 1983)
Martinique (‘civilization!’ said Trish) on 28 January, then Young Island and St Vincent. Back to Martinique where Danne was hauled out for scraping off barnacles and painting. ‘Hard work in the heat,’ says Trish.
St Thomas US Virgin Islands was next. They got ice cream there. AND: She was now on the Chrismi II !! She had left Eric and Lola and Danne. No mention of the thoughts that led to the change, but lots of mention of letters, so her letters probably had more detail.
On 19 March she wrote ‘Just back from our first charter and just wanted to collapse in a heap, but no let-up.’ They had to prepare the boat for a prospective new owner. Trish was now also the cook and was relieved when the important guest said her food ‘looked and tasted so good!’ Chartering as crew was frustrating as they worked so hard they saw little of the islands they ‘island-hopped to.’ US and British Virgin Islands (‘I think my favourite is St John’).
Chrismi II usually had ten guests and four crew. Trish had a huge fridge and a huge freezer. On to Antigua and St Barthelemy, French Antilles.
27 April – the entire crew is leaving Chrismi II !! Trish is joining Drumbeat, a 65ft wooden ketch on its way to England for a re-fit. It’ll be skippered home by ‘Miranda’ – a slinky lass shorter than Trish judging by the pics.
On 27 May she wrote from Bermuda – St George’s Harbour (‘founded in 1612’) – they had sailed from St Maarten, been becalmed (in the eye of a storm it seems) and then had gale-force winds. ‘A miserable trip.’
On to the Azores – the Portuguese Acores, and Faial and Pico Islands.
Left the Azores 30 June, landfall at L’Aberwrac’h in North Brittany France on 15 July. After walking around the villages (Landeda and Lannilis) they left to sail for Jersey.
She then lived on Drumbeat to 5 August, when the owner of the yacht flew her to England to stay with his family on their farm on the Devon coast.
In England she was met by her boyfriend Les Posniak and they drove off on a lo-ong trip through England and Wales and then crossed to Holland on 10 September.
I found a series of postcards written by Aitch to her folks, her boyfriend and his parents, obviously given back to her on her return. They serve as a diary of her travels, though she kept a diary, too.
In 1982 – 1983, she crossed the South Atlantic from Cape Town via St Helena to Salvador Brasil as the navigator on a 36ft yacht named Danné.
Aitch on St Helena; Eric and Lola catching a dorado on Danné – fresh food!
Aitch wrote about it later:
She loved Brasil. In Salvador they sailed up the Rio Paragau. At anchor she would catch river taxis manned by young boys to go ashore and return to the boat. They visited people, went to a symphony orchestra and chamber music recital in Joao Pessoa, caught fish, crayfish and crabs to eat and rode a bike on the cobblestones.
They then carried on to Union, Mayreux and Bequia Islands in the Granadines.
Soon after, she left Danné and joined Chrismi II, an 85ft aluminium charter yacht, as a deckhand and chef.
Then she sailed north across the North Atlantic from St Maarten on the 65ft wooden ketch Drumbeat to Bermuda, then across to the Azores, on to France and then to Jersey in the English Channel. Drumbeat was on its way back to be refitted and spruced up. Some of the pictures I show are post-refit.
On Drumbeat they went to Bermuda and on to the Portuguese Azores.
Drumbeat is a beauty:
Old Drumbeat, before Trish:
(2021: Selling up and hitting the road as a nomad, so I’m having to clear out tons of Trish’s stuff. I am recording and photographing as much as I can, posting it here, then discarding)
She sailed in across the South Atlantic on Danné from the south and east and left northwards and westwards across the North Atlantic on Drumbeat.
In-between she island-hopped between Martinique and St Thomas on the luxury Chrismi II with French tourists aboard.
The parties of guests were usually friends on holiday, mostly French, and they would sunbathe nude; Aitch would walk between the lolling bodies up on deck offering snacks she’d made; ‘Koos!’ She’d tell me, wide-eyed and loving it, ‘It looked like an asparagus patch on deck!’
Sometime around Feb-March 1983 she left Danne and joined Chrismi II
Just the two of us. We spent most weekends in game reserves, or on rivers canoeing, or mountain biking, or traveling further afield. I have too few pictures of Trish, I’m afraid as she was the cameraman! Always with our bird and tree books, binocs and telescope. We camped or cabin’d – and occasionally we’d go luxury, cos we were rich – blissful DINKYs (“Double Income No Kids Yet”). Trish also enjoyed parties. Especially throwing them!
At SabiSabi River Camp Trish broke the ice and got Colin Hall’s experimental “Seven Habits” weekend going when her loud peal of delighted laughter at discovering how they’d tricked her (when everyone else was keeping quietly embarrassed) allowed everyone to relax, forget stuffiness and start relating as equals. Talk about shattering the ice!
