Allan Gray’s passing a reminder of my personal Settler debt

Such has South Africa’s wheel of history turned that “Settler” is nowadays often applied as an insult. But that is surely an aberration to be erased by the sands of time. Because, as we are reminded by the passing of legendary Allan Gray, many descendants of the Settlers have made a significant contribution to the nation.

The excruciatingly private Gray, founder of South Africa’s most admired asset manager, surely ranks as the nation’s greatest philanthropist, having entrusted his billions to a charitable foundation. Gray believed in the power of education, using his wealth to fund studies of extended family members and literally thousands of disadvantaged South Africans.

Educated at Harvard and the London School of Economics, Allan Gray descended from a Scottish family who settled in Butterworth in the 1890s. His Aberdeen University-educated grandmother, a maths whizz, was a certifiable superwoman. In between birthing seven children and growing a strong business, Grandma Gray was also SA’s first woman mayor who found the time to build Butterworth’s first hospital.

That small Eastern Cape town of Butterworth is also rather close to my own heart. It’s where my inimitable 94 year-young father-in-law, Max Clarke, was born and reared to a family whose forebears arrived in SA with the 1820 Settlers. Not surprisingly I’m somewhat indebted to those hardy immigrants of yore.

Comment from Biznews community member David Melvill:

Dear Alec

Well done on your brilliant acknowledgement article and the tribute on Allan Gray’s life this morning.

I awoke this morning to read your lovely introduction to your Daily. It is often the highlight of the newsletter for me.

I was not aware that you have deep roots in Butterworth in Uncle Max Clarke. And hence your debt to the Settlers.

You may recall that the Bruce clan (Harold’s father) comes from there too. Harold told me some lovely stories about his father’s carpentry days there too. If I remember correctly, you read Harold’s lovely book, Once in my beloved Transkei.

Peter, Harold’s son, the famous journalist, says in his tribute to his father, “My dad’s father was born in Butterworth. His father was a carpenter. My grandfather became a carpenter too and moved to Mthatha and began a small contracting business. It is where my dad was born and where I was born. We both went to the same school, Umtata High.”

Harold battled with his Afrikaans, despite having a “good” teacher, Pam Golding’s father.

I knew a thoracic surgeon, Dr Pitt Fennell, in East London, his father was the only GP in Butterworth for a long time.

It seems as if your Uncle is one of the many stalwarts that were raised in Settler country of Butterworth.

Back to Allan Gray. I was sharply “rebuked” by Johan de Lange, then a very senior manager in AG, I think the head of marketing.  (He now lives in Australia). When I said to him, “Allan Gray is a value manager.” He responded by saying, “No, we are not Value managers, we have a contrarian approach.” He added, “It is this that makes us a different outfit to the rest.”

My most “Intriguing” comment I heard In November last year, I received from one of Allan Gray’s right hand men quoting him, he said, “For the first time ever, I am very bullish on gold. I have largely been anti-gold, it now looks very attractive.” Could the contrarian be right yet again?

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