Peter Ian Reid Robertson

9 July 1944 - 12 August 2018




John and Moira’s Memories of Peter

Memories of Cousin Peter. I remember as a child spending lovely family holidays with the Robertsons and Peter and I were big buddies. I really got to know him when I was fortunate enough to live with the Robertsons for two years whilst I attended college in Durban. The whole family made me so welcome and I loved my stay with them. One winter in the 1980’s Peter came to visit the UK. Being very independent he decided he wanted to find his own way to John’s and my house from Heathrow. Due to technical problems he had to change airplanes in Harare and ended up landing at Gatwick! A very worried looking Peter came out of customs as the instructions we gave him to our house were from Heathrow and not Gatwick! His relief was great to see when he caught sight of us there to meet him. He went to Scotland to ski but returned home three days later with a rotten cold and having had icicles in his beard – did not like the cold weather! He did end up having a good holiday though, sightseeing in London. Peter was a most lovely, genuine and generous person who was always very friendly to everyone he came across. He always made sure we saw him on our holidays to SA, even going so far as to surprise John and myself once by flying to Cape Town to see us. John and I will always have very fond memories of him and know that he will be sadly missed by us and many others. John & Moira

Message from Harry Friend

My regret is that I first met Peter so late in life. We discovered that we were neighbours-one-property-removed only after my wife and I had already sold our property in Midrand and only three months before we moved 15kms away.. Peter and I had found that we had a great deal in common, what with both having been in the printing trade and having a deep interest in South African history. He once told me of how, in his travels, he had once come upon a burial site at an old concentration camp for women and children during the Anglo-Boer War and how, overcome with grief at the thought of their suffering he had walked around the old site weeping like a child. He was  a man of deep thought and deep feelings. I would love to have met him when we were boys and have grown up with him somewhere nearby for the rest of my life and not just for the last four years.  Remembered and quietly mourned-for he shall always remain. Harold Friend.

Message from Sid Bottom

It was some years ago that I first heard of Peter, through a mutual friend Manfred. Manfred told me I should contact Peter, as he was flying his glider in the Cape Province, from an airfield at Hanover. The glider Peter was flying, was a wood and fabric glider, which he had built from plans. The designer had drawn plans of another glider which I was building. It was over two years ago that I spoke to Mike about flying my glider and he immediately recommended that I contact Peter and gave me Peter’s cell number. That same day, Peter and I
became friends.

We recognised common interests and attitudes to life and flying in particular. I was aware that Peter had a free spirit, an intellectual mind and soul. We discussed numerous approaches and ideas about furthering aviation goals and I know Peter was a much needed inspiration to me.

The poem, ‘High Flight’, written by an R.A.F pilot, John Gillespie Magee, Jr., during WW II, seems an appropriate expression of what I think was in Peter’s Spirit.

High Flight
Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings,
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the rumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds—and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of –wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew.
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Message from Nick Kightley

I cannot but wholeheartedly endorse Sandy’s comments about Peter. I consider myself fortunate to have known such a worthwhile human being. 

My abiding memory of Peter will always be when he took me up for my very first gliding experience. Conditions were perfect and I was very excited at the prospect. At that particular club, glider launches were performed using a long, stainless steel wire attached to a winch at the far end of the runway and to the nose of the glider with an in-board quick release mechanism. The signal was given and we began to trundle down the runway and were soon airborne and climbed very steeply to a height of about 50 feet as is the correct technique. As you might  imagine, moving from an earthbound, horizontal position to an airborne, almost vertical one, is extremely exciting. The excitement turned to stark terror when a second or two later the launch cable snapped and, using the correct procedure, Peter pointed the nose straight down and we plummeted earthwards at great speed – and landed safely. This experience left a lasting mark on my psyche and a transient one on my underwear. 

Peter you were a lovely man and I will never forget you.

Nick Kightley

Message from Angela Kightley

Peter has been at the forefront of our thoughts as are all of you. 

“As you give, so shall you receive.” Amongst many others, I think of Georgie and Mrs. Wedgewood, both of whom would have been lost without Peter’s kindness and care. So when his hour of need arrived, it was  fitting that he was able to turn to his beloved sister and family.   You did him proud.  I know he felt enormously lucky to be surrounded by your concern and love.  

He was so many things, but most of all he was a very kind human being. We are richer having known him.

