'He helped me a lot' - Tributes pour in for late race commentator Pete van der Merwe
Sitting in a coffee shop in a typical Highveld shopping centre overlooking a parking lot, Pete van der Merwe shared his life philosophy with me. We had met to discuss the possibility of working together at some road running events when he reflected on the closure of road races during the Covid19 Lockdown and how that affected his business. "I survived because I live within my means. That's what my father taught me. So now that things are opening up again, I can continue to serve the running community."
This mindset is what set the much-loved commentator apart because of all the tributes that have been pouring in since he passed away over the weekend, many have highlighted how he helped small club events by providing good service at an affordable rate. "Good people don't live long. He was a great man. After COVID he came to our race and do the his job with less amount. RIP Pete. We will miss you. You have done your job," said Comrades Marathon gold medalist and organiser of the Sedibeng Marathon, Frans Chauke.
In addition to serving the running community with his gift, the sports entrepreneur will be remembered for sharing his love for sport commentary with up and coming commentators whom he gave the opportunity to grow behind the microphone. One of those is Donald Mathipa who in addition to being the founder of the Thembisa Street Mile, is a much loved finish line commentator at both road running and cross country events. Mathipa says van der Merwe even introduced him to other sports.
"One of the most memorable events I covered with him was a horse racing event in Bloemfontein and that the first time that I ever did horse racing commentary. He helped me a lot. He was very passionate about the sports of athletics and taught me that being on time at the race is very important. We used to arrive at races two to three hours before the organizers even arrive at race venue in order to do a proper sound check. He was my go to person when coming to athletes' CVs."
But most of all Pete will be remember by the thousands of ordinary runners whose lives he touched. He was known for his ability to recall the names, previous finish times and idiosyncrasies of scores of social runners in Gauteng North and Central Gauteng in particular, a skill that did not go unnoticed nor will it be soon forgotten.
"Beyond his talent, Pete's commitment to the community was reflected in his genuine interest in every runner/walker. He made each athlete feel special, knowing them by name and sharing in their stories with warmth and sincerity. Pete's passing leaves an irreplaceable void, but his legacy will endure in the hearts of those he touched," was the message posted by the people of Run-A-Way Sport (www.runawaysport.co.za) in Pretoria with whom he worked closely.