Oom Johan and Tannie Susan
As a kid I had no real mentors other than my father. There were a number of people that I greatly respected and some who taught me a great deal. Later on in life I worked with some great people and in the field of natural history I met may people whom I greatly respected. Good people, incredibly talented and experts in their field but no real mentors with one exception – my good friend Paul Moler from whom I have learnt a great deal and still do.
In Standard eight (now grade ten) e few of us were chosen to go on a youth leadership camp. We traveled by train from Durban to Johannesburg where about sixty of us stayed at the Voortrekker Camp at Florida Lake. From there we visited the Carlton Centre which was still under construction and Jan Smuts Airport where we went into hangers where Boeings were being serviced. Our next stop was a farm near Vredefort in the Free State where we got to shoot with military weapons, log hand grenades and listen to talks on a variety of subjects. Magnus Malan was one of the speakers. We also spent a great deal of time in the field, divided into groups where we were mentored in leadership.
The farm belonged to Oom Johannes Maree and his wife Tannie Susan, salt of the earth people who devoted much of their life to young people. Oom Johannes left a great impression on me and a few months later four of us got onto a train from Durban to spend our winter holiday on the same farm near Vredefort, where we got to know Oom Johan and Tannie Susan better. He was truly a remarkable man, a great leader and a particularly impressive mentor.
About twelve years ago I was in the same area with the Steenkamp family and asked about Oom Johannes and Tannie Susan. They knew them well and we popped over for a visit. It was over thirty five years since I saw them last but recognised them instantly. It was a pleasant visit and both of them remembered me well. Oom Johannes dug out an old scrapbook and read a letter that a kid had sent him years back, thanking them for their hospitality and for the rusks that they provided upon his departure. Little did I know that it was a letter that I had mailed to them back in 1972.
Last year we were near Parys with the Steenkamps and visited Oom Johannes and Tannie Susan again. Both were in good health, busy with a variety of projects but clearly showing their age. Another very pleasant visit.
This morning (16 June 2021) I received a WhatsApp message from my good friend Leon Steenkamp who informed me that Oom Johannes had passed away. The end of another great era and a privilege to have known such a formidable but humble man. My thoughts go out to his family and friends. A man I will never forget