End of an era: Shirley Harker passes away gracefully on Mother’s Day

Report by: Leigh Dunn

MOST all Bitou locals know the Harkers of Plettenberg Bay - in fact, the site of the town’s Harker graves has been declared a national monument. Shirley was the last of that generation and her passing last Sunday hails the end of an era indeed.
Shirley Rademeyer was born in Port Elizabeth on February 23, 1927. She married Michael Harker of Plettenberg Bay in 1944, after which the couple moved to the farm Volmoed near Oudtshoorn.
They both served as teachers in the Klein Karoo’s rural communities until their return to Michael’s hometown of Plett, where the Harker residence was located in Church Street where Albergo Backpackers is situated today.
From there they moved to the huge Harker family estate in Marine Drive, on the site of Mediclinic Plettenberg Bay.
When the Group Areas Act forced the family to move to New Horizons in 1968, the Harkers owned the first properties in this neighbourhood, where Shirley promptly established Theodora Pre-school.
Michael and Shirley had six children - Rufus, Dora, Lionel, Eugene, Sybil, and Louise.
Community workers in the true sense of the word, Shirley and Michael each served terms as town councillors for many years. Both of them were part of the Van Plettenberg Centenary celebrations in 1978, when they invited luminaries like professor Chris Barnard and national ministers to join in the town’s festivities.
Shirley’s community involvements continued after her husband fell away, and she played an integral part in the establishment of Plett’s Child and Family Welfare Association.
She served as Formosa Primary’s first School Governing Body chairperson, and established the New Horizons Pensioners Forum, to mention but some of her involvement in educational and religious circles.
As long-serving Rotarian, she also received an award from then Plett Rotary president Ruby Chetty.
The saying goes: “As we live, so we will die.” And that is exactly the case in the life of our beloved Aunty Shirley.
She was busy serving her community on the morning of Mother’s Day, Sunday May 14, as guest speaker at a special breakfast at St Mary’s Church. She addressed a full hall of New Horizons ladies just moments before her passing.
Her talk touched on the life of Mother Theresa, and she encouraged mothers to embrace their children and be an example for their bright futures. At the age of 90, she was still incredibly organised and distributed printed hand-outs to the ladies at her Mother’s Day presentation.
Aunty Shirley concluded her speech and told the ladies that they were now free to have a sip of champagne.
It was just after 11am when she then sat down gracefully and collapsed into her seat.
The last person whom she spoke to was Myrna Windvogel, who regarded her as Plett’s very own Mother Theresa: “That’s how we will always remember her.”
Aunty Shirley’s relatives were immediately informed and we arrived on the scene moments later - a scene bearing the most beautiful testimony of serving a community right up to the end.
We salute this woman of courage who has been a beacon of hope to us all. How many of us would still be in demand as guest speaker aged 90? Aunty Shirley was our matriarch and mother to many, so her Mother’s Day departure struck a bittersweet chord among us all.
We will celebrate Shirley Harker’s life during a requiem mass at 11am on Saturday May 20 at St Christopher’s in Church Street, Plettenberg Bay.
(Viewing of the body, for those who want to say final good-byes, will take place at 8:30am at Perks in Rawson Street, Knysna. Call 044 382 1271 for details.)