Joy and love at Chester William’s memorial

11 September 2019 - 16:52 By Craig Ray
Chester Williams close friend Mandla Gagayi in tears during the Chester Williams Memorial Service at University of the Western Cape, Cape Town on September 11 2019.
Chester Williams close friend Mandla Gagayi in tears during the Chester Williams Memorial Service at University of the Western Cape, Cape Town on September 11 2019.
Image: BackpagePix

The overriding emotions at the memorial service for the late Chester Williams at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) were of love and joy‚ despite the tragedy.

Williams died following a heart attack at his home last Friday.

He was 49.

At the time of his death Williams was the head coach of the UWC rugby team‚ which competed in the Varsity Cup‚ having gained promotion from the second tier Varsity Shield under Williams’ guidance.

His sudden death shocked the entire campus‚ and also the country.

But on Wednesday tributes poured in for a man who was not only a rugby icon‚ but also a mentor and moral guide.

As part of the 1995 Rugby World Cup-winning Springbok team his legacy in rugby folklore is secure but the impact he had on many lives were highlighted at the service.

“Chester’s departure came at the wrong time‚” said Mandla Gagayi‚ Director of Sport at UWC.

“It came at a time when this country needed role models like him to speak sense to men to deal with ourselves so that we can end gender-based violence.

“Many people saw Chester Williams as a rugby legend and an achiever‚ but for us at UWC sport‚ Chester was just a simple guy with a big heart.

“All that Chester wanted was to see everyone around him succeed.

"His interest in our lives‚ whether it was a simple conversation or a joke with a security guard or a cleaner‚ an administrator or a student‚ to him was important. Everyone deserved to be happy.

“As a coach he never believed in accidental results.

"Everything was planned. In 2016 in his report‚ he informed us that UWC would be playing in the Varsity Cup by 2019‚ and indeed that happened.

“In this year’s report he said that by 2021 UWC would play in the final and by 2022 they would win the Varsity Cup.

“But his role was not only limited to coaching.

"Through the Chester Williams Foundation‚ many players received bursaries‚ funding for food‚ transport and accommodation. He told us never to brag about those things because he gave not for credit‚ but because it was the right thing to do.

“UWC has lost a good man‚ a role model and a hero.

"Personally I have lost a friend‚ a brother and a confidante. I want us to always remember that Chester has left a good legacy and it is our responsibility to make sure his legacy lives on.”

Williams’ wife Maria called the entire UWC team on the stage and addressed them.

“You all made Chester strong. I want you to know that Chester loved every one of you. You were his life‚” Maria Williams said.

Close friend and former Western Province teammate Jerome Paarwater told some warm anecdotes about his friend while eldest son Ryan thanked the guests for attending.

Public Works minister Patricia de Lille spoke of Chester’s love of ‘Potjiekos and braaing’ before PJ Powers sang the ‘the World in Union’ and ‘Jabulani’ as the audience danced along.

Francois Pienaar‚ who led the Boks in 1995‚ also heaped praise on Williams: “Chester was never a rabble-rouser. He was always the first at training and one of the last to leave.

“He was a team man and deeply loved the game of rugby. We need to celebrate his life but also to commiserate with his family.”

Breyton Paulse‚ who idolised Williams as a young player‚ and followed him into the Bok team to become a celebrated wing in his own right‚ also praised Williams’ contribution.

“No one will forget what he and the 1995 team did for unity in this country‚” Paulse said.

“It was a very important time in our country and Chester was vital. Not because he was a player of colour but because everyone loved him because they could relate to him.

“He was a great person‚ who had time for his neighbour and for kids.

"I learnt so much from him and I will carry some of those characteristics with me through life because there are some things money can’t buy.”