The living legacy of Koos Burger

Koos Burger, warden for Rotary Glencairn Youth Camps, president of the Rotary Club Cape of Good Hope and labyrinth builder, has died of Covid-19.

The third wave of Covid-19 has claimed the life of Koos Burger.

Koos, 64, died on Friday June 25, and even writing that seems impossibly wrong. He was the very definition of a polymath: a gifted storyteller with a larger-than-life laugh, insatiable curiosity, a flair for doing things in an altogether new way – ultimately his way – and a knack for breathing life into myriad projects.

He could not possibly be gone.

He was a beloved maths teacher at Paul Greyling Laerskool in Fish Hoek for many years, and he taught long after he left the profession. When he spoke, people listened, so he spoke about things that mattered. Family mattered to him, his wife, Antoinette, his children. People, mattered to him. Values, mattered, The environment and art, mattered. He loved all life, with the one small exception of spiders. “I would never harm one, but they give me the grills,” he said once.

Koos took up the position of warden and manager of the Glencairn Rotary Youth Camps and ran the camps with devotion to the cause.

But the ground also whispered new ideas to him, and Koos subsequently built a 3km labyrinth of plants on the Rotary land. This was where and why I first met Koos (“Path to higher plane,” Echo, December 10, 2015).

That walk with him, as he explained what each indigenous plant was, pointed out the heart-shaped rock in the path, paused to drink in the beauty of the skies, and shared the knowledge gleaned from the land and its natural inhabitants, was indelibly etched with magic. And the design of that living labyrinth was made with mathematical precision. That was Koos Burger. It was the best application of maths I had seen in years.

The fires of 2017 razed that entire labyrinth, and Koos wept. He said it was the first time in 40 years he had done so. But what he did next exemplified him. He did the only thing his heart could bear. He rebuilt it (“A labourinth of love in nature,” Echo, January 19, 2017)

Koos was quirky, funny, and, when it came to Covid, he was careful. I last saw him at Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden in March, and he had his mask sellotaped to his face. An extra precaution, he said, and also – because he was practical – he said this kept his glasses from steaming up.

He had, on the day that Covid-19 claimed him, just five days left to serve as president of Rotary Club Cape of Good Hope. It was a position he relished because of the capacity it gave him to do good things. He was big on doing good things.

He was, during his life, an avid sportsman. He played cricket, rugby, took part in athletics, but he also held an interest in graphic design and woodwork, and his home was filled with his creative works. As was the land outside his front door.

The district governors team of his Rotary club, Carl-Heinz Duisberg, David Holtzhausen, Ian Robertson, Tracey Wilson and Ann Wright, said Koos was known for his passion for the environment and the youth, and for his tireless service in providing an exceptional experience to everyone who had the privilege to meet him and visit the campsite. They said he will be sorely missed.

Bev Frieslich, spokeswoman for the club, said a great oak had been prematurely felled.

She described Koos, who was honoured as a Paul Harris Fellow by the Rotary Club of Cape Town, as a passionate visionary with a zest for life that was vibrant, palpable, and unstoppable and that he was highly respected in every avenue of his life.

Ms Frieslich sent condolences to Koos’s wife Antoinette, who is recovering from Covid herself, and his sons, Alwyn and Smit.

“May his spirit be with us forever as we strive to continue his amazing work and realise his dreams for Rotary International and the world at large,” she said.

Learning of Koos’s death plunged me into a staggering silence, the kind that rings in your ears after the cessation of a terrible clanging. Covid was the fire that took Koos. But if every person he touched could do one good thing in his memory, plant one tree, nurture one other human, stand up for the environment, for animals, maybe these actions can form his latest, living labyrinth.