Well-known sports scribe Joseph Norman Pillay, 64, died at his home in Strandfontein, last week.
In typical fashion, the knowledgeable wordsmith, originally from Moghul Park in Kimberley, had just filed a story moments before logging off, said his niece Deidre Petersen, who grew up in the Pillay household.
“He just clicked “send” and moments later, took his final breath,” she said.
“He was still at the soccer field last week. He seemed okay, under the circumstances, of course,” she said, referring to Pillay’s stubborn determination to attend Safa Cape Town’s Coke Cup final, at Erica Park in Belhar, despite having had kidney failure.
“He was not one to complain too much about his health but lived for football and writing. He did what he loved until he was called home,” she said.
Petersen, 31, along with her mother, had lived with the Pillays, Joe and his wife Carol, since birth. The couple has no biological children and while many people may know him as a robust sports journo, Petersen fondly remembers the softer side of the man she regards as a father figure.
“My Dada was absolutely the funniest and craziest person I know. From creating his own words and always making jokes to being so serious about important matters. He always encouraged me academically and spiritually and always taught me the importance of family, a term he believed, and evidently so, was not limited to blood. My childhood was well balanced and my family has always functioned as a unit – I lacked absolutely nothing. They always encouraged me to do my best.
Away from the sportsfied, said Petersen, Pillay was very active in the community and known for his generosity, especially towards the elderly, for whom he and his wife hosted an annual Christmas party. What started out as an event for members of the Catholic church of which he was a member, eventually turned into a highly-anticipated social gathering for people of all denominations.
“He first initiated this event at church through a pious society focused only on the Catholic denomination,” Petersen said. “He felt he had a responsibility to reach people from all walks of life and therefore, along with his family, started a registered NPO to address this. His aim was to treat all seniors from every race and creed and not just limited to Catholics,” she said.
Meanwhile, messages of condolences streamed in from all quarters as former colleagues, long standing friends and acquaintances shared their recollections of the man they called Mr Pillay, Boeta Joe, Uuncle Joe.
“He was one-of-a-kind, larger-than-life,” said former Cape Herald reporter Russel Michaels.
“He was my Griqualand West rugby correspondent based in Kimberley during the 80s. He was colourful, had a commanding presence, very passionate and community driven,” said Michaels.
Like many whose paths Pillay had crossed over the years, he also made a lasting impression on Clement du Plessis, former sports journalist and curator of Athletics Clipboard, an online platform dedicated to unsung sports heroes from yesteryear.
“When I first met Joe at the Vygieskraal Stadium, as a young sports reporter, in the early 1980s, the passion was there for all to see. Joe was big, vibrant, and full of life. If you didn’t know Joe, you would have thought he was angry.The opposite was true. He was a considerate man. We often shared information from the different softball and baseball unions. I was new to softball and baseball and Joe was new to the Cape. But we picked up speed quickly and covered the Mitchell’s Plain, Western Province, and Cape District teams, especially during the popular Smirnoff baseball and softball series played at the Stephen Reagon sports ground in Westridge, and later at the Vygieskraal Stadium in Athlone.
“Joe’s other love was football,” said Du Plessis, “I would meet up with him at the Federation Professional League matches, involving the Cape sides Santos and Battswood, at the Athlone Stadium on Friday nights. No football league was beneath old Joe or too far to travel.
He covered junior football to no end from Erica Park in Belhar to the football fields of Mitchell’s Plain. Joe could talk and write, and talk even more.
“Joe and I had a conversation not too long ago when I was walking my dog. He had phoned on the Facebook line. He was in good spirits as was Joe’s nature; upbeat, enthusiastic, and up for another story. He told me that he had lost both his legs. Not to worry, Dupie, he said, I am getting my prosthetic legs soon and I’ll be walking again.
For those that loved and spent time with him, Pillay’s bulky frame, boisterous and warm-hearted nature will sorely be missed at sporting events, including the Mitchell’s Plain High School’s soccer league with which he was closely associated since its inception in 2004.
League administrator Li-Anne Mervyn remembers Pillay closely guarding his notebook during matches as if it was sacred. “Joe was our on-site news reporter and announcer at the games. He did the fixtures, logs and so on. He always used to say, ‘’Li-anne where is my tea and keep my book away from everyone, they can’t see my notes.’ Joe could see from the first game who would be in the finals,” she said, referring to his uncanny ability to pick a winner early on.
“I just loved his vivacity, his passion for the youngsters and his respect for me as the only female on the field. He taught me how to draw fixtures, logs and read a game,” she said.
Understandably, the celebrations were a bit subdued during the last round of matches at Rocklands, at the weekend that saw Beacon Hill crowned champions after beating Spine Road 1-0. The league resumed the previous week, finishing up at the weekend after a lengthy break due to the extended Covid restrictions.
League founder and CEO, Shamiel Kolbee, seemed somewhat lost without his old friend around at Saturday’s final round of matches at Rocklands. What was missing was his voice blaring over the speakers, giving updates and final scores.
“I’ve known Joe since 2004 when this league started after a soccer scout introduced me to him at Symphony Park while we were inspecting the fields.He was very curious when told that I was the one running the Mr Price High Schools Soccer League and he came out straight away and said, ‘How can I be involved?’ I’ve only heard about Joe’s reputation as an amateur soccer fundi and I invited him to the next game. The next week, Joe took over. He was the MC on the field, he made me get speakers and sound and that was the beginning of a great friendship and relationship for schoolboy soccer. He’s pure knowledge and remembrance of soccer stats; he could talk about strikers, goalkeepers, defenders and dates of finals that were played all over Cape Town. His knowledge was incomparable where amateur soccer is concerned. I saw the relationship he had with the kids, some of whom went on to play in the PSL. I remember him standing on the koppie at Rocklands and he would say, ‘Watch that boy’. He would point players out and say those guys are going to do great things. And that’s exactly what happened.”