Louis De Waal – The Leadership Man
Written and Compiled by Gavin Fernie | Ikey Old Boy
There are so many facets to Louis De Waal that if one were to ask a wide cross section of men and women who have interacted with Louis in his varied and action-packed life what they thought of him, diverse opinions would be forthcoming.
After all, in his 80 years so far, and still steaming ahead strongly, Louis has done so many different things, and ranged far and wide in pursuit of his goals and activities, that defining him depends upon which sphere one is talking about.
Are we talking about the family man, the civil engineer, the rugby player, the cyclist, the Table Mountain man, the ubiquitous leader of numerous civic and sporting bodies, or simply the man?
I choose to reflect upon Louis first and foremost as a friend, and then to marvel at what makes him tick. After more than 50 years of knowing Louis certain inalienable character and personality traits inherent in this most decent of men, remain constant. These are best summed up by those who played alongside him in the sixties, and were his companions on and off the field.
Albert Einstein said:
‘Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.’
The UCT rugby team of the early sixties was one of the truly great Ikey teams, and in common with the other outstanding Ikey teams, successfully blended the talent available into a cohesive unit which strove to pursue the ultimate strategic purpose on the field of all the best rugby teams.
There is one adage in particular that stands out for me, which sums up the quality and supreme-style of rugby that was played in these glory years. It comes from none other than fellow Ikey Legend Basil Bey:
Basil Bey’s Rugby Prayer
“A small prayer for all players, stay on your feet, pass before contact so that you may support, run at gaps and not at people and believe that you can score off first phase ball. Then a short one for wings and outside centres, may you one day receive the ball from a full line movement.”
This is most important as a fitting philosophy espoused by Louis and all the Ikeys of the sixties.
An Ikey rugby player of great distinction from that era, John Rushmere, summed up Louis De Waal as a rugby player and man below:
‘He loved the game and served it selflessly and always with great style and enthusiasm. He was a superb captain on the 1968 Ikey Tour to the U.K and Europe, on and off the field. His smile and laugh were never far away and contributed a great energy before, during and after games.
He was one of the ‘special ones’ among so many I was privileged to play with. For me the Number 8 should be the extra man in every situation, and Louis epitomized that.
Thinking of Louis brought other memories. Louis didn’t run, he galloped, and to great effect! Then there was Piet… a beautiful sight in full flight with Zed on his shoulder to add to the woes of the opposition’s defence. And Rob commanding the middle ground giving his opponents all sorts of problems, collecting cross-kicks and linking with anybody who could keep up– -a classic hooker in tight and in the loose.
Our ‘loosies’ were really our greatest asset, combining to keep possession and maintain momentum, allowing all of us to share in the pickings they created.
Add to that an uncompromising and brave front row– -the platform that set up the magic the magnificent Ikey backline created with flair and consummate skill, and one can begin to understand our success and joy of keeping company with team mates and playing together in that great team.
These are not romanticized memories. It is what I felt, and still feel about a talented bunch who played with a common purpose and freedom of expression, even when things went wrong.’
Another exceptional UCT, W.P and False Bay player from the Basil Bey era, John Benn, spoke of Louis as follows:
‘Thank you for the opportunity to pen a few words about this man among men. Louis and I arrived at Varsity together over 60 years ago. We enjoyed our rugby both there and at False Bay, and subsequently have kept in touch along life’s journey.
In summary, I see Louis as a gentleman, a competitor, and as a leader.
Yes, gentle, quiet and caring, but ready to participate and enjoy life with his mates when the occasion arose; yet retaining that sense of caring for others around him. No doubt Craig would attest to that special quality in Louis.
As a competitor on the field he stood back for no one. A loose forward fitter than most, he just kept going, producing moments of brilliance along the way. Remember that drop goal out of the mud at Newlands! It took the wind out of opponents’ sails. And his outstanding performance when we took up the Tukkies challenge and went to Loftus to beat them, 20-13, if memory serves me correctly. That legendary commentator, Charles Fortune, referred to our 8 th man that day as, ‘’Mr. Wonderful!”
As a leader one recalls one recalls the role he has played in his professional career, heading up a leading engineering consultancy, as Chairman of the Table Mountain Company, as a leading light in cycling, and as the man who led False Bay back from the doldrums to the preeminent position it holds in Western Cape club rugby at present. His effective leadership serving on various civic bodies was all part of the seemingly inexhaustible energy and drive Louis has exhibited for so many years.
Well done, Louis. You’ve been and remain a role model for many to follow and admire.’
