ForeverMissed
A tribute to my Oupa, John van Reenen, still young at heart even at 87!

John was a dearly loved and devoted husband to Eileen for almost 64 years, loving father to Mandy and Ian, and close father-in-law to Phoebe, Tako and Lucy. The adored Oupa of Kirsty, Raiatea, Genovesa and Harmony, steadfast brother to Yvonne (dec), and famously proud builder and owner of Free Spirit.

He led an adventure-filled life of mischief and joy, with an ability to nap anywhere, anytime. He was an enthusiastic entertainer and music lover. He and Eileen made a family out of all the friends they brought together. He will be having a big reunion party with many loved ones now. 

Forever in our hearts and a true Free Spirit. We miss you so very much.

Click on the tabs above (Life, Gallery and Stories) to see and celebrate his incredible life, and please feel feel to share your own stories, memories and photographs of John!
Posted by Jenny Wyeth on May 13, 2021
As John's niece, first born to his sister Yvonne. My mother and two younger brothers would holiday each year in June/July at Granny and Oupa's beach house on the Bluff. John and Eileen - newly married would sometimes spend weekends there. I remember John snorkeling and diving for fish. He loved being in the ocean. (One time when I stayed with John and Eileen at their Umdloti beach house, John picked a whole bunch of mussels off the rocks, and prepared them so I could take them on the plane back to Cape Town to share them with my husband Michael.)
I also remember him tinkering with engines - a scooter he was fixing up on the drive way - with Eileen's help (I think Mandy has a photo of this). Later on I remember him fixing an old Corvette with little Ian peering over the engine and helping his dad.
He just love big family gatherings - friends were family too - and John was always the life and soul of the party. And yes those naps, I often remember him fast asleep after lunch on the stoep or lawn.
My memories of John and Eileen together have had a lasting impression, of a gorgeous power couple - a loving force to be reckoned with - Lubex and Just Looking! Uncle John your enthusiasm for life, and incorrigible sense of fun have been an inspiration. (Even though you would sometimes drive your sister Yvonne mad, she loved you so much.) You are forever in my heart.
Posted by Mandy Heiner on May 13, 2021
From Adele Wevell

My father and John were cousins and I remember as a child Oom Carel and Aunt Iris came round for lunch...Oom Carel had us in stitches telling us the story of when he was Headmaster and the students were all sitting down for lunch...Oom Carel asked John to please say Grace...so everyone closed their eyes and waited..John stood up and said one word...GRACE...and sat down...Oom Carel was furious...just thought I would share that with you all...

Sounds like Dad, thanks Adele
Posted by Mandy Heiner on May 13, 2021
From Adele Wevell

I remember as a very little girl...John and Eileen used to come to our house to play music...John on the guitar...my Dad on the piano....then Eileen and my mom used to use 2 lids as tambourines and I recall a wash board and I think a scrubbing brush...they had so much fun...
Posted by Mandy Heiner on May 13, 2021
From Taryn

Thank you to all of you for letting us share in your memories of Uncle John. Each of the words from all of you brought back vivid memories of my own childhood wandering the rocks with him and sitting in the jucuzzi. Listening to his made up songs as he walked around. He was a beautiful soul and time spent at Aunty Eileen and Uncle John’s home was an anchor for me too. I’m so grateful to have known him. Xx
Posted by Mandy Heiner on May 13, 2021
From Don and Pat McCarthy

Life is a journey and as we travel along the road we meet many people. A hundred or so may become acquaintances but only a handful become true friends. Our dear friend John was the exception to the rule.....he had a natural ability to make friends easily as he had a genuine and sincere interest in people. To his son Ian and daughter Mandy, John led by example and was a wonderful and caring father and a devoted husband to Eileen. You have been part of our lives for the past 66 years John and have left a void and will be greatly missed xxx
Posted by Marg Parise on May 12, 2021
Only met you once but you seemed to be a very likeable and jovial chap John RIP (we'll keep an eye on Mandy for you)

