Cape Town – Maria Williams, the widow of rugby great Chester Williams, in an emotional tribute at his memorial service on Thursday, said that when all the doors closed for him in South African rugby, UWC kindly opened one.
She said this to a packed hall with some of the 1995 World Cup team, including captain Francois Pienaar and several other great rugby players who came to pay their last respects to the rugby icon, who died on Friday of a heart attack aged 49.
She singled out UWC director of sport Mandla Gagayi for giving “Chessie” that opportunity and said the family would always be indebted to the UWC.
“MandIa, I want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts what you did for Chester four years ago. You allowed Chester to restart his career in South Africa. All his life he had to fight to get a position in South Africa.
”It is such a sad reality, but Mandla you kindly opened the door for him and you allowed him to spend the last years of his life with us. The most important when his children needed him more than anything. We all salute you for that.”
She added: “He had a passion to develop young player. He travelled the country to find these players and bring them to the fore. He may not had the opportunity to represent South Africa as a couch. But that was he okay because he represented UWC who are our family today.”
Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille in her keynote address said President Cyril Ramaphosa had declared Williams’s funeral an official provincial funeral. She spoke more on the lighter moments of Williams’s life, adding that they spent many hours together.
“What I most remember about Chester is his love and care for the community. When we had this big drug problem in South Africa, we ran this campaign to show that drugs are not just a problem of a drug addict but a problem for all of us.”
“We had chased this phase all over the province to say ‘I have a drug problem’. People started phoning Chessie asking if he is on drugs and Chessie said no it is about bringing awareness of drugs in our communities.”
Acting UWC rector and vice-chancellor Professor Pamela Dube, in paying tribute to “coach Chester”, said Williams was an outstanding mentor to the students.
“He was a living example of human potential. The family’s pain is the pain we share. Indeed this a moment for us to share the bells of victory to celebrate the life of coach who made difference to our reputation and changed the lives of the sportsmen under his guidance.”
Pienaar said what Williams gave to the sport was “remarkable and can never be forgotten”.
One moment he will always relish was the moment before the game in Samoa was when Chester spoke to team and said how rugby is changing the country. Former Springbok wing Breyton Paulse said: “Chester was the smiling Springbok.”