Farewell to NHS, Sanlam old boy Stafford Thomas who chose service over self

By Alec Hogg

In apartheid South Africa where I was raised, Newcastle High was an institution you attended by default rather than choice. A small town’s state-run school for whites, it was dominated by the tough kids of local steelworkers, with a hostel housing farmers-in-training and troubled juveniles expelled from the cities.

Not exactly a place where ex-pupils wore the old-school-tie, if you get my drift. So it is mostly by accident one discovers inmates of other vintages. But after making the connection, you tend to keep a close eye on those of them making progress. As much for motivation as inspiration. Stafford Thomas, who passed away last Friday, was among those.

Stafford was a rare bird. Well-read, curious and opinionated, he was happy to swim against conventional tides. We met in the 1980s when I interviewed him often on the shares he held in unit trusts he managed so successfully for Sanlam. And was delighted to see how, in 1998, he gave up the big bucks of money management for a life of service (and relative penury) in financial journalism. His subsequent contribution was immense.

Reading his obituary in yesterday’s Financial Mail, it’s obvious Stafford never lost a Warren Buffett-like passion for passing on wisdom. And that he had in abundance, acquired during years of experience at a rock face few of his peers ever visited, much less actually mined. Financial journalism is much the poorer for the passing of this quiet, humble teacher. Ditto a country whose people continue to pay a heavy price for neglecting financial and economic literacy.