Beyond the call of duty

Deputy national commander of the South African Youth Cadets Academy, Bayview resident and passionate teacher Brigadier General Mario Julian Rhode, 52, died surrounded by his family.

South African Youth Cadets Academy Brigadier General Mario Julian Rhode, from Bayview, died on August 26.

He died in Constantiaberg Mediclinic Hospital on Thursday August 26.

His wife Bianca Rhode said she treasures his life and that he was loved by everyone he met.

Ms Rhode met her husband in England in 1999.

He as a teacher and she as a nurse, met on September 1 that year and continued a long distance relationship for another four years.

“He returned to South Africa in 2000 and I still worked in England. Very much in love,” she recalled.

They married in Stellenbosch on October 4 2003 and moved into their Bayview home.

“He would send letters by fax to the ward I worked in. They did not understand Afrikaans and would hand the letters to me,” she said.

Ms Rhode said her husband had many good characteristics, including endurance to never give up.

“He was such a jovial, strong person. Very passionate about any tasks he was given. He was well loved. A family person. Loved children to bits beyond his duties. He created a special group for the parents and overnight he would see to problems. He went the extra mile for each child. They were not just pupils but his children. He was passionate about being a teacher,” she said.

He was a romantic at heart, who had a great sense of humour and a positive outlook on life.

Ms Rhode said his passion to help children was infectious and that they would like to continue his service and assistance to the community.

He loved nature, specifically the mountains and was a professional hiker. “Always adventurous. He believed to always endure, persevere and not to give up on one’s vision and dreams,” said Ms Rhode.

He regarded his pupils at Eastville Primary School in Eastridge, where he taught for nine years, as his children.

Principal Kathrina Heynes said: “The children loved him to bits and I regarded him as my son.

“He went out of his way to help people. He was just this ball of energy and we are really going to miss him.”

She said she could write a book about Mr Rhode’s contribution to the school, including its pupils, staff, volunteers, walking bus members, kitchen ladies, general assistants and youth safety ambassadors.

He took care of them, motivated and encouraged them to improve their lives.

“For the pupils he was a great dad. He supported them on a financial level. He supported a first year medical student for her entire high school career. He gave the pupils emotional support by making them feel special.

“He was one of the last teachers on the school premises – even sometimes until 6pm – to ensure that every last pupil had been fetched,” said Ms Heynes.

He had the Afrikaans class, which was rather rowdy, and knowing from which circumstances the pupils came and the challenges they faced such as gangsterism, he motivated them to stay positive and not to join the gangs.

Mr Rhode was a school safety officer and his duty specifically for the last 18 months was to ensure Covid-19 protocols were followed.

“He did a good job ensuring that everything was in place. He came in on Saturdays to paint the social distance demarcations and the school kitchen to ensure the kitchen ladies were happy in their space.

“He was a doer at the school. He was our information and communications technology (ICT) specialist, a leader in e-learning at the school and registered our teachers for robotics,” said Ms Heynes.

He initiated a garden and was working with the Department of Agriculture to help it flourish.

“We are really going to miss him,” she said.

Teachers have paired with each other to continue transferring skills the way Mr Rhode did.

They will continue his garden project to create an outside classroom.

“He was my right-hand man. He was just interested in helping and doing things. Very independent. He empowered himself (by enrolling) for certain courses so he could help others,” she said.

Ms Heynes, who has been at the school for 36 years, was appointed as principal two months ago, and said she and Mr Rhode had a beautiful professional relationship and that he supported her on a spiritual level.

The school has put committees in place to continue Mr Rhode’s legacy, which had been written up in working documents.

“He left a legacy of hard work and doing things. He was a caring person and that we will continue – caring for each other,” she said.

Ms Heynes said according to a testimonial from the Zisukhanyo Schools Project, Mr Rhode was noted as someone who would add significant value to the future of education in South Africa.

At school he also co-ordinated the environmental club, SoulBuddyz, youth leaders (Sportec), in addition to being a Grade 6 glass teacher, grade supervisor, was involved with the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP), the Jet E-learning co-ordinator, prefect camp planner, Transform to Perform care and support project, co-opted on to the school management team (SMT) and involved in school sports, including athletics, cross country and wherever he was needed.

The school held a memorial service at the church yesterday, Tuesday August 31.

General Reverend Dr Randall Petersen, national commander of the cadets academy based at West End Primary School, in Lentegeur, said Mr Rhode was the first national executive command council (NECC) member and director of the academy and he was the first teacher to join as an officer.

Mr Rhode shadowed Dr Petersen and they spent several hours planning together.

“He cared for the cadets, the kids, the youth and parents,” he said.

He was the first officer to attain the second highest rank nationally as brigadier general.

“We were more than brothers. He supported my cadets feeding scheme and supported families with my groceries project, our shoes projects and clothing for the cadets,” said Dr Petersen.

He said Mr Rhode’s death leaves a major gap. “He was my heartbeat. We cared for each other as he loved SA youth cadets.

“We salute you as you will remain on duty in our hearts. All 36 branches in South Africa that you helped build. Gone but not forgotten,” said Dr Petersen.

The academy held a memorial service on Sunday August 29 at the West End Primary.

Mr Rhode’s funeral will be held at the Church of God, in Portland, tomorrow Thursday September 2.