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.

Every house needs a bar...

Playing cards with friends, the bar and rugby games, John was about the most social person you could imagine. His bar was his social hub, pouring drinks, playing guitar and chatting away into the night.

He made himself the life of the party. Entertaining guests with musical sing-a-longs, cooking up his unique occy bar snack and conversing with enthusiasm and joyous glee. The first question when you stepped inside the van Reenen household was 'What can I get you to drink?'.

Family and Friends

John and Eileen built a family up around themselves, being the most social pair I've ever heard of. A true extrovert, John was always happy to have guests over or else he'd probably wander around outside until he found someone to talk to!

Life on the Sea

After a shake down cruise on Free Spirit to Cape Town and Saldanha Bay, together with family and friends he sailed every ocean. Over years wild roaming he visited such far away places as the Seychelles, the Red Sea, Turkey, Gibraltar, the Canary Islands, the Caribbean, and numerous islands in the Pacific Ocean. Free Spirit was eventually sold in Australia and moved to New Zealand, but for John it was a love that lived on; a memory and presence matched only by his wild tales of passages and adventure.

Our Oupa

The grandkids followed in Oupa's footsteps, all worldwide travellers and all up for adventure. Raiatea got his entreprneurial spirit, Kirsty the music gene and Gen got his confidence!

Always wanting to be called Oupa, he certainly was an active and involved character all through our wild childhoods. Umdloti and 50 South Beach road became a haven for us, where Oupa would nap on the beach and Max would dig up crabs while we collected rolling oysters off the rocks.

A Life filled with Love

John was loyal, generous, inquisitive and kind, fiercely so. He made people part of his life and was a catalyst for things to happen. As Eilleen describes it, living with John was an adventure, there was always something ahead to be excited about, and something behind to raise the laughter and broaden the smile.

It will be impossible to fill the void that he leaves, and we will all miss him terribly. But we all have the gift of such incredible memories of this person who lived life to the absolute fullest, and brought us all along for the ride.