A Tribute to Jonothan Smythe (Gillingham, 1974)
It feels like yesterday that I wrote a tribute to our matric class of ’74 friend, Chris Smyth, who died so tragically, and here we are again reeling with shock and grief at the news of the sad passing away of our beloved Gappy (Johnny D) Smythe, or “Smythe with an E” as our Form 2A Maths teacher, Mrs Brosnihan, used to call him in order to distinguish between the two.
Everything about Gaps was just so special, from his tenacity as a nuggety scrumhalf to his skill as a wily wrist leg spinner who we were all in awe of when he was chosen for the First XI as a fifteen year old. That meant that he could sit at the back of the bus on the way back from away games and skyf with legends like Billy van Zyl and Rob Kingston, while we had to slum it in the front. Of course that all changed a year or two later when we made it to the back, by which time he led the singing with those wonderful renditions of Kris Kristoffen songs (like “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down”), sung in that same throaty voice that we will always remember him for.
But there was something about Gappy that all who knew him loved him for, and that was his embracing of whatever was good in life. He was never envious of anyone, because he had a sound sense of who he was and where he was going even if, like all of us, there were some bumps along the way. To me what personifies him is the story how he and Mags managed to shuffle things and put four boys through wonderful schools and universities, not a mean feat today. I have never had the privilege of meeting any of his boys, but if they are anything like their dad and their mom then they have a real head start on life.
But I am going to leave it to extracts from some of the numerous emails that Gappy’s Matric Class of ’74 mates have sent upon receiving the sad news, each of which sums up exactly who he was and what he meant to us. These include the following:-
“Gappy was always the same and you knew exactly what you were getting from him.” Richard “Crumple” Cox
“I met Gappy on our first day in middle block of Junior House and he always managed to have an upbeat attitude and put a smile on ones face.” Tom “Loft” Croft
“I was never a great rugger player at school, probably reserve for 8th at best, however I have been an avid follower over the years. Today, whenever a team is announced, Springboks, Sharks etc, I use Gappy as a “benchmark” character to refer to. He was hard, tough and fair both on and off the field. Pity he was in Gillingham!” Pat Mc Laverty
And the one that most probably says it all:-
“I always admired him, going back to our Cowan House days. When I was asked which High School I wanted to go to there was only one choice, Kearsney, because I knew Gappy was going. Even though he wasn’t the largest of people I was amazed at his courage, he seemed tough and strong and he stood his ground where many might not.” Jon “Boris” Nette
In my tribute to Chris I made mention of the relationships that we formed all those years ago, and how much they still mean to some of us. It is more than just a coincidence that I saw a photograph on the Facebook page of one my sons, who is now in his second year at Stellenbosch University, and all six of the boys in that were with him in that photograph were with him at Kearsney. In the last few years I have reconnected with so many of our old classmates, and it has been so rewarding. Let’s never take those wonderful relationships for granted, especially that which we all had with our wonderful friend.
STEVE DU TOIT