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Recent Tributes
Posted by Jenny Wyeth on May 13, 2021
As John's niece, first born to his sister Yvonne. My mother and two younger brothers would holiday each year in June/July at Granny and Oupa's beach house on the Bluff. John and Eileen - newly married would sometimes spend weekends there. I remember John snorkeling and diving for fish. He loved being in the ocean. (One time when I stayed with John and Eileen at their Umdloti beach house, John picked a whole bunch of mussels off the rocks, and prepared them so I could take them on the plane back to Cape Town to share them with my husband Michael.)
I also remember him tinkering with engines - a scooter he was fixing up on the drive way - with Eileen's help (I think Mandy has a photo of this). Later on I remember him fixing an old Corvette with little Ian peering over the engine and helping his dad.
He just love big family gatherings - friends were family too - and John was always the life and soul of the party. And yes those naps, I often remember him fast asleep after lunch on the stoep or lawn.
My memories of John and Eileen together have had a lasting impression, of a gorgeous power couple - a loving force to be reckoned with - Lubex and Just Looking! Uncle John your enthusiasm for life, and incorrigible sense of fun have been an inspiration. (Even though you would sometimes drive your sister Yvonne mad, she loved you so much.) You are forever in my heart.
Posted by Mandy Heiner on May 13, 2021
From Adele Wevell

My father and John were cousins and I remember as a child Oom Carel and Aunt Iris came round for lunch...Oom Carel had us in stitches telling us the story of when he was Headmaster and the students were all sitting down for lunch...Oom Carel asked John to please say Grace...so everyone closed their eyes and waited..John stood up and said one word...GRACE...and sat down...Oom Carel was furious...just thought I would share that with you all...

Sounds like Dad, thanks Adele
Posted by Mandy Heiner on May 13, 2021
From Adele Wevell

I remember as a very little girl...John and Eileen used to come to our house to play music...John on the guitar...my Dad on the piano....then Eileen and my mom used to use 2 lids as tambourines and I recall a wash board and I think a scrubbing brush...they had so much fun...
his Life

And so it began...

John was born on November 14th 1933, the second child of Big Van and his glamorous wife Iris, only brother to Yvonne (dec) who both adored and tutored him. The son of a headmaster, he moved from Maris Stella to Durban Boys Prep to Greytown High, finishing his schooling at Newcastle High School. A talented sportsman, he played rugby for Natal Schools as well as swimming and running for his province.

He attended Pietermaritzburg University College where he studied pharmacy because, in his own words, “it had the nicest girls”. His rugby career at Durban Collegians was cut short by a motorbike accident, and he took up spearfishing, exploring the coastline on his Heinkel scooter. A passion for music which lasted all his life saw him take up the guitar, singing in a band and ultimately winning a talent competition at the Durban City Hall.

Entrepreneurial Spirit

It was during his time in the chemistry laboratory at Mobil that he met Eilleen, a chance encounter at a small flat in Durban that led to a lifelong romance. They married in 1958 and on earnings of £100 a month set out on a journey of family, friends, love and adventure that would fill a book - and probably should. John went on to establish Lubex Oil and together with his partner and friend Ron Gibson, he built Quaker Lubex, pioneers in the oil recycling industry, and years ahead of their time.

A Man of Curiousity and Adventure

Outside of work he also had boundless energy for adventure, going on long spearfishing trips up to Sodwana Bay with Eilleen. Back in those days he would trade huge fish for fuel at local villages. John absolutely adored the sea, and spearfishing turned him toward sailing. He was a popular member of Point Yacht Club where he sailed catamarans, winning the Beachcomber Mauritius to Durban race with his friend Tony Walden.

Ever curious and never one to call it quits, he flew to Australia to commission plans for a 60 foot catamaran and in 1989 Free Spirit was launched, the largest sailing boat of its kind built in Africa.
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