A tribute to Talk of the Town writer Bob Ford

Port Alfred resident Bob Ford, who had been a contributing writer for Talk of the Town for the past 18 months, died suddenly in the early hours of Monday morning, March 18.

BOB FORD

Ford, well known in bowls circles, had a past career in journalism many years ago, and offered his services as a writer for what he jokingly referred to as “beer money”. In those 18 months, he revealed his excellence as a listener to people’s stories, finding an array of people with interesting careers and backgrounds which we might be poorer for not having known about. He was also a skilled writer and required very little editing.

Ford provided the following story of his own life six months ago, for when we might need it. He wrote it in the first person so we have adjusted it when necessary.

Ford first spoke isiXhosa before English while growing up on a farm in the Sterkstroom district. Little did he know that he would become mayor of Fort Beaufort in later life.

“My early recollections on this Earth go way back to the mid-1940s when my brother Peter and I started our lives with our parents on Bellevue Farm in the Sterkstroom district just north of Queenstown [Komani]. Looking back today on those years they were, without doubt, probably our happiest, though we were not aware of this at the time,” he said.

Ford’s parents had both lived through the tough years of the great depression, resulting in the family living a very conservative life. “We grew up the way children should and did in those years,” he said. “Without us realising it, they were tough, but happy simple years.

“Now, many years later, when the mood prevails and I speak about them to my own son and grandchildren, it becomes obvious that the thoughts going through their minds is one of disbelief that the ‘old man’ has definitely lost it,” he said.

“As was the case with most children growing up on farms in those days we had African ‘nanny’ who looked after us during the days when we spent all our time playing outside and only went indoors at meal times. The result was that it was natural that our friends were the sons whose fathers were employed on the farm. It was also natural because of this that the first language we spoke was Xhosa and we would jabber away while playing,” he recalled.

“Meal times were interesting in that our father could not speak the African language, but our mother could. This resulted in conversations taking place in Xhosa and mom having to translate to our father when we spoke to him and vice versa. This went on for some time until we learnt to speak English.”

The brothers spent their time amusing themselves with their friends in the sunshine, when shoes were just not a necessary item of clothing such as a hat.

“Our feet became like leather and we would think nothing of walking anywhere and everywhere. On those occasions when our parents went visiting their friends on neighbouring farms on a Sunday, the hours spent there were agony in a pair of shoes that had not had the opportunity of being worn in,” Ford said.

Toys were a luxury and were few and far between. So the boys made their own.

“I remember well retrieving sardine tins and spent hours making these into little wagons complete with a ‘disselboom’ (shaft). The axles were made out of number 8 wire and the wheels comprised of discarded wooden cotton reels from my mother, sawn in half,” he said.

The dreaded day of having to go to school arrived after a few years. “Instead of it being an exciting time as it is for children of today, this turned out to be a nightmare. I was taken from the secluded sheltered life I was accustomed to and dumped at the local John Vorster High School where there were hundreds of children running around,” Ford said.

With Sterkstroom being a predominantly Afrikaans area the school catered for English speaking scholars in a single classroom from Grade 1 to Grade 7.

Although the farm was a mere 5km from town, Ford’s parents considered it too expensive to take him to town every day, so he became a weekly boarder with one of the town’s residents.

Ford’s father eventually sold the farm and the family moved to nearby Queenstown, where they boys attended Queen’s College for a few years.

But as their father had attended Grey High School in Port Elizabeth, he was determined that his boys would do the same.

“And so it was in 1958 that we were packed off to Port Elizabeth and literally dumped there and had to fend for ourselves. Given our sheltered upbringing up to that stage, it was tough in the boarding house and the homesickness was something you just had to handle,” Ford said.

However, once they eventually settled into their new surroundings the following years proved to be happy, with many new experiences.

“I was fortunate enough to play in the first cricket XI for a few years and had the honour of playing alongside the great Graeme Pollock. We played in the Port Elizabeth senior men’s league, which was tough as we played against seasoned provincial players and a few Springboks. And so it was a proud moment for all of us when we won this league in 1961 for the first time in the history of Port Elizabeth cricket.”

After school and a stint in the army, Ford worked in Queenstown and Port Elizabeth before he bought his own business in Fort Beaufort. During his 20-odd years in the town, he served on the local council for eight years and was elected mayor for two of these.

“Looking back on all these years, I would do it all again with some minor changes,” he concluded.

Our condolences to the Ford family on the loss of Bob.

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