Eddie May salutes life-long friend Richard Rive

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IT WAS by sheer accident that Athletics Clipboard stumbled on an incredible trove of previously untold stories about District Six and one of its most famous residents, the celebrated author, and academic Richard Rive, during an interview with former star sprinter and athletics coach Edward David May.

May, 84, enjoyed a long and highly respected career as sprinter and coach in South Africa and Canada, his home for the last 36 years. Few people know, though, about his life-long friendship with Rive, whom he had known since their childhood days in District Six.

Eddie May. (Credit: Clement du Plessis, www.athleticsclipboard.co.za)
Eddie May has fond memories of his friend Richard Rive.

In this first chapter of a special three-part series, May pays tribute to his late friend (Rive died in 1989 in Cape Town) and shares many stories that have never before been published before.

May has many fond memories of his childhood escapades with Rive in the mountain and on the beaches of Cape Town and has the greatest admiration for his friend’s contribution to athletics.

It was athletics that brought the two of them together: the one would go on to pioneer high school athletics on a strength versus strength basis, while the other would become a reputable sprint coach of many years.

District Six   

The story unfolds with May giving his personal account of Rive and their friendship.

Richard Rive
Richard Rive (Photo credit: Writing Black, an autobiography by Richard Rive. First published in 1981. This edition by David Philip Publishers, 2013).

The two were both born and bred in Caledon Street, District Six in 1931 (some writers claim Rive was born in 1930).

May’s parents were Gladys Maggott and David John May (the son of a Scotsman). May was the second eldest of four children – the eldest being Leonard, followed by Cynthia and Bobby. (Bobby, born Abubaker, was born of a different father after Eddie May’s father died.)

May’s wife of many years Henrietta (Hettie, nee Schippers) was an outstanding athlete in the 1960s and early seventies. They had two daughters who were equally talented athletes, Jacquie and Sandra. Sandra passed away in 2015 a few months before her 51st birthday.

Eddie and Hettie divorced several years ago. His Canadian friend Beatrice Olorenshaw accompanied him on his recent visit to Cape Town.

Rive was raised by his eldest brother

Rive was the youngest sibling, by many years, of eight children. Their names were Georgina, Davey, Arthur, Harold, Douglas, Lucy and Joseph. The history of his parents is mostly uncertain.

Rive received his first schooling at St Mark’s Church School before moving on to Trafalgar Junior and Trafalgar High School.

It was at Trafalgar that May and Rive met and developed a life-long friendship until Rive’s untimely death in 1989.

St Mark's Church, District 6 (Credit: Clement du Plessis, www.athleticsclipboard.co.za)
St Mark’s Church is one of the few remaining buildings in District Six.

May completed Std 8 and took up a trade, while Rive went on to complete matric.

After high school, Rive worked at Philip Morkel furnisher shop.

Says May: “With no parents around, the Rives had to look out for each other – well at least some did. Davey, who also worked at a furnisher shop, fixed Richard up with a job at Philip Morkel.”

Doctorate from Oxford University

It is not clear how long Rive worked at the furnisher shop, but he eventually enrolled to study teaching at Hewat Training College.

In Rive’s words: “Of course, I went to Hewat.” (Cape Herald, 1985)

Table Mountain (Credit: Clement du Plessis, www.athleticsclipboard.co.za)
Table Mountain, the mountain May and Rive climbed on most Sundays.

He went on to obtain a BA degree from the University of Cape Town, followed by an MA degree from Columbia University. He topped off his academic qualifications with a doctorate from Oxford University.

Rive was a visiting professor at several Ivy League universities, including Harvard, and travelled Africa extensively.

In an edition of the Cape Herald in 1985, Rives says, “I think I am a good educationist, but there are better ones, many of them.”

Rive went on to become an internationally recognised writer – his literature having been published in more than 20 countries.

Seven Steps
The famous Seven Steps in District Six. (From Eddie May’s photo album)

Climbing Table Mountain

May says his friendship with Rive was interrupted by Rive’s frequent visits to overseas universities, but he remembers his friend well.

“Richard lived in Caledon Street and I lived in Ayre Street. He would shout in his booming voice from the balcony of their apartment, ‘Eddie come! We are going to climb the mountain’,” recalls May.

Mountaineering was, as it still is today, a very popular activity among Capetonians.

