Eulogy by Ambassador Riaan Eksteen at the Memorial Service for Dr. Theo-Ben Gurirab at the Lutheran Church, Windhoek, 19 July 2018
We are here today to celebrate the life of Theo-Ben and to say goodbye to a wonderful man.
It is a mere five months ago that we all rejoiced with Ben when he reached fourscore. Then I could reminisce about my association and friendship with him that lasted 42 years. Today we are silent in unison. While heart-broken we should not stop celebrating a life so well lived.
Theo-Ben was born with the virtues which the Romans ascribed to those who they venerated and held in hero-worship.
He was first and foremost a person with gravitas — he always evinced good judgment, acted with authority, displayed personal power and spoke the truth and commanded respect wherever he went. Over many decades his audiences here and in far-flung places were in awe of his calm and unassuming display of wisdom. Neither friend nor adversary encountered him as timid. He was a rock. Strong, solid, and unchanging like the stone from the Erongo mountains where he spent many days in his youth growing up in nearby Usakos.
Then he had dignitas — he personified dignity. His charisma was a natural attribute. It was infectious [addicted].
He abundantly displayed pietas — his loyalty, devotion and integrity are legendary. He leaves behind a legacy of honesty, fairness and compassion.
These traits were ingrained in him. Nothing he did was ever superficial. He always acted with omniscient assurance. He was humble to the core. A giant in so many ways.
To those of us who knew him he was our pater familias. The one to whom all of us look up to for advice, guidance and comfort in good times. When the dark clouds gathered around us it was Ben who stepped forward and excelled with his courage and moral strength. His warm embraces left indelible imprints on our hearts. With his intellect he captured our minds. Ben was never ironic, never cynical, never pessimistic. I try to learn from that, still.
He was renowned, in his long life, as a big engine of life which did not stop pulsating no matter how difficult and challenging the solution was to be it until an outcome was secured. He led by example, fortitude, enthusiasm and discipline. He never switched off the lights of reality. He never drew the blinds on challenges. Despondency was not in his vocabulary. Ben worked at what he loved. He worked really hard. Every day. Ben had no time to be absent-minded. He was never embarrassed about working hard. On the contrary, he made it his ethos.
In all of these pursuits that Ben benefited he was always proud to acknowledge the cooperation and assistance of his beloved Joan. They were blessed with children. He and Joan passed onto them all those attributes of character which were so integral to their own lives.
Ben and Joan endeared them to all of us who have had the good fortune to be called their friends. Their friendship will stay with each of us and as precious as a pearl.
Today we salute a formidable person. One who has given true meaning to being the salt of the earth. We hail the profound contributions he has made in so many aspects of human endeavour. He traveled the world offering peace, understanding, and reconciliation. He did not only travel the world. He traversed the road of life. He enriched the lives of so many. He touched countless lives.
Who then does not have a bank of memories of his leadership, achievements and example. They will live forever and will not be lost in the mists of time. They will stay with us until we join him in eternal peace.
Thank you and God bless all of us.
Amb. Eksteen served in the South African Foreign Service for 27 years. He met Theo-Ben Gurirab in 1976 when they were both serving as ambassadors to the UN in New York. With Namibia’s independence he became South Africa’s first Ambassador to Windhoek. He gained Permanent Residency in Namibia and lives in Swakopmund.