I had a friendship with Dennis Barker which started 77 years ago, when we were in the preparatory classes at Kearsney College. We were taught by a remarkable woman, Thea Fraser, a fine teacher, compassionate and kind, and also a good cricket coach. She played in her 1st X1 at St David’s High School for Girls and captained the side in the Bloemfontein city woman’s cricket league. She coached us juniors on Saturday morning when the senior boys were in classes. I often wonder whether it was Thea Fraser who instilled, in Denis, his love and passion for cricket. She taught us poetry. One of her favourite poems, a line of which I recall was from the story of King Arthurs, “God fulfils Himself in many ways, lest on good custom should corrupt the world”. We are all demised by Denis’s death, but God fulfilled himself in the life of Dennis Barker.
It is not possible to find adequate words that would do justice to the memory of an extraordinary and wonderful man. A man of great integrity and compassion who has accomplished much and been a source of inspiration to so many in all walks of life.
In His last year at Kearsney College, he was part of a brilliant triumvirate of scholars, who matriculated at the age of 22. Alan Squibb graduated with a degree in mathematics from Oxford at the age of 20. Ronald “Taffy” Evans who attained a LLB at the age of 21 and Dennis an outstanding Classics scholar and DUX of the College. Ronald died of cancer and Alan drowned while serving in the royal navy, both at the age of 22, and much to Dennis’s distress. Apart from his scholastic achievements, Denis was a 1st. XI cricketer and one of great memories was a game played against Hilton College who arrived, with probably, the finest side to have ever represented the College. They had three future SA Internationals, John Waite, Roy McLean and Michael Melle as well as three future provincial players, Brian Pfaff, W Province, John Levy, Transvaal and Roley Pearce, Natal. Their captain Paul Johnson was a brilliant all-rounder and future springbok wing. Hilton won the toss and believing the game would be over by lunch, they put Kearsney in to bat and dismissed them for 100 runs. Kearsney then proceed to blundel Hilton out for 22 runs and the game was over before lunch. It is probably the lowest total ever scored by and Hilton 1st. XI. There is no record of what Jack Hart-Davis, a doyen of Natal schools cricket coaches had to say on the bus back to Hilton.
Denis was the only player to be “run out”. He was never nimble on his feet. My lasting memory of Denis was his passion for everything that he did and this together with his considerable intellect would undoubtable determine that he would succeed in anything to which he would apply himself. He had to leave university in his second year to take over the family farm on the sudden death of his father. He returned to university many years later, an undertaken he had given his mother, to complete his studies and graduating with a degree in commerce.
Denis developed “Tan Hurst” into one of most successful sugar estates on the natal south Coast and was elected to represent his grower group on the executive of the South African Cane Growers Association and Council Member of the South African Sugar Association.
He produced one of the outstanding Jersey heard in South Africa, winning many awards, which lead him to being elected president of the Jersey Breeders Society of South Africa and national Judge.
When “Tan Hurst: was expropriated by the Government he purchased “Selborne” from the estate of the late Vernon Crookes,, also a jersey breeder and found a place to which he could move his jersey herd. Unfortunately the jerseys were not comfortable in the humid and hot coastal climate, so he moved them to J+A farm in Mooi River.
At that time not knowing what to do with Selborne, Denis fortuitously had been to a jersey breeder’s conference in the United States of America, where he has visited a golf estate, a concept which was well established at that time. Convinced of the idea, he then designed and built the first and one of the most beautiful golf estates here in South Africa.
Passionate about his golf he became a single figure handicap player. Tim Worthington, a former Natal Champion, who was also a Kearsney College Colleague of ours. Together we were able to share his passion for golf by visiting and watching the “Masters” in Augusta, playing golf in the United States and on many famous courses while on two tours to the United Kingdom.
Denis and I were both members of the “Golf Digest Golf Evaluation Panel” which rated golf courses in South Africa. On many occasions we travelled around the country and together with our patient wives playing and evaluating our 60 courses.
A philanthropist, Denis gave generously to a great number of causes and assisted many who needed a helping hand but known only to the recipients of His kindness.
A man of integrity and high moral values and a great traditionalist he served his old school, Kearsney College with wise council and unbelievable loyalty, in his capacity as a trustee, governor and benefactor.
His talent, as a good classics scholar at school, was later to come to the fore as an author when he wrote his first book, “The History of the Umzinto Cricket Club”. A club he served with distinction for many years. This was followed by his fascinating story of early Natal and the Zulu Kingdom in his book, “Zulus at Bay”, in which he highlights his grandfather, Welwyn Barker’s amazing escape as a Natal Carbineer from the battle of Isandhlwana and fugitives drift.
Throughout most of his years of extraordinary achievement Denis had the love and support of his wife Faye, who in her right was a very talented lady, a community benefactor, excellent tennis player and gardener who travelled, as a constant companion with Denis on his visits in South Africa and overseas.
Written by Dr Graeme Shuker (Finningley 1948)