Fred Venter – the family man – remembered

It is a fitting tribute to read so many messages of real love and support about the recent passing of Fred Venter, one of the doyens and most respected foundrymen in our industry.

This was heightened during the memorial service to celebrate Fred’s life when it was said: “The family has been inundated with messages, phone calls, flowers, love and support from far and wide. This is testament to the impact our special man had on everyone in his life.”

Although not sudden, Fred’s death has left a big hole in the lives of many and especially his family and those that worked with him for many years. For a man that was known to have ‘boerewors’ fingers, a firm hand shake and a physique that would have passed for a Springbok lock forward, the mere fact that he actually got sick and that it was with an illness that was out of his control must have been devasting. But despite his debilitating illness Fred made sure that he was going to spend his last days on earth in a positive frame and enjoy the time with those that he loved and that meant everything to him – his family.

Continuing with Fred’s open, engaging and kind disposition, one of his specialist medical practitioners that helped keep him comfortable during his time of vulnerability wrote the following: “The incredible man that Fred Venter was (and shall always remain in my memory) – was apparent to me from the day I met him. His warm, gentle, gracious manner was remarkable. What struck me most about him was that every person he encountered was impacted by his kind nature. He treated every member of our practice, regardless of who they were, with equal respect and courtesy.”

“Despite all the symptoms he faced, he sustained this warmth and grace. Even when times were at their toughest, friendly Fred faced everything with enormous courage. I enjoyed our consultations so much. It became more like uncle Fred coming to visit than a patient consultation.”

“His whole attitude to the challenges he faced has been an enormous source of inspiration to me. I can honestly say that he is the patient who has impacted me the most in my career. I am deeply grateful that this man came across my path.”

“Natalie, your bravery clearly comes from your dad. I have so much admiration for your caring for him in his last weeks. A tough job, but one that you were not willing to let anyone else do. I can only begin to imagine the grief that the family faces, having lost such an extraordinary husband and father. My thoughts are with all of you, and you in particular, Ros.”

Frederick Christoffel Venter was born on 28 November 1947. After obtaining his matric certificate from Boksburg High School he began his career in the foundry industry in 1965 when he was hired as a laboratory assistant at Standard Brass Foundries in Benoni. He then joined Mandy Engineering in the metallurgy department. After five years Fred moved to Salcast Foundry where he would spend 20 years and be appointed to various positions including Assistant Metallurgist, Chief Metallurgist, Technical Manager, Technical and Sales Manager and Technical and Sales Director.

During this period his extra studies allowed him to obtain a National Diploma in Metallurgy, a Diploma as Quality Engineer through the American Society for Quality Control, obtain a Certified Quality Control certificate through the City and Guilds of London Institute, as well as a Diploma in Financial Management through Damelin Management School.

At the age of 44 Fred would make a significant and lasting move in his foundry career. In 1991 Fred and his late partner Ronnie Pienaar established High Duty Castings, one of the most respected foundry companies in South Africa.

Succeeding Fred at High Duty Castings is his son Bradley and he aptly had this to say about his dad: “Even though I spent 17 years working with Dad and many close moments with him towards the end I just wish he had left a book entitled This is Fred for us to read and follow and be his clone. Besides travel and family he was not a man that had many hobbies or interests. He worked at what he loved. He worked really hard. Every day.”

Bradley continued: “Deep down our rational brains know that the day will eventually come when we will have to say goodbye to a parent. But on some irrational level, we feel that somehow, life is going to treat us differently and that we’d have our parents in our lives forever. For our little family it was impossible to imagine that someone as bold and as solid as Dad would no longer be around. Right now, If I asked a close bunch like you to start describing Dad, I imagine that you’ll all be as stumped as I was when I sat down to write this. I mean where do you start?”