Message from Catherine Slatter née Robertson

Uncle Pete was my godfather. Living in Aus since 16 I was distant from him, but when he visited I was blown away with the things that we both loved and had in common as adults. May he be gliding in heaven every day, and enjoying Gaga’s ginger biscuits, whilst Oups tends to his budgies. Much love Uncle Pete, till we meet again x Cath

Eulogy by Neville Robertson

Peter: our brother, brother-in-law, uncle, grand-uncle and friend. What an amazing guy you were – a talented sportsman in your youth; an airman; a musician; a businessman from the day you completed your apprenticeship; a self-taught craftsman of the highest order; a humanitarian; a person who provided employment for dozens and who cared deeply about their welfare; someone who was always willing to help those in need no matter what their station in life but a person who also showed heartfelt compassion for those less fortunate than he and, last but not least, a genuine eccentric who lived by his rules whilst still acknowledging his place in society.

Born on the 9th of July 1944 in Krugersdorp, he and my mother came home from hospital in a taxi because our father, Flight Sergeant Douglas Robertson, 34 Squadron SAAF, was involved in dealing with some unpleasantness in North Africa and Italy around that time.

After Dad came home from the war, we lived in various rental properties around the town. An “interesting” spell of several months was also spent occupying the rear of the premises in which he’d established his joinery business. This was involved primarily in the manufacture of furniture – pews, pulpits, etc – for various Dutch Reformed Churches then being built throughout South Africa. Eventually the family reached a level of prosperity that enabled it to purchase a piece of land in Third Street, on which our father built us a new home. And it was here too, that an incident occurred that came close to being a truly awful tragedy.

Four-year-old Peter, anxious to get home after an afternoon at the local sports field, tore himself from his brother’s grasp and ran across the road into the path of an oncoming car.The resulting collision left him barely clinging to life with a fractured skull, a broken pelvis and femur, and various other injuries. After being listed as “critical” for some ten days, his condition stabilised and he started on the long road to recovery.

Suburban life continued for the family for a few more years, during which time it welcomed into its fold a baby sister named Sandra. And then it was time to move on once more. My parents heard that the farm at Heuningklip, some five miles to the north of town, and which they’d sold at the outbreak of the war, was once again up for sale. With the family’s fortunes in the ascendancy, it was duly purchased and we commenced our new life on the land. Well, sort of! The property was never big enough to be self-sustaining so it was farmed in hobbyist fashion with our parents retaining their day jobs and our schooling continuing in town. But day to day life was idyllic, enabling us to indulge our various passions in everything from exotic birds, to breeding fancy goldfish, to pigeon-keeping, model aircraft, motorcycling, target shooting, exploring the local area and more. It was here too, that Peter learnt to swim in the circular reservoir Dad had built to provide a supply of water for irrigating the crops such as potatoes, strawberries, rhubarb and the deciduous fruit trees he’d planted. Our School friends loved us, with an invitation for a day, weekend or birthday party on the farm clearly being a highlight of their lives.

And then it all came to a crashing halt when Dad’s business lost the Church contract that had sustained it for so many years. It was a time of great trauma for my parents when many of the small-minded citizens living in the small town revelled in seeing “how the mighty had fallen.” As children we suffered too, for the parents of our “friends” in discussing our misfortune – no doubt suitably embellished with rumour, innuendo and outright lies – succeeded in turning many of them against us. But it’s also heartening to know that those we regarded as true friends remained both sympathetic and faithful. But for Mom and Dad it all became too much to bear and in April of 1954 we departed Krugersdorp to start a new life in Durban. It was the best thing the family ever did. It should be noted here that the failure of Dad’s business left no one out of pocket – every penny it owed was eventually repaid.

It was in Durban that Peter started to blossom. Fishing, kite-making and launching miniature parachutes into the air replaced his former interest in pigeons – one should, of course, note the ongoing connections to flight – whilst swimming became his sport of choice. This culminated in great success during his years at Queensburgh High School. But before relating that story, an anecdote.

One of the first hints of the eccentricity that was to characterise him in later life occurred during his early years at high school. It was then that Peter built himself a bicycle – a most unusual bicycle! Sporting a 26 inch front wheel, a 20 inch rear wheel, no mudguards, no brakes, no lights, reflectors or other such superfluous luxuries, its defining feature was, rather than handlebars, a steering wheel off an old car. Yet far from being an object of ridicule, it was much envied by his peers and, unfortunately others. I say “unfortunately”, because one day Peter emerged from the final class of the day to find it gone. A report of its theft was made and a description of its appearance given to an incredulous officer at the local police station. On the afternoon of the following day it was located being ridden by two young boys in a neighbourhood close to the school. Seeing the approaching police car, they summarily abandoned their loot and fled down a nearby laneway. The bike was recovered, no action was taken against the robbers – the sight of that menacing detective alighting from his vehicle was deemed sufficient to put them on the straight and narrow – for the time being at least. Measures were also adopted to ensure the future security of Peter’s machine.

