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News - Ons Mense
Tuesday, 28 March 2017 11:44
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The Bard-in-the-bush’s voice is silent. Mooiplaats’ beloved Mervyn Woodrow passed away in the early morning hours of Friday 24 February in the age of 84 years. He suffered a hemorrhagic stroke on Sunday 19 February.

Artist, author, lecturer and one-time Arab breeder, Mervyn has lived on his Mooiplaats smallholding on the banks of the Pienaars River for more than 40 years.

The young art teacher, Mervyn Woodrow

Mervyn was born on 19 November 1932. He lost his mother when he was a little boy and grew up with his grandparents on a farm near Louis Trichardt, except for boarding school experiences at Messina, Boksburg and Klerksdorp. He studied to be an art teacher and his first post was at King Edwards in Johannesburg.

When Mervyn’s grandparents sold their farm and moved to the then Rhodesia, he got a post at Hoërskool Louis Trichardt where he taught English “in a town where English was as common as Egyptian”.

Mervyn and his wife Freda at the 2014 launch of his book, ‘Drinkers of the wind’

Mervyn’s challenge was to get children to pass English in a school where pupils wanted to drop out in standard eight rather than face this particular subject in matric. Mervyn made a promise to his pupils, when some of them wanted to leave school, that nobody would fail English. Not only did he live up to his promise, he also got them to perform Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

The bond between Mervyn and these past-pupils existed until the end, as Charles Leach, one of the speakers at Mervyn’s funeral service, attested to. In later years Mervyn was invited to his ex-pupils’ weddings and remained a part of their lives.

After his time as a school teacher, Mervyn was asked to teach English at the teacher’s college. He studied further and eventually taught English at the University of Pretoria until he retired to full-time writing and painting in Mooiplaats.

Mervyn in 2011 with a painting he did in 1981

His first novel, ‘A capital affair’, was made into a movie. His short stories and plays were broadcast on the English radio service in years gone by and his collection of short stories, ‘Bard in the bush’, delighted Bronberg residents who recognised characters from and incidents in their own area.

Other publications in his oeuvre include ‘Drinkers of the wind’, a collection of short stories; ‘Behind the mountain’, a novel; ‘With love from Grampa’, verse and songs for grandchildren; a number of handbooks; and his memoirs, ‘My little green book’.

Shelby’s salute at Mervyn’s grave

Mervyn kept writing even after he was diagnosed with macular degeneration, a medical condition that results in a loss of vision in the centre of the visual field, which makes it difficult or impossible to read.

Mervyn said that he sat with a writing pad in front of him. He felt the top of the pad and the sides with his hands and tried to scrawl something. He then put his hand over the space he thinks he has already covered with writing and continued below it. These scrawls he then handed to his wife Freda, who tried to decipher it, typed it out, read it back to him and made the corrections.

Mervyn’s son, Christopher, at the podium with his wife, Freda, and son, Nick, sitting in front. The Arab horse can be seen in the background

Mervyn was an Arab horse breeder for 20 years and for eight years had a 1 600 metre race track on his Mooiplaats smallholding where people could go to race their Arabs. He was editor of the SA Arab Horse magazine and president of the Arab Horse Society for two terms.

In 2015 Mervyn received a plate as token of gratitude for his services to the Arab Horse Society from its president, Wesley Hayes

Prof Cheryl McCrindle from Donkerhoek Veterinary services writes: “I met Mervyn 42 years ago when we both owned Arabian horses bred by Victor Voorendyk of the Vidiko Stud. Mervyn played a huge role in building both the Arab Horse Society and the Arabian classes at the Pretoria show. I remember so well the Arab parade he introduced, that the audience always enjoyed and the wild gallops we used to have in the traditional costume classes.”

Cheryl especially took one of her Arab horses to Mervyn’s funeral service.

People attending the farm funeral, sitting on bales of hay

His life was celebrated during a burial service on plot 258 Mooiplaats on 4 March, followed by a reception at the farm house where Mervyn lived for decades.

Apart from an Arab horse at his graveside, Mervyn was saluted by a ten-year-old sheepdog, Shelby. Shelby and previous generations of sheepdogs have been training with their owner, Tania Quarmby, at the Woodrow farm since 1999.

Tania explains that the final salute Shelby did for Mervyn is a version of the missing man formation aerial salute done to commemorate fallen pilots.

Tania Quarmby, who has been training her sheepdogs on the Woodrow farm since 1999, early on a Sunday morning with Mervyn and Freda

“I started sheepherding on mr Woodrow’s farm in 1999. He never knew me from a bar of soap, but we knocked on his door, looking like drowned rats from playing with our dogs on another farm in the rain. My friend asked if I could practice with my dogs on mr Woodrow’s farm. He looked at me long and hard and said okay. The rest is history . . .”

“Since then I have worked with Cayley (deceased), Nibble (deceased), Roxy, who is now 14 years old and quite deaf, Shelby, Gypsy Girl and Georgi Girl, who all attended the funeral.” 

Mervyn leaves his wife, Freda, behind as well as his sons Nick and Christopher and their families.

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