Aluminium foundry doyen Charles Rowe passes away

It is with deep regret and sadness that we announce the passing of Charles Rowe (75) in June 2020. He was a doyen of the aluminium foundry industry prior to his retirement from Ajax Manufacturing.

Charles was Managing Director of Ajax Manufacturing, one of the largest and oldest aluminium foundries in the Western Cape, retiring after 42 years with the company in 2011.

Charles retired from Ajax Manufacturing after the company was bought by Sicame, a giant French-based multi-national business, with interests in supplying electrical connectors to power stations and other industries requiring these types of components. After 26 years at the helm, this provided him with the opportunity to bow out.

Ajax was established in 1952 by Doug Murray and Ted Hall and has had a long and interesting history. After moving location a number of times over the years, a new foundry was built in 1967 in Auckland Street, Paarden Eiland.

Charles’ late father, Charles Rowe Senior, bought a half share of the business from Doug Murray in 1962. He joined Ajax in September 1969 as foundry manager, having worked for Alcan foundry in Birmingham for nearly two years. At that time the main lines foraluminium castings were for the street and industrial lighting industries and gutter brackets.

In 1971 the company was sold to Tube Investments. Doug Murray and Charles Rowe Snr remained on as joint MD’s for four years. On their retirement Charles was made a director and ran the business. In 1976 General Electric acquired Tube Investments’ shares and the foundry then developed street lighting dies for their range and an increasing number of castings for other industries. Charles bought the shares from General Electric in 1985 in a management buyout and appointed a board of four directors. They then modernised the foundry, making a major capital investment in pressure machines for the foundry and in house toolroom.

One of Rowe’s lifelong passions was motor sport. He became involved at an early age, preparing his first saloon car for racing in 1970. The following year he won his Western Province colours for saloon cars. In 1974 he won the WP Formula Ford Championship. Sponsors BP had an award for their ‘Driver to Europe’ programme, for which Rowe was chosen. Unfortunately the sponsors were unable to fulfil their obligations due to the global fuel restrictions at that time.

Charles married Edie in 1974 and gave up competitive motor racing. Instead, he wrote and passed the required exam for clerk of the course and for 3 years was involved on the main circuit, as well as the go-kart circuit at the now Killarney International Raceway. He continued to enjoy motor racing ‘from turn two’ with his son Graham and lifelong friend, Rowland Stanton (who was his mechanic when he raced).

His interest in motor sport extended to having a workshop at home, where he spent time modifying cars and enjoyed being creative and fixing other things. For example he rebuilt a 1947 Willy’s Jeep and had great fun off-roading with it, being an ex-4×4 Club member. He was also directly involved in the preparation of a VW Polo, sponsored by Ajax, for the VW GTI Challenge for a number of years. His son Graham was the driver, so it was a real family team effort. He had some podium finishes in the car during the 4 years that he raced it.

As a highly respected member of the foundry industry, Charles was also active in the Cape Chamber of Industries. He served on the executive committee for 5 years and later, when the body merged and became the Cape Chamber of Commerce & Industry, he continued this service. He also served on the committee of the Cape Institute of Industrialists, becoming President in 1989. The following year he served on the Electra Show committee.

Charles’ wife Edie’s unstinting and wonderful support over all their years of marriage, through thick & thin, has been a real inspiration! He was a really dedicated family man, who enjoyed nothing more than their frequent family gatherings, being with his children Graham and Carmen, daughter-in-law Angi and grandchildren Ethan and Tatum.

Charles had a wonderful sense of humour, an extraordinary ability to fix things, was a keen fisherman & raconteur & had a large circle of loyal friends. He enjoyed many a challenge and would love to design anything from scratch to suit the requirement. During lockdown he made a pedal for Tatum’s bicycle as hers had broken, and not being able to purchase one, he simply made it. He loved helping others wherever he could and was happy to be useful, right up to his last days.

When asked what he intended doing during his retirement, Charles said a giveaway would be his retirement planning advisers, Fishmore & Doolittle, with a bit of tinkering in his workshop.

Charles will be greatly missed by his family, his ex-colleagues at Ajax, his long-standing friends & everyone who knew him. RIP Charles.

Eds note: “Our sincere condolences to Edie, Graham and Angie, Ethan and Tatum, Carmen and the extended Rowe family for their great loss. Charles was a valued and long-time contributor to my magazines Castings SA and Metalworking News.”