BArch. (Witwatersrand); A.R.I.B.A.
Daniel (Dan) Hildyard Robinson: Eulogy
A memorial service for Dan Robinson was held at St. Columba's Presbyterian Church in Parkview, Johannesburg - where the Robinsons were members of the congregation. The eulogy which follows was prepared by his daughters Lucy Graham and Sally Ewins, and read by Ian Graham. Alan Munro played the bagpipes as part of the memorial service.
King Edward VII School
Dan's father Frank J. Robinson was educated at Elizabeth College in Guernsey and in August 1905 was a founding master of King Edward VII School (then known as Johannesburg College). Frank was to become the fourth headmaster of King Edward VII School (from April 1931 to September 1934) and introduced the first School Sports on the Yeoville Grounds and was responsible for the inception of Inter-High School Sports days.
Dan was born at King Edwards on 1 November 1923 and as a young boy had access to most parts of the school, and there began many escapades. Two incidents in particular are recalled by the family:
- At the behest of the senior Hill House boarders, Dan sabotaged the deck chair that Father H S Runge, the Headmaster of St. Johns, would sit in at the Inter-School Athletics meeting
- The ingredients for gun-powder were purchased with pocket money - from the Chemist down the road – which meant that he and his friends experimented endlessly by blowing up neighbour's fishponds and rose beds
The Museum at King Edward VII School houses Teddy, mascot of the School, which was more or less the same size as Dan was at the time, and his teddy. It also has a display of lead soldiers meticulously made by Dan, and watercolours painted by my Grandfather. Dan returned to the School every Armistice Day to remember those who had gone before, to visit Teddy, and inspect his father's portrait in the Hall.
Education at PTS
Dan enrolled at Parktown Preparatory School (PTS) in 1931 and loved it. PTS was the first privately owned prep school in the Transvaal, headed by Mr. Austin who had been brought to South Africa by Lord Milner to improve the standard of education. The school was situated in a magnificent home in Mountain View and had 60 pupils. The education was excellent. The boys wrote and read Latin fluently, recited Tennyson, Kipling and Shakespeare at the drop of a hat.
His school mates included Hawkins, Thatcher, Rosholt, Steven Anderson and the Reunerts - bright boys who would later become influential men in Johannesburg.
Dan won a scholarship to Hilton College in 1938. The Headmaster's comments on his school reports - whether he came 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 8th in the Form - was either "most satisfactory" or "very satisfactory". This probably explains the origin of why Dan taught his grandsons to say something was "satisfactory" when it was "bloody marvellous!".
In his first year at Hilton, Dan's cartoons were published in The Hiltonian, he was part of the Dramatic and Debating societies, and excelled in the 100 and 400 yard running races.
Wits University and the Second World War
Dan started studying Architecture at Wits University in February 1941. But by that time the war was into its second year, the German Army had overrun Belgium, Holland and France had surrendered; Italy had joined the German axis, and Britain was under ferocious bombing by the Nazi Luftwaffe. Britain and her empire stood alone. In these desperate times it seemed that it was everyone's duty to join the armed forces as soon as possible. So Dan persuaded his mother to fudge his age and he joined the SADF firstly in the Tank Corps, and then later the Special Services Battalion (SSB).
Many volunteers who had matric became wireless operators and were trained in radio technology. His first stop after training was Egypt, arriving in 1943, just after the Battle of El Alamein.
After some months they were transferred via convoy to Italy. Their boat was left vulnerable to air and torpedo attack as it couldn't keep up with the convoy – apparently due to the bad quality of the South African coal Dan was stationed primarily in Florence and the hills of Tuscany, where he was in the frontlines repairing communication lines damaged in action. It was harrowing, muddy and dangerous. He and his friends in the Tank Corp such as Robb, Knowles and Bouchard had many a tale to tell.
In 1945, Dan was repatriated to South Africa from Cairo, via aeroplane. It was his first flight and the journey took five days. He was enormously proud when the Kings Colour was presented to the SSB in 1947.
In 1946, after the Second World War, he re-enrolled for Architecture at Wits. He met and studied with some great future architects, including the likes of Pancho Guedes. In his final year, Dan was awarded the DM Burton Prize for the best all round architect.
There were many ex-servicemen at Wits at the time, and they participated in as much as they could, including superb RAG float building, as one would expect from Architectural students. Dan also started rowing and eventually made the Wits first Eight squad.
Dan was a Wits representative of NUSAS and in 1948 travelled to Cape Town with the President of NUSAS Phillip Tobias (later to become a world famous palaeontologist).
