Obituary: Sir Laurens van der Post
Monday 30 December 1996
September saw him journeying to the Rocky Mountain heights of Boulder, Colorado, for the "Laurens van der Post Festival", four days and evenings of his films, and daily addresses to a thousand attendees on the subjects of Africa and his friend Carl Jung, the great Swiss psychologist, and reminiscences of the Bloomsbury Group here in London of which he had been a part. Boulder also marked the premiere of a biographical film of Sir Laurens, Hasten Slowly, by Michael Lemle.
Back in London, he launched his new book, The Admiral's Baby, with readings, signings and interviews, followed shortly thereafter by a journey to one of his favourite "homes away from home", Zurich, where he was honoured with an award.
Sir Laurens was generous in his giving, especially of himself, and was turned to by his friends and acquaintances frequently in times of need. When one of his very closest friends, C.A. Meier, lay dying in Zurich last year, van der Post, in pain and poor health himself, made three journeys to Switzerland to comfort Meier in his final weeks.
Without being overly nostalgic, he loved to relate the history of places, buildings and people to his younger friends, or to take them to a restaurant serving traditional English fare. He seemed to know every building on every road in Chelsea, and to travel his back-street routes and hear his stories along the way was always a special treat.
Though not a regular churchgoer he was a thoroughly religious man. In the past 15 years, his own most treasured ritual was to travel to the Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York City - "my parish church", as he loved to call it - to deliver the sermon on the Fourth Advent Sunday.
Alas, most of his future projects will never be realised, but one that will is The Rock Rabbit and the Rainbow - Laurens van der Post among friends (Daimon, Einsiedeln, 1997): originally conceived as a Festschrift, it evolved in the course of the past year to become an amalgam that now includes several of his own recent essays, letters and late thoughts (expected publication date, February 1997).
The last book by Sir Laurens van der Post, writes Gopinder Panesar, was not as stated The Admiral's Baby but The Secret River, the retelling of a pan-African myth - and Sir Laurens's only children's picture book. It was published by Barefoot Books just a few weeks ago, and was of special significance to Sir Laurens, who recalled how in Africa his close friend T.C. Robertson had often described him as "one of the last of the barefoot boys".
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