Colin Hall wrote to her afterwards:“Your contribution was so special so wholesome so special – you may never know just what magic you made. We really wanted you here!”
40th birthday celebrations, still child-free! Mine, “Cartoons and Disney”, Trish’s theme: “You’ll Never See Me Like This Again”. For hers I had my hair died (fake), tattoos (fake) and my ear pierced and a stud fitted (real). (Actually, when she turned 40 we had Tiger, come to work it out).
Indigenous passion awakened by Ian Whitton, Geoff Nichols, Barry Porter, Geoff Caruth, and Enver Buchus at Silverglen nursery. She joined the BotSoc committee and worked in Caruth’s Geoff’s Jungle nursery (of “Bring elephants back to your garden – plant a marula” fame).
Our 7 River Drive, Westville garden on the Mkombaan River, inherited from Mike & Yvonne Lello after they had indigenised it for fifteen years. We stayed on for fifteen years, too:
A brief stint in nursing, quickly followed by Blood Transfusion. Then she discovered, and loved, Cardiovascular Perfusion – Operating the heart-lung machines during open heart surgery. She worked at Grootte Schuur Hospital in Cape Town with Prof Christiaan N Barnard of heart transplant fame. Below, she and the Prof check the oxygenator:
On to the Johannesburg General hospital, then to Durban’s Wentworth hospital and Dr Ian Whitton.
Sales: – She then left for her first job in the private sector: Pharmaceutical – Professional sales representative – Head-hunted to work for all the Big ‘Uns, winning Best Salesman Awards in just about every company she worked for!
Marketing: – Her next stint was in buying and marketing for our group of optometric practices. Off she went to Damelin to do their marketing diploma.
Home: – Then she took time off from corporate while we fostered kids, baking for coffee shops to keep an income going.
Estate Agent: –Trish decided she wanted to learn about property and thought an estate agent’s flexible hours would suit her. As with everything she did she jumped in, learnt fast, passed the qualifying exams and registered.
The first show house she did on her own (after sitting in with colleagues on their show homes to learn the ropes) turned into a frightening episode when she was jumped by a number of men who marched in on her and tied her up in the bathroom, hands behind her back and tethered to the washbasin pedestal. They locked her inside and then left in her car. Once Aitch heard them drive off she managed to get hold of a razor on the washbasin with which she patiently sawed at the rope binding her. Not being able to see behind her she also cut herself and so was covered in blood by the time she freed herself. She then climbed out through the small window, causing more scratches and bruises, but at least she was free, relatively unharmed and able to call me. When I got there she was very upset but fully in control and coping amazingly well. From then on we always had someone with her at show houses. She spent about four years selling houses in all before being lured back to the pharmacy sales game.
One day she announced to me we’d be selling River Drive and moving to central Westville. “No! Never!” I protested, “I’m going to die right here at 7 River Drive.” She was adamant “We have to move.” “Why?” I asked. “To be near the boys high school.” “Why!?” I cried. “So Tommy can walk to school.” “But, but!” I protested, “He’s only two years old!” “I know,” she said calmly. We moved. And in 2015, eleven years later and four years after Trish had died, Tom walked to school! She would have looked so smug!
Back to pharmaceuticals – in oncology! Lots & lots of attention from all ‘her’ practices when she got cancer. Who would she choose as her personal oncologist! She chose Joanne James, good friend and physician.
Reluctantly Trish stopped working fulltime in her last year, but still did locum work for her “best boss ever” Michael Vogt – and was warmly welcomed in all “her” oncology practices whenever she visited.
Today 20 November 2017 I saw someone for his eyes. He said “I’m here cos my wife Charlene said you are Trish’s husband, I must come and see you!”. Amazing! She must have last seen Trish at Durban Oncology Centre seven years ago.
When she decided to go sailing she got a lovely send-off from her colleagues:
We decided what the hell, we’d get married, but WHERE? We’d both left our home towns decades ago. Lynne Porter said “Why not here?” and we leapt at the offer of getting married on our favourite game farm, Game Valley Estates at the foot of the Hella Hella in the Umkomaas valley.
A DIY farm wedding with about 40 guests who braved the very wet & muddy conditions to see us spliced. The biggest floods ever to hit the valley happened just a few months prior. Lynne & Barry were marooned on the farm for a while as the river washed the approaches to the bridge away and the rock and mudslides blocked the Hella Hella pass on the road to Donnybrook.Our guests slithered in on the muddy roads. When the electricity went down Dave Hill zipped off and fetched his big generator, saving the day! When it wouldn’t start Enea stepped up and fixed the wiring, getting it going.
After days and nights of rain, our day dawned sunny and hot. In fact HOT!
I’d better find more wedding photos!
Our guests stayed on the farm (family) and at the nearby Qunu Falls Lodge and Maverick Ranch.