Mrs Bethune’s presence might be gone but her spirit will live on in my life. She was in my life for the extent of my memory-she knew me from when I was crawling. She was not only physically in my life, but emotionally and spiritually due to her consistency, presence when I was in the same town as her, and by letters when I was away.
Her approach to any subject was well thought out showing her sharp mind as a maths and science teacher and as the Court Clerk for her husband as a judge. Mrs Bethune could debate on any subject, and was a provoker of thought as a teacher, as a friend and as a mentor.
A consistent principled woman who would stand by people even when they have done the dirty on her because she felt it was the right thing. Unfailingly kind, with a bed for anyone to sleep in . Sometimes for people like me, but also for people she didn’t know.
I was staying with her when I was working for Ohlthaver and List in the early 1990’s. I was out in my beetle one night, with Jeanette Witt and her cousin from Germany. We were headed home early at about 9 or 930 in the evening as there was nothing happening. I pulled up to the post office in the centre of Windhoek to check my post box, when I noticed huddle of brown clothed young men across the road.
I started driving away, then reversed back to ask what they were doing there as they looked like they were settled in for the night on the pavement. Politely, calling me either auntie or Mrs at the age of early 20s, they told me their tale of woe. They were down from the North and had been let free early, for a weekend pass were trying to get to South Africa. They’d headed down probably from Grootfontein, to get an earlier flight or stay in a hotel until they could leave. Sadly though it was a rugby weekend and the earliest flights were only the next day. The only option was to sleep on the pavement on mainly empty stomachs as all the money had been spent on getting to Windhoek.
Instructing them not to go anywhere, I drove home to Mrs Bethune who immediately offered the open plan flat at the bottom of the garden. My brother Geoffrey and I then ferried the young men back to the house in 2 vehicles. Mrs Bethune laid out all the food she had on the table for the approximately 12 young men who were delighted with bed and board. One of the young men fought the tiredness and helped us wash up. Looking through the kitchen window, down the garden to where they were sleeping, he spoke of an angel coming to their rescue. The next day the majority of them flew back home to South Africa.
There was never a doubt in my mind that Mrs Bethune would not offer to assist. There was no student to whom she would not offer extra lessons; no man at the gate needing food and water, who went away without a little package in his hand; no one needing a kind word or support for the position they were in, left feeling unloved and alone.
Mrs Bethune was always pleased to see and hear from you. A fabulous letter writer when you were far from home. When I first went to London in my early 20s, her letters kept me going in a strange world. I look forward to receiving them, and hearing the news of the daily life in Windhoek. I thought it was normal to have ideas well laid out, opposing views examined. This was her natural way, but assisting her husband as he sat on the bench as his clerk, honed her skill and kept it fresh. They were a lovely couple and I went to their home like a homing pigeon to his nest.
I will miss her for the activities we did together-reading the Sunday papers together, and discussing the articles; sitting outside in the shade of her lapa; with drinks and snacks which she infallibly offered to everyone who came to the house; the easy flow of life in her house; the constantly available bed; the meals we produced together which were far better than anything we could do separately; her interest in my friends in my life; her consistent care for people that she would tell me about. All this left me in awe of her consistent principled approach.
Mrs Bethune was a wonderful maths and science teacher, but she wanted more. Unfortunately, she was told Women don’t study things like astronomy. Being a woman did not stop a Free State girl in her day, packing up her bags and touring Europe. Mrs Bethune might not have felt she had much to offer, but for those of us who knew her well, she gave an incredible amount that benefitted our lives.
I will miss knowing that she is in this world. But I know she is still in my life as a set of principles; as a provoker of thought, as someone who made me a better person.