The trustees wish to honour the memory of alumnus anecdotally Ralph Bennett after the Trust received an unexpectedly generous sum through a bequest in his will – more than eight years after he passed away at the age of 87.
Ralph’s name and London address had been present on the address list for Trust mailings for many years but the trustees were sorry to realise that we knew very little about him. The University’s records showed that Ralph obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in 1946, a Master of Science in Chemical Technology in 1948, and a Ph D in Science 1950, all while studying on the Pietermaritzburg campus.
We are indebted to Ralph’s niece, Shelley de-Honri, for helping fill in some of the gaps, and to a former neighbour for passing on a photo and a eulogy given at Ralph’s funeral with a warm, personal account of the man.
He clearly was a very bright, extraordinary individual who appears to have led a quiet, private and solitary life. Unfortunately he never was very good at keeping in touch with family, many of whom moved to Australia from SA. Yet he appears to have had a generosity of spirit that extended to wanting to help students in need at his old University through the Trust, many, many years after he graduated.
Ralph was born on 23rd December 1926, one of six siblings. He attended Marist Brothers’ College in Durban where his early promise became clear, allowing him to skip a year or two of school studies.
Immediately after gaining his doctorate in 1950, he sailed on a ship to the UK. He only returned to visit South Africa two or three times during his lifetime.
Despite having excelled in his studies, it appears that he did not pursue a career in science but worked in hospitality until he retired. Perhaps it is not surprising that, given this course, his reclusive nature and neglect of family contacts, some thought of him as eccentric. But it seems many who encountered him found him to be warm and engaging.
Shelley says she visited Ralph a few times when he was ill and in and out of hospital over his last remaining years. He passed away in hospital on 27th October 2014.
The eulogy from Ralph’s funeral, passed on to the Trust by Ralph’s former neighbour, is reproduced in full here:
buy provigil overnight shipping A Tribute to Ralph Bennett
Ralph was born in Durban, South Africa, where he grew up. He was one of six children, two boys and four girls. He spoke fondly of his brother Neville with whom he spent much of his time, together making mischief and getting into trouble, Ralph usually taking the brunt.
With Ralph’s father often working away, as boys he and his brother regularly slept out on the veranda or under the stars, attempting to protect their home and the family of women during night-time; also safeguarding a live stock of chickens.
With his agile mind, Ralph set up a system of bells and strings to alert him to their chickens being stolen, which was so often the case. Unfortunately this was futile, which frustrated Ralph immensely, saying it was a losing battle. Although his system alerted them to foxes, people still managed to slip in and out, stealing the birds by an alternative route.
When I asked Ralph, considering the political situation, if he was frightened to be sleeping out on veranda, he said: “I was absolutely terrified, every night, especially more so after my brother had left home.”
Ralph was exceptionally academically bright. As a child he worked hard – but also found his work easy to do without too much effort. Much was expected from him by his parents, more so than his siblings. He spoke of his difficulties growing up and their lasting effect left on him as an adult.
In South Africa, Ralph gained a doctorate in Philology and Chemistry, sending his thesis to Oxford. He arrived in England when he was 25 years old, returning perhaps only once to his homeland to visit his mother.
Ralph later on [in the UK] became disillusioned by the chosen field in science in which he was working and after a while he changed his career to become a hotel caretaker.
I first met Ralph when I was a student living in Trebovir Road, Earls Court, London. One or two of you will also remember him from that time, if not before. Ralph had originally lived a few doors along before he briefly moved into our house, no 23. In 1987, following the landlord’s sale of the property, together with other tenants he moved to Gledhow Gardens where he lived for 27 years.
Ralph was a physically fit, strong man. Living halfway up the house, he took great pride in being able to race up and down the stairs at full pelt with no effort. But his scientific mind never left him, even when locking himself out, which at times could be frequent. He would conjure up solutions to enter his flat on the third floor. This usually incorporated scaling the walls from the outside … far too risky to attempt!
Ralph was a quietly spoken man, often with a stutter, until one got to know him better. His written word was beautifully crafted and well phrased. Ralph enjoyed a sense of humour and was quick-witted himself, which could easily be missed if you were not paying attention.
He was a peaceful neighbour, the best you could wish for. He always gave a polite nod and hello on the stairs. Keeping himself to himself, you might not even know he was there. Although at times, if he felt strongly about something and thought it necessary, he could speak his mind without hesitation.
Ralph was a generously spirited man and would do what he could to help others. An extremely warm, kind person, with a gentle nature, who tried to be fair and open-minded on everything.
Daily, every afternoon, Ralph spent his time in the library, reading newspapers. He enjoyed playing bridge with his friends too and he also enjoyed a bet at the bookies. He was keen on football and cricket, in fact all sport in general which he followed with great interest. The football pools were his lifetime’s work that he called “an experiment”, collecting data and documenting the match score figures daily. Even during his last days in hospital, he tore out the sports page of a newspaper, tucking it into his bag for safe keeping.
With Ralph’s love of children, one neighbour and friend remembers his invaluable help in looking after her son when he was growing up. Ralph took great pleasure in teaching him the sciences after school until his mother returned home from work.
Another neighbour and friend talked with great delight, relaying the times he had played a wonderful Father Christmas for her at her gatherings. With his snowy white hair and white, bushy eyebrows that he was extremely proud of, he was also a great hit with the children.
We had several inspiring conversations discussing art. With Ralph coming from a scientific background and me the creative, he was lively and animated. We would debate reason and possibility in some attempt to build a bridge between the two, often leaving more questions unanswered.
Being a private man, Ralph did not like any fuss to be made of him – and he certainly did not like people to interfere or arrive unannounced. Although at times stubborn to a fault, he was able to remain independent up until he passed, which was exactly the way Ralph wanted things to be. Ralph did what he wanted to do and was deeply grateful to those who helped him. He expressed this by calling them his “lifelines”.
One neighbour, towards the end of Ralph’s life when it seemed he wasn’t properly eating, would regularly take him up meals when she cooked. He was always very grateful for this and promptly returned his plate already clean.
Despite his physical health failing, Ralph’s mind remained notably clear. When asking for help in getting to a hospital, he was still calling all of the shots. One day his surgeon’s secretary spoke to him over the telephone: “Now no messing about, your GP has told me that you are stubborn!” For a split second Ralph was taken back but then he grinned from ear to ear, in a cheeky smile from across the room, sticking his thumb up in the air and nodding: “Well, they know me better than I thought!” This was Ralph’s nature all over.
One of Ralph’s lasting passions was his enjoyment of ice-cold milk and the colder it was the better. He also enjoyed a helping of cream and took great pleasure in eating a fresh cream cake with his friends in the hospital. Despite initial “no’s” concerning any food offered to him, he devoured two pieces of cake agreeably, in between mouthfuls, saying: “It’s rather good, actually!”
Ralph’s passion for music was for big bands and in particular the Glenn Miller orchestra. In the hospital, a radio DJ went round [asking] for requests and Ralph asked for his two favourite pieces to be played. These he dedicated to “all my friends who have already passed”. In Ralph’s memory, today, we have shared both of these pieces with him.
“When I hear the sound of a Turtle Dove I feel warm, safe and comforted: it reminds me of being a boy” – Ralph Bennett 2014