Chester Williams will get a colossal send-off at Newlands on Saturday, but there couldn’t have been a more applicable and poignant celebration of the man and the rugby player than Wednesday’s memorial at the University of Western Cape.
His best friend and former teammate Jerome Paarwater told some lovely rugby anecdotes about their time together as players and more recently as coaches. There was as much laughter as there were tears. Jerome was adamant that Chester ‘wasn’t’ his best friend, but ‘is’ his best friend.
PJ Powers added such joy to the day, performing Chester’s favoured Home in Union.
Chester’s wife Maria was stoic and remarkable in how she handled the occasion. Maria’s strength of character has always been her trademark. She lived for her husband and was his best friend, long before they started dating, while they dated and for the past two decades in marriage.
Maria spoke with such beauty about the people in Chester’s life, his children, his friends and his family. She asked the UWC Varsity Cup squad to join her and her family on the stage because she said the UWC boys were as much a part of the Williams family as the three children Ryan, Matthew and Chloe.
What was so powerful was the manner in which she addressed the players. She turned to face them and spoke directly to each of them when she told them how much Chester loved them, how much he wanted them to succeed and how much emphasis he placed on them becoming better men.
Chester had also emphasized the need for them to take seriously their education at UWC and that no player would get picked if he didn’t have the necessary credits.
Maria asked each player to further the legacy of Chester Williams by being better men, better students and better rugby players.
Chester Williams was a success is every aspect of his life, but never has it been truer that behind every successful man is a successful woman. Maria Williams is an inspiration, in how she has always handled herself and her relationship with Chester because she has always had to share the love of her life with a nation.
She shared with grace and with understanding because she knew what Chester meant to the people of South Africa.
Chester Williams was the face of the Springboks’ 1995 World Cup, long before the first kick-off. His face was on every billboard and it didn’t matter where you looked, that big smile beamed back at you.
Chester’s playing career and my rugby writing career started in 1991 and I was privileged to be the one he asked to write his life story, which was so aptly titled a biography of courage.
Chester’s life was about courage, about adversity and about triumph.
Newlands on Saturday will be transformed into Chesterfield and his rugby-playing legacy will be ensured with one final match at the ground he loved the most.
But it’s the legacy of the man that will live on through Maria and his children.