Chester Williams not only revolutionised wing play in South Africa, but also inspired black kids to rise above their circumstances, writes JOHN GOLIATH.
It’s crazy to think that two weeks ago I attended the launch of Chester’s beer. The mood was festive, as the beer and old rugby tales flowed freely throughout the night. There was laughter and more smiles than you could count.
The broadest of them all was Chester’s smile, with his trademark dimples on display for everyone to see. The spotlight shone brightly off his bald head, which, in his last days, was almost as smooth as his running style.
He was beaming with pride, a dream became a reality. His foundation would greatly benefit from this project and he had so many ideas of how he would use a portion of the money raised to uplift the people living in the Chester Williams township in Paarl.
That’s why it’s so unfathomable that Chester has passed away in the prime of his life. We’ll never see that shy smile and those cheek dimples again. That’s why the news hit the country hard. It was almost unbelievable.
‘Say it ain’t so?’
Writing this piece, it still feels like I took a shot in the gut, especially because I spent quite a bit of time with Chester over the last few months.
I interviewed him about the Varsity Cup and Herschel Jantjies, was at a function with him at our former high school, Klein Nederburg Secondary in Paarl, and shared a beer at the launch of his IPA and Lager beers.
We even had a WhatsApp chat on Friday morning about his beer and the Boks’ clash with Japan later that day.
Never could I have imagined that ‘lekker’ would be the last words I would say to a hero who became a friend – and the man who told a freckled-faced kid from the Boland that there is a world beyond the valley in which they grew up in.
For many black South African kids who were born in the 80s, Chester was their first rugby hero. We could identify with him. He looked like us. He spoke like us. He grew up like us.
He was also a magnificent rugby player who, in my humble opinion, revolutionised wing play in this country, because of his work rate and ability to pop up in places to take the ball or make a tackle. He didn’t just sit on the wing and wait for the ball.
In this job your sporting heroes as a kid sometimes disappoint you when you meet them in person. But Chester wasn’t one of those guys, because he was a genuine guy who truly cared about those who looked up to him.
He had time for the CEO and the car guard. That was Chester for you, a heart of gold.
But he was also admired and respected all over the world.
In 2012, we travelled together to England to watch Manchester United play an English Premier League match. It was part of a promotional airline gig, where we would enjoy the hospitality suites at Old Trafford.
While sitting in our private booth before kick-off, legendary England captain Bryan Robson and United stalwart Garry Pallister walked in to come say ‘Hi’ to Chester and take a picture.
It was an incredible moment that made me realise what an impact Chester had on the world as a South African rugby icon, but also as a guy who gave hope to many young kids from small towns such as Paarl, including myself and others.
Rest in peace, Chessie. We’ll have a cold one to honour your memory. Your legacy will live forever.