From the time he started competitive swimming, Peter excelled. His choice of event was the breaststroke at which he won numerous intra and inter-school prizes. He also started diving and became so good at it that taking out top spot at the province’s premier event in his age-group saw him crowned Natal Junior Diving Champion for 1959. He was also awarded full school colours for his aquatic exploits. In terms of other extra-mural activities, gaining a place as a bugler in the school cadet band had been preceded by a year or so’s practise on a length of hose pipe – correctly tuned, no doubt – to which he had fitted a bugle mouthpiece! How many self-taught trumpeters can claim starting their musical journey on a hosepipe? Not too many, methinks………!

After completing his matriculation exams, Peter took up an apprenticeship as a photo-lithographer with Hayne and Gibson, the famous “Press at Kingsmead.” Four years and three-hundred-and-sixty-four days later he gave notice to quit his job twenty-four hours later.In other words, he was prepared to fulfil the time period specified for the completion of his apprenticeship – a full five years – but not one minute more. He went straight from H & G into self-employment, operating as an independent photo-litho contractor from the servants’ quarters-altered-into-a-darkroom at our parents’ home off Ridge Road. Hard work and long hours saw the fledgling business slowly take off and then soar. He later moved into commercial premises in Umbilo Road where Protea Plates, as he’d named the enterprise, continued to grow and thrive. It was during this time too, that he courted and later married Denise. Dealings with a local screen printing company later led to amalgamation, a directorship, a smart new company car and a great deal more leisure time than he’d previously had.

With spare time now available, Peter continued to pursue his interest in flying by latching onto the hang-gliding movement that had originated in America and was beginning to take off (excuse the awful pun) in South Africa, thus becoming one of the pioneers of the sport in this country. His first flying device, comprising several lengths of aluminium tubing, many metres of light-weight stainless steel cable and a covering made by a local sail-maker, was built on the front lawn of my parents’ house in Westville and flown extensively from Durban’s Bluff and elsewhere. It was here too, that he later built a rigid-wing hang-glider known as an Icarus 5. This took to the air for the first time at One-tree Hill in Pinetown.

Tiring of the print industry, Peter accepted the offer of a buy-out, netting him a moderately substantial resource with which to commence the next phase of his working life. Sadly, his marriage to Denise came to an end. A foray into construction also didn’t go well but never one to dwell on failure, he picked himself up, packed all his worldly possessions into his old Volkswagen 411 and relocated to Pietermaritzburg. There, after a brief period of employment in the printing industry – to provide some income on which to live – that strong streak of independence once again manifested itself when he set up shop, this time in an old rented house in Perth Street, as a joiner and general do-anything-for-money small business operator. It was during this time that his interest in flying expanded to include sailplanes as well as micro-lights.

It was an interesting period, in more ways than one. Income from the nascent business was irregular – in other words, non-existent at times. But typical of Peter, he simply dug deeper, and worked even harder. Gradually his product line expanded to include aluminium canoe rudders and other boat fittings. He would quote on – and often won – any contract that he gained a whiff of. Typical was the fabrication of copper busbars and associated items for an electrical contract being undertaken by an associate. Knowing nothing about how to do the work was never a deterrent but simply an incentive to learn, something he was remarkably adept at doing. A steadily increasing engineering skill-set was the result.

This period also saw the emergence of the microlight aircraft movement, an inevitable off-shoot of the hang-gliding pastime. Peter, by now a qualified sailplane pilot, was keen to get on board. The first foray into this new and potentially affordable way of becoming airborne was via the Icarus 5 which gained a go-kart engine, propeller, canard wing and undercarriage. It was flown with moderate success but was clearly not a pathway to a saleable product. But news of the venture spread through the grapevine, resulting in a contract to build two Mitchell Wings, one of which was also to be supplied with the power-pack we’d developed. The Mitchell Wing was a rigid wing hang-glider designed to a flying-wing format. It was also built by traditional wooden aircraft constructional methods, another skill Peter had acquired through repairing accident-damaged sailplanes. It’s fair to say that he was one of the few people in South Africa at the time capable of building the Mitchell Wings which, of course, he successfully did.

His interest in turning the construction of micro-light aircraft into a commercial proposition gradually faded under the onslaught of a bureaucracy bogged down by vacillating over how to deal with this new way of flying. It was then that he turned to something more conventional by commencing the building, from scratch, of Woodstock, a twelve metre wingspan sailplane. It was during this time too, that he indulged in some lateral thinking that was to substantially shape his future.

