The Lynskys have just arrived from South Africa bearing gifts. It was late 1987 and Rory's holding the prize offering. If the shape and the X-Ray cheating foil wrapping are not a giveaway, look no further than the expressions on the faces of the dogs below.
Rory was a (sometimes) quiet legend to those who knew him well. My task in this account is to bring out the many facets of Mr Lynsky over the half century that I knew him. Often serious and often hilarious, his refusal to give in to adversity at the beginning and end of his life belie his steel core.
I will hand the baton to former mutual colleague, Erica Platter, to introduce our man. We both met him at much the same time and had similar experiences:
"When I joined The Daily News I was allocated a desk adjoining and facing Rory’s. I was terrified of his experience and ability for about an hour, but then simply grateful. He was funny and kind and encouraging and helpful; I would never have survived as a news reporter without him. Thank you Rory."
I think I was a little scared of him, too. Probably would have been even more so had I known that he was 6 years older than I was ... a lifetime for a greenhorn cub reporter in the early 70s.
Erica's thoughts are echoed by Sandi Krige, "Rory was a fabulous, kind and helpful colleague and he and Bill Krige were like mountain goats in the berg. Such happy, carefree days shared on the Daily News, Durban." And by Wanda Hennig, "Wonderful Rory — both at the Daily News and beyond. And very special Brenda. So missed, both of them from Durban. Brenda always so supportive, from early days."
I am pleased that Wanda introduced Brenda because, to us, they were completely complementary and complimentary. They were always Rory and Brenda. Personally, I became a little less nervous around my mentor after having met his wife with her big smile that continues to light up her face.
Early adventures with the Lynskys
While all of us in the Daily News newsroom were pretty tight-knit, it was only when we hit Fleet Street together in 1975 that the Lynskys and Harrisons became close friends. The powder blue "bakkie" helped, especially, arriving as it did, at the onset of the Spring of that year.
Above (clockwise from top left): the Lynsky machine ... many an hour spent in the back while Rory navigated from one English attraction to another; a spring BBQ at the Venter's exclusive mobile home pad near Staines on the river ... Rory, Brenda, Bob Kirwin's back, Lester and Susie Venter; standing atop Box Hill (I think); Rory strikes a pose at Chartwell.
Adamant that Carmela and I should see as much of England as possible during the remaining part of the year before we had to return to Durban, Rory and Brenda set about introducing us to everything South of an imaginary line between and including Oxford and Cambridge. Sometimes he would get bored of a journey to the extremities of this "patch" and he would need to let off steam. That's when his sense of mischief manifested itself most.
I'll never forget the occasion when he'd made the long drive to Woodstock and Blenheim Palace with the Harrisons plus Liz Butcher rolling around in the back on the then narrow roads between London and Oxford and beyond. No sooner had we arrived in the palace's park-like estate (yes, one could just dive right in in those days) to find a tourist bus parked where it obscured part of the main building.
In a voice intended to be loud enough for the tour party to hear and eyeing the camera hanging from my neck as I emerged from the rear of the bakkie, Mr Lynsky demanded:
"Hey Mark, get a picture of the bus."
Sensing my discomfort and that of the coach party he set about harnessing the pent up energy from the long drive from London. The evidence is in the last three of the 4 pictures below.
rAbove (clockwise from top left): Rob and Gem Melville joined us on a balmy afternoon for a gentler afternoon's blackberry picking, Brenda is on the extreme left; Rory's pent up energy is expended in various activities in front of Blenheim Palace - in the first of these he has a large brown lump in his hand as he chases Liz across the lawn ... she didn't mind, she knew Rory would never knowingly have harmed a living thing.
Rory's posting was as a more senior journalist than mine had been and he and Brenda were initially there for three years. I think it was extended for another two while daughters Catherine and Joanna were born because I returned in 1977 to stay with them in Ham (near Richmond) shortly after Catherine was born and was bearing baby gifts from Rory's Mum. Brenda, although being very recently a new mother, organised a dinner party with home-made quiche (the "coronation" version now fit for a King) and invited some of my old friends, including Elaine Cornish, the wife of one of our stellar colleagues, Jean-Jacques, a bit of a legend.
Brenda and I managed to spend quality time during my short stay in Ham. Rory was commuting daily by train from Richmond to our office at 85 Fleet Street. He used to cycle a little more than 3 miles from Ham to Richmond to get the train. The journey involved Richmond Hill so it would have formed part of the daily exercise regime. One day Rory suggested that I meet his train home and he would arrange for us to join Dave Beresford at the Orange Tree pub. Dave was a mutual friend who would go on to be an acclaimed journo. He was already cracking company and we no doubt had that last pint that pushed us over the edge. As we were leaving Rory insisted that we buy a pie to soak up some of the alcohol. Dave wasn't that keen on the pie, which caused Mr Lynsky to switch into mischief mode. But first he had to grab his bicycle after suggesting that we initially walk towards Dave's house over Richmond Green. Dave and I set off, allowing Rory to catch up on his faster transport mode. By the time he caught up, he had eaten half the pie and was determined that Dave should have the rest. The fact that he didn't fall off his bike says buckets for his ability as a cyclist. Luckily for Dave, though, a person with his two feet on the ground could jinx more nimbly on the Green than a man on a bike, which saved him from his Rory's determined generosity and being force fed a steak and ale pie.