Dan's Architectural Career
After qualifying as an architect, Dan first worked for Chandlers Brewery - to be incorporated into South African Breweries in 1955.
In 1952 he opened his own practice in Johannesburg in partnership at various times with Steffan AHRENDS, Trevor WELLBELOVED, Ken ANDERSON, At VAN DONGEN, DAVID HEMER and POLASEK. He specialised in domestic architecture. Amongst the work he did for Wits was a student village with free standing units and the Bernard Price Institute for ?. In his later years he passed work onto his step-son Dudley LEVIEUX who had recently qualified as an architect at Wits.
Marriage and Family Life
In 1952 he married Lorna Kathleen Denton and the couple were to have two daughters – Lucy and Sally. Dan designed the family house in Linden Road, Wierda Valley near Sandton in 1955 - and called it Stratford. He constructed a smaller scale version of the house as a Wendy house for his daughters. He was always a committed Royalist, and vehemently anti the Nationalist government, so installed a flagpole in the garden and flew the the national flag of Scotland - the St Andrew's Cross. Some people thought the house was an embassy.
Dan re-visited his Scottish roots, and started playing the bagpipes with the family's bull mastiff howling as accompaniment. The neighbours complained at the racket, but he blamed it on his children.
His mother was a MacIntosh, some of her antecedents were a bunch of murderous alcoholics! His daughters were brought up with the warning "Beware the curse of the Macintoshes!" He was much relieved when his daughter Lucy had the good sense to marry a Graham!
His daughters recall a glorious childhood, supper times filled with history, general knowledge and argument. Dan often explained sums with a Koki pen on the windscreen whilst driving to school. Or the timeline of the Battle of Majuba whilst driving down to Natal.
Dan drove his daughter's to Roedean School in Parktown in a racing green Triumph TR3 sports car. Every morning, at a designated point in Central Avenue, Houghton they would race another TR3 filled with King Edwards's boys. If a traffic cop stopped them, he was told to 'hold the clock'.
Before his divorce, Dan had started collecting Martini Henry and black powder rifles and joined the Transvaal Muzzle Loaders Society.
After his marriage to Moyra Levieux, his military collection mushroomed. It included rare uniforms, helmets, swords and duelling pistols. Dan and Moyra had wonderful times at auctions overseas and poring over catalogues. Moyra became adept at measuring out gunpowder and melting lead bullets.
Moyra participated readily in Dan's hobbies, and spent many hours re-upholstering the seats of his Vintage Cars. On vintage car rallies she would be navigator in the Model T Ford with her son Dudley as the eager assistant mechanic. Vintage hats were required for gatherings of the Vintage & Veteran Car meetings; She learnt to row at 60, and joined Dan at many Masters Rowing Regattas around the world and has a collection of medals to her credit.
Once retired from architecture, Dan's desire to explore new Interests was insatiable, and ranged from how to build an exact replica of a famous sailing ship in a bottle; making historically correct regiments of lead soldiers in battle field formation; creating replica models of the battles of Waterloo, Charge of the Light Brigade, Isandlwana and Rorkes Drift and paintings in watercolour and acrylic.
Dan and Moyra enjoyed wonderful varied European Summer holidays together, usually including a visit to Henley Royal Regatta. They hiked in Italy, cruised in Norway and Croatia. Many holidays included a history component such as Waterloo, Napoleon's Road and Hadrian's Wall, for example.
With Moyra, came Craig and Dudley, and if remembered correctly a bad-tempered spaniel. Craig remembers Dan as a second father:
"We lived in his and my mother's home all through university (and a few years after). He embraced us, included us, supported us and guided us. He encouraged me to row (thus starting a lifelong love of the sport). I remember his energy - probably best summed up as we were finishing lunch one Sunday when he exclaimed 'What can I go and worry now?'. He was hyper-active his whole life and always rounding up support for some new initiative."
Dan Robinson was passionate about many things and had an enormous amount of energy leading to an extraordinary life. Dan wished he had died after his 90th birthday – in 2013 - when he was still rowing and piping and painting. However he was ready to go and passed away in Johannesburg on 24 May 2018. We are left to remember and celebrate the memories we have of him.
The memorial cover sheet for the funeral was designed by Dan. The emblems used represented important organisations in his life – including the Victoria Lake Club (VLC) badge. Dan sailed his 20 foot yacht "Robin" at the VLC most weekends in the late 1960's.
Edited for Artefacts and submitted by William Martinson, September 2018.