Cargo racks are a common accessory on light commercial vehicles in South Africa and have been for many decades. The conventional way of acquiring one was for a steel fabrication firm to weld one up to suit. Peter looked at this and decided that there had to be a better way. The prototype modular unit he made was fitted to his own half-tonne Mazda pick-up. After a little refinement, he went into production. The beauty of his system was that various standardised components could be assembled into any number of rack variations to accommodate a wide range of vehicles which included pick-ups and vans and also fibreglass canopies. The product was characterised by robustness, quality construction and finish. It wasn’t long before Chevron Products was producing hundreds of racks per annum and then thousands. The workforce expanded to meet demand whilst agents were appointed throughout the country to market the product. In the meantime, Woodstock was completed and took to the air for the first of its many flights.

Some ten years ago Peter decided to call time on Chevron Products and sold it as a going concern. It had served him well, but also the staff he’d employed, providing them and their families with comfortable incomes and regular bonuses. The company had provided Peter with sufficient income to meet all his needs and any of his wants – had he wanted them! Instead, he continued to live modestly in a flat above the original premises, use the faithful old Mazda pick-up for utility purposes, and for personal use, a second-hand Toyota Camry. He had no time for outward appearances, the word “status” was entirely without meaning and although he adopted modern technology when he saw a useful purpose in it, was never enamoured of it. But his most enduring and endearing personal trait was his compassion for his fellow beings and unbounded generosity towards them.

After selling the business he moved to Midrand near Johannesburg where he saw out the remainder of his life, apart from the last months when he became too ill to live on his own. Peter had no family of his own, but his passing has left a void in his extended family of sister, brothers, brother-in-law, sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, grand-nieces and nephew. Nor should we forget his many friends who’ve stood by him through the good times and the bad. He valued your companionship and spoke of you often and with great warmth.

We loved you, Pete, and we’ll miss you. Rest in peace.

Message from Don Robertson

I write this with a heavy heart in memory of our dearly beloved brother.

My earliest memory of Pete was mom arriving at our house 33 The Avenue Krugersdorp (probably mid July 1944) in a taxi with our new little brother. Dad was in Italy doing his duty in the SAAF. 

Peter was a sunny little guy – we all loved our newest sibling!!! Then there was the terrible accident and Pete’s miraculous survival. Through his life he displayed a dogged determination to succeed AND HE DID!!!!

He was a very generous man, we all know of his generosity to family and others – and probably many instances we are unaware of.

Peter I loved you,

Message from Michael Coetzee

My dear Peter, someone will be reading this on my behalf because I wouldn’t get past the first line on this page without bursting into tears.

You came into my life about 5 years ago, I remember your call so clearly, you told me that you were up from Natal and that you were an ex hang glider pilot. You also said that you flew an Icarus 5 class 2 hang glider decades ago and that you would like to try fly her again.  We met at our airfield and we just clicked. 

Having you join us on our flying excursions was so special. Offering your Bakkie to take gliders up the hill, your gentle nature was something that made me love the person you were. 
I loved our unplanned coffee and rusk visits, you always seemed to have that never-ending supply of condensed milk, that smile on your face and the chats we used to have will forever be cemented in my memory. 

I’m also so grateful you joined us for Christmas lunch two years ago, you got to meet part of my family and some close friends. You got to meet my sister Sharon who sadly passed away on 18 June this year. You both succumbed to that dreadful disease that has robbed many of us of our friends and beloved family members.

You never got to fly your Woodstock homebuilt kit sailplane again. The restoration you did on her is phenomenal. Your attention to detail and patience performing the work on her is something to be admired.  

They say you can see a character of a person by the way they treat animals. I never saw you mistreat your dogs ever. The gentle way you used to talk to them especially BD. I’m sorry you never got to have children of your own, I’m sure you would have moulded them into fine adults. 

My life has been hugely benefited by knowing you. You have taught me so many things about life, the struggle and how to be kind and be there for those who are in need. 

Oh my gosh Peter I’m really going to miss you my old Friend. At least I can feel at ease knowing you are now pain and stress-free of this world. 

I am so pleased and at ease knowing your last months, weeks, days were spent with Sandy and her family. Just wonderful to see how family pull together in situations like these.  Your praises for Sandy and her family during our weekly phone chats put my mind at ease knowing you were in the best possible hands.  “Thank you so much Sandy”. 

I will leave you with this last thought.Tell people you love them more times than you think they should hear it, especially if you think they already know.

Learn to appreciate the good times, because you never know when they will be your last good memories of some one.

Bon voyage my old friend till we meet again. Will miss you dearly

Mike Spike

Entry in Book "Karoo Characters"
By Bruce Celemence & Karin MacGregor