Caption: 2nd left Louis De Waal on right Steve Hillock 1968 tour
Rob Bertram has this to say about Louis De Waal:
‘How can anyone do justice to Louis in a few words!
Louis never not cheerful, never not enthusiastic, never not encouraging. The cornerstone of an era when Ikey rugby ruled the Western Cape, followed with as much respect as man can muster to man by his teammates who all reveled in his abilities, on and off the field. Memories of two white scrumcaps challenging the opposing wing seconds after breaking from the scrum or lineout, one Louis, who was meant to be there, and John, who left the hardies in the tight rapidly enough to be close to Louis. Only last week John gave his definition of loose forwards……….flanks must have dirty shorts and Number Eights like Louis, never; always on their feet and distributing play.
My deepest regret was when returning to the Western Cape for 18 months in 1968 I did not join Louis in his hugely successful bid to bring False Bay RFC back to the fore.
Louis’s successes in so many fields have been joyfully followed by many of us, and those of our era remember when we, as rather underweight Ikeys, formulated a plan to scrum the opposition off the ball, now followed worldwide, and named it after Louis’s lovely wife, Rosie.’
Such is the positive influence of classy ladies like Rosemary De Waal that innovative and far reaching scrum tactics in the wonderful game of rugby are named after them.
John Le Roux, highly respected ex UCT, W.P and False Bay player, spoke of Louis as follows:
‘Louis is such a great man that I feel I must add my 5 cents worth tribute as follows: As a schoolboy, I first saw Louis playing for the exciting Ikeys at Newlands. He fitted into Ikey rugby like a slick hand in a glove, fit fast, intelligent and creative. Then when I played for UCT against False Bay, False Bay perennially the underdogs, would regularly beat UCT with Louis in the False Bay side.
Louis captained a UCT Past and Present Touring Team to Europe and Britain in 1968. I was lucky enough to be in that team. The tour was an immense success and Louis as captain and player, made a significant contribution.
Louis has been President of False Bay RFC for a long time. I regard False Bay as the best run amateur club in the world, and I think that this is no small part due to the inspired leadership of Louis.
Here is another tribute to Louis from a man who was not only a very good rugby player, but was the South African Squash Champion, a Springbok squash player of great distinction, and another gentleman to his fingertips; namely David Barrow. David says:
‘Louis was very much a senior player in my Ikey years. He had been playing in the team for several years, and together with Basil and John Benn were the management of the team. Louis and John were in full time employment, and arrived at practice at the end of their working day… no sitting on the Jammie steps with other rugger buggers.
I don’t ever recall Louis getting angry or flustered on the field. He was calmness personified, and could always be relied to pop up in unexpected places, and sort out any dangerous situation, or finish an Ikey attack, always wearing his trademark and noticeable white scrumcap.
I can’t remember him foul mouthing any friend or foe. The fact that he has made such a success of his business career, his life, after his accomplished rugby career, should be of no surprise to those who were privileged to play in the same Ikey rugby team as Louis.’
Steve Leith graduated from the outstanding First XV of St Andrew’s College of the late fifties to become a tigerish flank in Basil Bey’s great UCT team of the early sixties. Never a man to waste words, or an opportunity on the rugby field, Steve says of Louis De Waal:
“A very good Number 8 and a team man who loves the running game and with a great attitude for true running rugby. Gavin, now insert Basil’s rugby prayer. A huge administrator and a true man for South Africa. I just wish we had more like him. Steve. Unquote.
Damn, I wish I could say so much so succinctly. As for the Basil Bey rugby prayer, it does not come to mind readily, but the great man would have added his own tribute to Louis in the inimitable Bey way. My bit is that Louis was the poster boy for everything good about Ikey rugby in the early sixties. Fit, fast, full of flair and innovation and inspiration.”
Sometime after Louis had left UCT rugby and academia, he was still a driving force in the fortunes and progress of UCT rugby. Another very fine Ikey player, who also played with Louis at UCTRFC, and represented W.P with distinction, Geoff Holmes, went on to be highly successful in business.
Geoff never forgot Ikey rugby and was the driving force with his business partner, Pete Faber, in launching the Ikey 100 Club in May 1981. Geoff was never a man to duck a challenge, had a huge heart, and put his money where his mouth was. We salute him. He would have penned a suitable tribute to Louis if he was still with us.
Accompanying this piece are some wonderful photographs of Louis in action, on and off the rugby field. One I particularly treasure is that of Louis clutching a mug of the brown brew looking on at another legendary Ikey, the one and only M.C Marais, and the inspirational boss of UCT at that time, the esteemed Dr. Stuart Saunders. This trio of distinguished men represents the very best of UCT.
