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‘Voice of Kimberley sport’ dies

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A conversation with Griqua cricketer Mike Doherty and the SABC’s Morne Pretorius led to John broadcasting a regional sports preview on Friday nights

Picture: Supplied

FORMER DFA sports editor John Harrison died in Kimberley on Tuesday evening.

Fondly known by many as the voice of sport in Kimberley, Harrison first cut his teeth in sports reporting on Radio South Africa and Radio Oranje on Friday and Saturday nights.

His passion for sport started long before then though. As a six-year-old at Sea Point Junior School his performance at a school sports day earned him a mention as a promising athlete and cemented his interest in sport.

Matriculating at the age of 16 at Sea Point High School, John played in the school’s first cricket and hockey teams.

The young matriculant joined a bank where he worked for a couple of years before his strong sense of commitment and calling and an abiding faith in Jesus Christ led him to work at the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) as a trainee secretary.

While working there, he met his wife, Margie Hugo, a former Kimberley Girls’ High School pupil who was living at the YMCA while teaching at Rondebosch Preparatory School.

The two were also both members of the Baptist Church.

Margie and John were married in 1969 and four years later John spent a year studying at the Bible Institute in Kalk Bay. At the end of his course, there was no vacancy at the Cape Town YMCA so the couple moved to Johannesburg where he linked up with the Scripture Union.

The failing health of Margie’s parents, Gawie and Edna Hugo (who were Kimberley’s mayor and mayoress from September 1961 to 1962), saw the couple moving to Kimberley.

While in Kimberley, John played cricket for De Beers for two seasons, before playing in and coaching the CBC first team for one season. He also took up umpiring and it was during this time that he became concerned about the lack of exposure that Griqualand West sport received on the radio.

A conversation with Griqua cricketer Mike Doherty and the SABC’s Morne Pretorius led to John broadcasting a regional sports preview on Friday nights.

During this time he was also a principal in National Properties Trust, an estate agent on the Market Square and was responsible for the administration work the firm undertook as a building society agency.

Initially writing a freelance column for the DFA, the Midweek Sports Viewpoint, John became a permanent member of the newsroom after he retired from National Properties Trust.

The former editor of the DFA, Kevin Ritchie, described John in a commemoration edition of the paper as the “conscience of the newsroom, quiet and considered, but who could be vocal when he thought injustice was afoot.”

By the time he put down his pen at the DFA for the last time in 2003, John had earned himself three Vodacom awards, winning two categories simultaneously in his last year at the DFA.

As news of his death spread yesterday, tributes poured in from all over, including from his former DFA colleagues, who remembered his love of music, especially classical, that belted out from an old gramophone near his desk.

“John always exuded goodwill to his fellow man and had a fantastic sense of humour – unless he had driven past a pile of litter on his way to work, when he was decidedly less cheerful.”

A member of the Griqualand West Rugby Union executive, Tos Smith, yesterday described Harrison as a “true gentleman” who had made a significant contribution to Griqua rugby and other sporting codes by ensuring that local teams got the media coverage needed to remain in the public eye.

“I knew John mostly as a sports writer but also as a teammate from our days of playing cricket together for De Beers,” Smith recalled. “He was a quiet person but a real gentleman who never broke people down.

“He was always positive in his coverage and played sport with the right mindset.

“Over the years, he had a major impact on Griqua rugby and made a very positive contribution to the game, especially in Kimberley.

“I had a lot of time for him as he always went the extra mile to motivate sportsmen and help them develop.”

Mike Doherty, honorary life member of Griqualand West Cricket, said he had very fond members of John.

“We came a long way together during my days as chairman of Griqua cricket. He always did a very good job as a sports reporter and over the years we became good friends.”

Doherty remembered John as being “honest and fair”. “You could always pick up the phone and discuss something with him. I have alot of respect for John and the work he did.”

The CEO of Northern Cape Cricket, Eugene Jacobs, said that news of Harrison’s death had come as a shock to the local cricket fraternity and brought a relationship spanning several decades to an end.

“I just spoke to him on Friday and couldn’t believe this sad news,” he said yesterday. “Northern Cape Cricket (NCC) is stunned by the passing of a real student of the game.

“NCC expresses it sincere condolences to the family.”

DFA Editor, Johan du Plessis, said it was a privilege working with Harrison for more than 10 years until his retirement.

“He was always a gentleman and a true ambassador of sport and this newspaper.”

John leaves his wife Margie, two sons, Geoffrey and Andrew, and daughter Christine and their families.