“And then it came to me almost immediately – Family. Dad was immensely proud of his little pride and now that we’re older and wiser, we can appreciate just how much he loved us and how much joy it brought him to see us happy. Whether it was booking holidays, buying cars or family holiday homes, his overriding priority was always our collective happiness. He took such delight in spoiling us and seeing us smile. Even if what we were doing or where we were wasn’t particularly appealing to him. The stories and examples of this are endless.”

“But let’s look at skiing as an example. Bless his beautiful heart. He could not ski. He was a bit of a hazard on the slopes and a danger to everyone in the village. The ski village doctors and pharmacists loved him though. Despite all the mishaps and spending very little time on the slopes he still took his family skiing many times. It made him proud to be able to do it for us and it made him feel so content to see his family having the time of their lives.”

“While we were chatting about Dad recently, Mom was saying that when she thinks back to the day that her and Dad got married it was inconceivable for her to believe that they would go to all the places they’d go and share the experiences they’d share.”

“She also, at that stage, was unaware of just how many cathedrals there were in the world and just how many that Dad would drag her into. When it came to museums, however, they seemed to have come to a lovely compromise. Dad could spend all the hours he wanted strolling around the many museums that he’d pink highlighted in the guidebooks while he was prepping for the trip. During these times, Mom was free to go shopping. Dad hated shopping.”

“We have so many beautiful family pictures. During these times I don’t think that there was anything else in the world Dad wanted or anywhere else he’d rather be. Just look at how he glowed when he was surrounded by his family.”

“We also went through some of his things and came across his book of health which contained the results of various medicals over the years. Every single summary page makes mention of his large and muscular build. And as only Dad could do, he somehow convinced Dr Parrot that his marble-statue body was the result of his gyming twice a week and exercise bicycling for at least 15 minutes every day. Most of us here know that exercise was not Dad’s gig but despite this he still managed to maintain that large muscular build that had Men’s Health magazine hounding him to feature as one of their cover models. The hounding stopped when he gave up on all that very disciplined exercise and began working on what he always referred to as his “insurance” for if he ever had to go into hospital one day.”

“We needed no convincing to spend Christmas together with him and Mom as a family. The festive season always came with an open invite and Dad’s blessing to the extended family and to anyone else who wanted to join.”

“My sister Natalie remembers how, when eating at a restaurant, you felt like you were about to miss a train in Switzerland. We all had to order our drinks and food at the same time. And ask for the bill. Even the most leisurely dinner lasted no more than about 45 minutes.”

“And something that we all remember but never got used to was how he muted the TV at every ad break and we all literally had to sit and stare at the ads in awkward silence.”

“My other sister Kerrin also has many fond memories of Dad, especially the pride he still exuded when he walked her down the aisle in a bush wedding ceremony even after the priest arrived 90 minutes late.”

“My yellow brick road of thoughts inevitably led to Dad’s emerald city. The foundry. It’s such a strange feeling and one that I can’t quite describe. It made me proud knowing that I wasn’t his only son at his foundry. The rest of the High Duty family looked up to him as a father in just the same way that I did.”

“Without using this context to over-exaggerate after nearly 20 years of interaction with the foundry industry I came to learn that Dad was heralded as one of the best, if not the best foundryman, in the country. I was privy to countless conversations that Dad had with other foundrymen and suppliers over the years. So many used to call him for advice and guidance, and he was always thrilled to help out. It was common for our loyal suppliers to use Dad’s name as a reference for any of their other customers. He literally started in the bottom of a furnace and after years of the hardest hard work he reached the very pinnacle of his vocation.”

“He believed that there was always something new to learn and if someone did teach him something new or suggest a better way of doing something, the contribution was always met with a proud smirk and a Paul Hollywood handshake. Speaking of which, being his son, I always had the privilege of getting a Fred bear hug or a kiss. Even at work. I never had a taste of his famous handshake.”

Fred will be greatly remembered and missed by many. He was a loving husband to Ros, father to Bradley, Natalie and Kerrin, little brother to Anne, wise father-in-law to Darren, Sean and Connor and devoted and adored grandfather to Charleigh, Blake, Rhylan and Taylor. RIP Fred.