“We would take the bus up Kloofnek Road to Tafelberg Road and start climbing from there,” says May. (In those days, the blacks sat upstairs and the whites downstairs in the same bus.)

May says they enjoyed climbing the mountain on most Sundays.

“Richard was a strong mountaineer. We descended on the beach side of the mountain on a track of which I cannot remember the name any longer,” says May.

Winter Gardens

Although Rive lived in Caledon Street, “he had to go to the back of the apartment” to look and see the home of May across from Ayre Street.

“Richard lived on the second floor of a triple-story apartment block called Winter Gardens. We lived close to the famous Seven Steps,” recalls May.

District 6 (Credit: Clement du Plessis, www.athleticsclipboard.co.za)
There is a complete disregard for District Six, its home, history and heritage. The wasteland is being replaced by unsightly and cold concrete buildings.

The entire Winter Gardens building ran from Tennant Street to the back of Hanover Square – the entrance to the building being on Caledon Street, which ran parallel with Ayre and Hanover Streets.

May remembers the two-bedroomed apartment that Rive shared with his brother Davey very well.

“I can picture the kitchen, the dining room and two bedrooms. Richard’s room opened up on two balconies facing Caledon and Ayre streets,” remembers May.

“Davey looked after Richard. He educated him, fed him and reared him,” says May.

In the words of May, “Davey used to buy a lot of canned fruit. He made sure Richard was looked after.”

District 6 (Credit: Clement du Plessis, www.athleticsclipboard.co.za)
Lest we forget though District Six was demolished 50 years ago.

He also recalls a Mrs Prins, who lived across the hall way from the Rives and help them by cooking for them and doing their washing.

Different shades of white and dark

The other siblings were much older than Rive and were married by the time he completed matric at Trafalgar High School.

Several of his siblings were extremely white whereas Davey and Georgina were dark like Rive.

May remembers Georgina and Fred Josias. They lived in Bruce Street.

“Georgina lived in Bruce Street, near Holy Cross, in the uppity part of District Six,” says May.

Lucy, who was, fair, lived with Georgina in Bruce Street for a while before moving to Coronation Street in Walmer Estate.

“They were a nice family. The boys were extremely well-spoken, prim and proper – very English,” recalls May.

May last saw and visited Davey shortly after Rive’s death in 1989 at an old age home in Kensington, Cape Town.

(Eddie May was interviewed by Clement du Plessis, April 2016)

Read more:
Eddie May remembers Richard Rive – Part 2
More talent in Cape Town than Canada, says legendary Eddie May

4 thoughts on “Eddie May salutes life-long friend Richard Rive

  • July 16, 2016 at 12:23 am
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    Dear Mr Edward May. What a brilliant recapture of such famous athletic stars who were excluded from representing their country, due to the colour of their skin. They gave their free time to coach other sportsmen, who became famous. Many of them still continue to do so today. Thank you, Sir! I believe that it is important for our young people to know what happened during the Apartheid years. The history of our famous sports stars should be made known to our youth of today. Thank you to the writers and publishers of this commendable sports page! Blessings. I salute you all!

    Reply
  • April 26, 2016 at 8:26 pm
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    Mr May, I enjoyed reading your tribute to your friend (my uncle) Richard Rive. Your re-call of the names of the siblings is quite commendable except for one error. Georgina did not have a son named Fred. Fred and Georgina Josias were my parents. We lived in Bruce Street about eight houses down the road from my mom’s sister Lucy and her family. All the best to you, Terence Josias

    Reply
    • May 1, 2016 at 1:02 pm
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      Hi Terence. Thanks for pointing out the error – we have made the correction. Best wishes.

      Reply
  • April 25, 2016 at 11:36 am
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    Dear Clement, I am so happy that you gave Hettie a mention, if only but briefly. She was the queen and darling of women’s athletics in the 1960’s. She featured regularly in the Golden City Post which preceded the Cape Herald. I am sorry to hear that Eddie and Hettie divorced but she is still remembered as one of the greatest of her generation and will forever remain our Golden Girl who captured the hearts of all South Africans when she ran. Hettie came from a generation that never gave up or gave in. She captivated the nation and ran with courage, perseverance and tenacious faith. To many of us who remember her, those races are like an intangible dream but we know they happened once somewhere back in time, when she snapped the tape and we realised deep down that she could win a gold medal at the Olympics, if given half a chance

    Reply

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