John Rushmere – Ikey Rugby Icon
Written by Gavin Fernie
It is a challenge to write about a celebrated UCT sportsman who is also a good friend without allowing subjective bias to creep into the picture. It took a long time for me to mull over how I would present John Rushmere to Ikeys of his generation, and to subsequent generations. Finally, it dawned on me that a brief introduction to the man and his sporting career would fit the bill, followed by John’s own tale of what it means to be a very proud Ikey, and a snapshot collection of wonderful anecdotes of playing for one of the all- time greatest UCT rugby teams
UCT produced a number of very fine sportsmen in the sixties, including rugby players, cricketers, athletes, squash players, table tennis and lovers… whoops, that slipped out! A handful of ladies of that era who met and mingled with Ikeys have testified to this fact, under oath, aided and abetted by lashings of Sauvignon Blanc.
The standout feature of John Rushmere’s philosophy in sport is that the sheer enjoyment, having fun, and the camaraderie is paramount. All exceptional sportsmen have a honed competitive edge, and John had plenty of that, but the friendships developed and sustained over the years were as important to him as the playing and winning.
It is my privilege and pleasure to share the anecdotes of John Rushmere:
What it Means to be a Proud Ikey: The Story of John Rushmere
My favourite rugby career memories are every minute I spent on the field wearing the famous UCT striped jersey. Maybe corny, but true. And I have a whole lot of truly wonderful and talented guys, and the greatest captain I have ever played with, to thank. Winning was always a distant possibility but it was the moment to moment joy that filled my soul
At the end of year dinner at the Glendower Louis Babrow told us that what we had experienced that year was a rare and beautiful thing which none of us would be likely to experience again. As usual, in my case, he was proved right.
Heartbreak: Missing the Junior Bok tour to Argentina
I continued playing for Varsity in ’62 and ’63, and in January ’64 moved to Johannesburg for professional reasons. I hooked up with Wanderers, joining such illustrious names as Syd Nomis, Mickey Gerber and Hugh Bladen, amongst other very fine players. I was fortunate enough to be selected for Transvaal, then captained by Abie Malan. In 1965 I was made captain of Wanderers but suffered a setback when, playing for Transvaal against Western Transvaal, I was persuaded to play with a raging temperature. I knew I was in trouble in the first minute, landed up with pleurisy, spent three weeks bedridden and missed the Junior Bok tour to Argentina after being told I was a certainty. But other matters were concerning me then. During my tenure as Capt. of Wanderers, I had a close association with our president, Chick Henderson, and learnt through him just how far the capture of rugby by the Broederbond had proceeded. That is a subject for another time, but the president of Transvaal Rugby Union was a leading figure who was quoted as saying:” Wanderers en Wits is nie deel van Transvaal rugby nie”. His name was Jannie le Roux, a sinister figure with a political agenda who did a great deal of harm to Transvaal rugby.
As captain of Wanderers it was my privilege to speak at our annual dinner. Normally a light-hearted affair, I chose to use the opportunity to speak out against Le Roux and his corrupt executive being careful not to fall foul of libel laws. The response from the dinner guests, and later the broader rugby public, was overwhelming, with many emphatic that my remarks were long overdue. Gavin Fernie, another great Ikey man, will probably recall this. I refused to recant in the face of empty threats and posturing by le Roux and his henchmen, being within my rights to comment as I saw fit. The upshot was that I chose not to subject myself to his regime on principle, and I quit rugby in 1966.
Finding Rugby: A Moment that Changed the Course of My Life
I very nearly didn’t play rugby. At school I had outgrown my strength and although I played and enjoyed it, the year I spent out of school before going to UCT I focused on tennis, with a view of continuing at varsity. It so happened that in 1958 there was a poor turnout of freshers for the rugby club, leading Paul Barnard (UCT Captain at the time) to canvas the residences. We Belsen boys gathered outside the mess while he climbed on a box. He pointed out that virtually all of us had “Rugby” on the tablets we had to wear around our necks and then asked how many had joined up. Embarrassingly about half a dozen raised their hands. He then asked who would now join. Being 6ft 6ish and very visible, it appeared that he was looking directly at me. My hand shot up in one of those moments that change the course of one’s life. Porky Wells then opened the door for me by seeing something in me that I didn’t know was there. What followed was pure exhilaration that never left me.
For me it was always the “playing”, never the result. I know I am almost alone in this, but my memories are garnered from countless hours of play and the enemy was always “the final whistle”, win or lose. Surely to be fully conscious in the moment of living, doing, being is where the potential exists to experience the fullness of life. To focus on the end just serves to foul the “now”, or to be effectively unconscious.