Hein Kaiser
5 minute read
10 Jul 2022
7:07 am

Barry Ronge will remain immortal in our hearts and minds

Hein Kaiser

Barry passed away on 3 July but, per his wishes, his death was only announced a week after his death.

Media icon Barry Ronge has passed away at 74. Picture Barry Ronge RIP Facebook Page

He was larger than life, his words sometime sharper than knives and at other times, sweeter than honey. Barry Ronge has died, but to many who knew and loved him, and for thousands who read him, he will remain immortal in our hearts and minds.

Barry passed away on 3 July but, per his wishes, his death was only announced a week after its instance.

I have a career thanks to the leg-up from Barry Ronge, his wisdom and kindness.

Barry Ronge gave me my first real, legitimate job. He was the editor of The Star Tonight in the mid-nineties and me, a young rudderless aspiring writer living in a rundown bachelor pad in Yeoville.

I would quickly get to know one of the kindest people I have ever met. After an initial phone call to explore whether I could get a gig at The Star, a bus ride to the then Sauer street for a quick meet and greet interview, and to my surprise Barry commissioned a story from me. Once I delivered a draft, he sent me back to rewrite it six times, and helped me through every sentence of improvement. And these were the days before email, these were the fax and face to face years.

When Barry finally published the story, seeing your work in print was like a drug, and I wanted a whole lot more of it.

Barry obliged, but he was a tough taskmaster. There was no such thing as average in his world. He took time out of a seriously hectic schedule to always help me knock my words into sensical shape, to understand angles, to find expression inside so that no story ever becomes just an ensemble of language on paper, but that readers can gather a little more depth between the lines.

Watch an old Cinemagic episode hosted by Barry Ronge:

On more than one occasion, when I didn’t know where my next meal would come from, Barry and his partner Albertus would fund some groceries, or sometimes drive from their West Rand home to Yeoville to bring my girlfriend (at the time) and I bags of essentials and help us get by.

It was somewhat out of his way, but Barry lifted me to movie previews in his blue Mazda, with each to and fro trip accompanied by lessons in the car, discussing the film we had just seen on the way back home, and tips on how to be better, how to build a network and how to sculpt a career.

Barry introduced me to so many people, who in turn thankfully also shared opportunity with me, that quickly a career and experience started shaping up. Throughout my life, his words and advice echoed through my being.

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He always said to me: “I can introduce you to lots of people, Hein, but it’s what you do with the network after that which will determine success. Use it or lose it.” He always also said that mistakes are life’s learning gift, as long as you learn from it. And Barry taught me how to take criticism on the chin, and instead of feeling hard done by, to take the input and make something of it. To look at the positive.

Barry always made time for people. Whether for a vent, for a shoulder to cry on or to just listen. He was not just a good man, Barry Ronge was an exceptional human being.

Spit and Polish, his Sunday Times column, was the kind of writing I aspired to. He spent 27 years observing and writing about South Africans and our culture. Who can ever forget his rumblings about restaurant mints, fingers in the sweetie bowl and hand washing after abluting? It shook the restaurant industry and that’s why bill-sweeties ended up in plastic covers.

Barry’s movie reviews and foodie writes were legendary, his shows on 702 and stints as both presenter of television shows like Screenplay and writer for Top Billing and others, testament to his influence and wide reach, deep into everything cultural in South Africa. He was an icon.

The Barry Ronge Tribute Facebook page lists some of his accolades: “His accolades include being awarded a British Tourism Certificate for his contribution to the English Language and Culture in 2003, and the 2005 English Academy South Africa’s Pringle Award for reviews and contribution to the English Language. In 2014 he was awarded a Special Lifetime Achievement Award by The Sunday Times honouring his contribution to South Africa’s Cultural Life and in 2015 the Sunday Times announced that the Fiction Prize would be known as the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize.”

Also from the Facebook page, a short narration of Barry’s career: “He attended Florida Park High School. He completed his studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, where he wrote film reviews for the student newspaper.”

It further reads: “He began his teaching career at St John’s College in Johannesburg, teaching both English and Afrikaans, followed by a 10-year stint as a lecturer in literature at the University of the Witwatersrand. As a journalist specialising in the arts, he commented on contemporary literature, theatre, dance, culture and film for over three decades, often helping to catapult South African performers’ careers.”

What I and so many others learnt from Barry will remain for the rest of our lives. And while he shed this mortal coil, Barry’s words, his kindness, his integrity and brilliant mind will remain tucked away in fond memories and forever appreciation with everyone whose lives he has touched.