I won't go into the conundrum of how man with bike and man on foot would travel 3 miles home together save to say that the journey involved Richmond Hill in the pitch dark. Luckily there wasn't so much traffic around in those days.
The Lynskys return to South Africa
Above (l to r): There were a few weddings to attend (including Shan's and mine, although this wasn't that one); spot the Lynskys in 1987
The Lynskys remained in the UK until after their second daughter, Joanna, was born in 1979. They were immediately welcomed back into the old group of Durban journos and were part of the small group of guests that attended Shelley-ann's and my wedding at the end of 1980. We slipped back into mutual interests such as walking, canoeing and looking at wild animals.
As far as the latter interest was concerned, the experience was always richer having Brenda around. Apart from her gentle kindness and sense of fun she also had the eyes of a hawk. On a trip to Umfolozi Game Reserve in the Lynskymobile we would have been lucky to have even seen the occasional rhino had it not been for Brenda's eagle eyes. The four of us were out on an early morning drive around the reserve with Rory at the wheel when Brenda suddenly spoke:
"Ror, stop the car," she gesticulated towards some scrub and a tree beside the road. It took our eyes some time to focus and then there were 5 cheetah (maybe even 7, I can't quite remember), two sitting on a mound so close it almost felt if you could lean out and touch them, others camouflaged in the grass beside the road. We hovered for ages and the big cats were seemingly unperturbed.
Eventually moving on, Rory rounded a bend a little further down the road and almost drove into a herd of buffalo. They were crossing the road from a crop of thorn trees to another crop of thorn trees. Around about that time, African buffalo were rated the most dangerous of wild animals and we had the dominant male manoeuvring threateningly in front of the car. To say we were all terrified would be an understatement. They were gradually traipsing from left to right and they seemed to go on forever, the rear of the queue disappearing into the trees. Rory had engaged the clutch and his calf and foot were jumping nervously under the scrutiny of the big fella eying us though reddened eyes. What seemed like an eternity but probably only lasting a couple of minutes, the herd had all moved into the trees on our right.
After a moment's nervous hesitation, Rory exited the field of action as quickly as he could without creating a scene ... as soon as we were safely out of range our driver stopped the car and we all laughed hysterically. If you hadn't been there it would be hard to understand how scary the moment of confrontation had been.
UK visits in the opposite direction
Above (l to r): OK, ok, I know I used it as a banner for this article but I didn't introduce all the participants nor the customary transporting of gifts from various friends in South Africa to the grateful recipients in the UK - here Phil Duff and I are grasping bottles of Tassies and Shan has two bottles of Preen (from her mother), on the mantelpiece is a hand painted card from Andrew Newby - these are the things that parents and friends couriered across with hapless visitors - the dogs' radar is focussed, laser-like on the biltong Rory is holding and expanding about; a walk along the Thames always a must - Rory and Brenda being accompanied by Shan and Ali.
It wasn't long after we'd left South Africa in 1987 before the Lynskys came to visit. They stayed with Phil Duff in what was to become a happy procession over many years. And then it all stopped. It remains unclear to me whether a fall that Rory had on an escalator in London in the mid-2000s, I believe at Heathrow Airport, was the onset of the Motor Neurone Disease (MND) that was to plague his remaining years but it was the last time I actually saw him face-to-face.
Some serious and difficult stuff
It was only in the past week or so that many of Rory's friends will have found out that he started life with a physical adversity; like many others of his generation he was held back by polio during his earlier years but guts and determination saw him overcome this early setback to become a runner and canoeist of staying power and repute.
In this and his work as a reporter he didn't muck about. Out of hours maybe ... but he didn't suffer fools and was widely respected for his day job and increasingly over the years as an historian with a formidable knowledge of travel in many parts of the world. Much of this latter intelligence was gained from being a prodigious reader and traveller sponging up details of his experiences to be called upon when conversation demanded it. More of this a little later in the concluding paragraphs of this piece but first we need to understand the determination that carried him through more than a decade of failing mobility.