From the humble but inspired beginnings of the Ikey 100 Club, later to become the Ikey 200 Club, and eventually the Ikey Foundation. In 2017 the challenges facing the UCT RFC are considerable, and it is noteworthy that the current leadership of the club is in the hands of men, and a few dedicated ladies, who are doing a tremendous job against daunting odds. The seeds for the outstanding caliber of leadership and management of the Ikey family were planted by men like Louis De Waal, M.C Marais, Dr. Cecil Moss, Dr. Stuart Saunders, and Geoff Holmes.
Of equal significance is the invaluable support of the men and women who have stuck by the Ikeys through thick and thin, reveled in their triumphs, and lent quiet words of encouragement when needed. The ‘Ikey Gees’ is alive and well.
Here is what Leadership Magazine wrote about Louis when he retired from The Table Mountain Cableway Company in 2013:
‘After completing his matric at Dundee High School in Northern Kwazulu-Natal, the Mountain drew him back to Cape Town to study civil engineering at UCT.As a student he climbed the mountain from all sides and in 1959 entered the Tip to Top race from the Cape Point Lighthouse to MacLears Beacon- the highest point on Table Mountain. “ We gave ourselves just 3 days to prepare, with one person in the team having to complete the route- me!”
De Waal ran down the hill from the start at the Cape Point Lighthouse, leapt into a friends MG and was driven to Tafelberg Road, just past Platteklip Gorge. Louis continues…. We had lowered 500m of wire from the top and I was harnessed to the wire with the rest of the team on top of the mountain, acting as oxen pulling me up…..
At one point friction on the wire took over and he was left hanging, rotating and viewing Cape Town. “They had abandoned pulling. It was a stupid thing to do, but I managed to use the safety rope to reach the top and be placed third. The winner dived into the sea, at Cape Point, travelled by boat to Muizenberg, hopped onto a motorbike and rode to the reservoir on top of Table Mountain via Constantia Nek, then ran the last 100m to win and beat our team by an hour.”
For those interested in reading the complete article, go to GOOGLE and call up an article entitled…Veteran… Mountain Man Retires, dated October 25th , 2013.
A Kiwi who played at False Bay in 1966 says:
‘Tihei mauri ora….. A whiti whano hara mai te toki…..humie e hui e taiki e.’
‘Louis and Basil were giants in Cape Town rugby when I played for the Mongrels (Die Brakke van die Baai) in 1966 and remain living legends even when we have said haere ra to Basil.
Salut to Louis.’
Steve Phillips and other Kiwi friends have made the point that the style and quality of UCT rugby goes back to the golden era of the sixties. In truth, this is only partially true, because the great team of the early fifties, under the inspired captaincy and play of Tom Hugo-Hamman, and loaded with top class players, played superb, Ikey style rugby with great flair and impressive results.
What is true, however, is that after the hard men of the immediate Post-WW2 era had departed UCT, there was a marked slump in Ikey rugby until the advent of the Basil Bey era. The combination of a group of exceptional players, an inspirational captain, supported by a small group of leaders like Louis De Waal and John Benn, a highly effective coaching team, and the popularity of Western Cape club rugby, put UCT rugby right in the spotlight at the right place, at the right time.
The grand master of objective, accurate and respected reporting on rugby in the sixties was undoubtedly A.C Parker… ACE to those who played and followed rugby in the Western Cape in that golden era.
One article written by Ace in 1961 sums so much of what was good about local club rugby, and portrays the outstanding quality of AC Parker’s journalism. It is entitled: “ Varsity, Paarl Deserve To Share Honours.”
A background to Louis De Waal, extracting from his own words:
“Both my parents were teachers so I had a disciplined upbringing at Dundee High School in KZN. School sport consisted of rugby, athletics, swimming and cricket. I received colours in rugby and cricket, and beat Gert Potgieter from Vryheid in the 110yards hurdles at an inter school meeting of 7 schools in Northern KZN. In later years he held the world record for the 400m hurdles.
I have a BSc (Eng.) Degree from UCT, and an MSc (Eng.) Transportation Degree from the University of California at Berkeley.
I served as President of the Automobile Association of SA from 1982-1984, and as President of the SA Institute of Civil Engineers (1990). I spent 40 years as a Director of the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company, of which I was the Chairman for 20 years. During this tenure I assisted in the upgrade of the system in 1987. For 38 years I was involved with Hawkins, Hawkins and Osborn Consulting Engineers.”