Susie Power, daughter of Noel Robb, a founding member of the Black Sash, sadly passed away on Saturday 17 January. She, and her surviving sisters Rosie de Waal and Libby Ardington, were also very active past members of the Black Sash.
Di Oliver, past Black Sash Member and Black Sash trustee pays tribute to Susie by writing about her remarkable funeral:
I went to Susie Power’s funeral yesterday. It was remarkable, just as Susie was. Her white coffin was draped with a cloth of some significance –removed at the end of the proceedings for her siblings and her children who were pall bearers at the end of a wonderful hour of reminiscences and celebration of her well-lived life. All around the coffin, placed under the trees to the left of the wide front verandah overlooking the mountains, were strings of photographs hanging from the branches of the trees, weighted down by pebbles. Some of the photos were sad, most were happy, some extraordinary records of her life as a sister, mum, grandmother and of course as Noel’s daughter. There were lovely studies of her with her beloved David ….
One of Susie’s sons-in-law acted as MC, the crowd gathered under a nomadic tent (open-sided) on the lawn and in the cool of the verandah. Friends, staff and family spilled over from the chairs onto the lawns as we all listened, enraptured by delightful word pictures of the character that Susie was. Apart from her many good works, the farm staff sang, played an electric keyboard and praised her for her loving care and kindness towards them all – “I shall never, ever forget Mevrou” said one man.
Her three children gave a joint eulogy, moving through their experiences of Susie, the “one of a kind” mother, who loved her dogs (all of them were named!, some present) which were allowed to do everything and anything they liked, unlike the children who had to knuckle under from time to time. But all three burst with pride at being her children and, through their sadness, praised her for her principled stand on the things that really count, which have become the values towards which they all strive.
Susie’s grandchildren then gathered around the microphone and three of them said what “grannie” meant to them. One said he loved her so much because she told him what was in the parcel under the Christmas tree before he was allowed to open it! She was clearly a fabulous grannie who, with her OT skills, kept them all endlessly busy doing interesting things.
Robud de Waal, Susie’s oldest sister gave a special tribute by inviting us to imagine several pictures of Susie at different times of her life. Everyone seemed to mention Susie’s love of her G&Ts and her ciggies, and what a wonderful maker of outrageous cakes she was. In tribute to her, her children made an outrageous cake –decorated with cigarettes and gin bottle labels - in memory of darling Susie, placed not far from her coffin.
Two of Susie’s daughters-in-law handled translation into Afrikaans for some of the items and one read a beautiful tribute written by David, which left us all weeping. David was so brave, but clearly so broken. He was thanked by his children for having cared so lovingly for Susie who was in a wheelchair when one of her sons married only 2 weeks ago.
The sun baked down on this farm that Susie loved as we were all invited to follow the family behind the coffin that was placed in a hearse that drove off, and we were invited to lunch.
Tribute paid to Susie Power by her children
Our mother was truly a one off. She marched to the beat of her own drum. She knew exactly what she liked and what she didn’t. She instinctively knew what was important and right ...and what was not.
Mom did many different things in her life but they always involved supporting the underdog. The weakest, the most vulnerable, those were her people.
On arrival in East London in the early 80s she quickly set about setting up “The Workshop”, a occupational centre for the mentally and physically challenged, determined that they should have meaningful work to give them an improved sense of self-worth. She loved all their antics - in fact the crazier the better!
At the same time she worked tirelessly for the Black Sash - helping to establish the Advice Office and spending her afternoons assisting people - and on more than one occasion forgetting to collect us from school in the process!
She was always a constant thorn in the side the security police who once confused her book club gathering at our house with a Black Sash committee meeting, leading them to let down the tires of the bewildered book club ladies cars parked in the street. After this event, Dad took to going outside with a torch to flush out the hapless security policemen from their hiding places before the start of each meeting.
On another occasion, in an attempt to intimidate her, the security branch distributed pamphlets around the local township advertising jobs, blankets and free food to all those who reported to our house at 6pm. Hundreds of destitute people duly descended, followed shortly by the security police who wanted to arrest her for holding an “illegal gathering”. Quick as flash she called the Daily Dispatch and her colleagues in the Black Sash to bring blankets and food over. The Daily Dispatch ran the story of the bogus pamphlets in the newspaper the following day. Mom 1 - Security Police 0.
On returning to Cape Town in the early 90s, Mom took up a job working for the Surplus People Project working on land restitution in the Northern Cape. She became a local in places like Riemvasmaak, Garies, and Springbok driving up and down the N7 like it was a mere 30 minute commute. Her highlight of any trip was her toasted cheese and tomato sandwich and ice cold strawberry milkshake at the Springbok Cafe.