Only Brenda can really understand what he, and consequently she, went through during this period. I'm trying unsuccessfully to recall ever hearing Rory complain about his own setbacks in life. I know that Brenda helped him through much of his failing bodily function caused by the MND but I corresponded with him up until days before he died and could never be sure how much assistance he needed. I don't really want to know, either. That was between the two of them and hopefully sustained them through just short of 50 years of marriage. All I can vouch for is his clear mind and some splendid photos taken weeks before the end.
In the meantime they disappeared off to Oz.
Australia (the Oracle continues from another space and time)
At first it seems our hero was pretty busy with continuing professional endeavours, undertaking long train journeys and writing them up for various publications around the globe. Personal communications were fairly sporadic. I'm sure he continued reading and, to some extent, gaining vicarious pleasure from what his mates were up to. In fact I know this to be true and will provide some examples to end off what is becoming quite a lengthy tribute. But first some penultimate pictures.
Above: Phil Duff and I came up with a plan - I was chair of the Farcycles (an Oxfordshire cycling community pronounced "farcicals") and Phil was going to Australia in 2015, so I supplied the jersey and Phil the postal service - we think the plan was a success; the bottom right frame is in response to a question from Rory in December last year after he'd read my most recent blog at the time, "Morning Mark. Very enjoyable ramble around the drinking holes in San Sebastián. At times it sounded like a Basque version of the Bekkersdal Marathon! How do [you] manage those eye catching photos with selected subjects in colour against a subdued background?".
I'd love to include a complete transcript of Rory's commentaries on my blogs. They weren't always as complimentary and both he and Andy Newby called me out for my sloppy research on early Durban history. I'm not saying I was 100% contrite but I always respected these special men and tried my best. Rory continued to read my blogs and commented on almost every one ... as I've said, not always in a completely commendatory manner. Here are a few favourites:
Having made his own extensive excursions into the Pyrenees and the East and West Coast of France and Spain, Rory took a great interest in the recent adventures in a camper van enjoyed by my wife, her sister, Kerry Tindall, and me in the same area.
Commenting on our adventures in Cotlliure/Collioure he wrote: "The British novelist Patrick O'Brian lived in the town from 1949 until his death in 2000, and his novel The Catalans describes Collioure life as it was in the past. He also wrote a biography of Picasso, who was an acquaintance. O'Brian and his wife Mary are also buried in the town cemetery.
"His stepson Nikolai Tolstoy wrote a very illuminating biography of this complex man. When the O’Brians moved to Collioure they were as poor as church mice and rented a a single room above a tavern. Their Catalan neighbours used to leave food on their doorstep to see them through the day. Almost all his books were written in Collioure including the Aubrey-Mataurin series reaching 6 million copies.
"Great moody pics Mark and having a soft spot for sardines, a very well organised plate."
His depth of travel reading spurred him on: "Thanks for your very kind words about my interest in journey writing. I think I shared my recently (re)kindled interest with you back in the 80’s when one of us read Eric Newby’s ’Love and War in the Apennines’. From then I’ve probably been hooked on this genre, especially writers who cross boundaries- both geographic and political. From riding a bike from Ireland to India (Dervla Murphy) to walking the Cornish coast (Raynor Winn The Salt Path). You may have read the latter. Very inspirational, A ‘never give up’ epic.
"So there you have it Harry, the complete arm chair traveller!
"... I will certainly read The Baguette and Bicycles 🚴 blog."
And a last advisory discourse after a blog about one of Rory's favourite subjects, walking in the Cotswolds: "Morning Harry. How about a screenshot of an Ordinance Map of your route?
"Why don’t you buy a couple of paper Ordinance Maps that cover the area around Faringdon and when you do a walk just make a fair copy with a few personalised arrows and margin notes. That avoids subscription and copyright issues.
"Gooday Mark. That’s an impressive OS library. That map view helps. The OS police would turn a Nelsonian blind eye to using map views in your blog."
I sent him the map.
The last big journey?
I cannot sign off before sharing a last couple of photos that Rory sent from perhaps his ultimate journey, road tripping with Brenda to visit old friends in late February, early March 2023. There must have been various photographers ...
Above (l to r): Wayne Brown, a mutual colleague from the 70s and 80s, who visited us in the UK with R&B in the late 80s, Brenda, Rory, Robbie Stewart, an epic canoeist in his day, Rory again, Frank Emmett, also a Durban friend and canoeist.
Nuff said! At almost 72 I'm still learning and paying homage to the great mentor in the sky. RIP to a lekker friend for half a century.
I lied about that being the last couple of photos
A few more pictures taken by Rory and sent to me in the past few months
Above: (Row 1, l to r) OK so Rory didn't actually take this one but I took it as a declaration of intent; Always the botanist, this must have appealed greatly; (Row 2, l to r) some elegantly composed architectural stuff; and again; (Row 3) he liked the moody stuff, some great cloud shots; (Row 4) Bren in contemplation.
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