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Bertie Lubner - the man who really made a difference

  • 9-Bertie Lubner
Dr Bertie Lubner, who passed away this week at the age of 85 after a long illness, was truly a man for all seasons.
by SUZANNE BELLING | Apr 20, 2016

Among the most loved community leaders, his caring nature, chesed, generosity, business acumen and boundless energy, caused him to shine in many spheres.

His philosophy on life was: “What can I do to make a real difference?” but the second part of that thinking was: “Nobody can make a success of life without the help of others. You measure true success in two ways - in your own life, yourself and your family and when you add value to the lives of others.”

Lubner was an emotional person, which belied his business acumen and his high office in many organisations, including honorary life president of the Gauteng Jewish  Board of Deputies, joint founder, with the late Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris of Afrika Tikkun, one of the largest outreach organisations in South Africa, former chairman of the PG Group, only stepping down after 40 years to concentrate on community and country, and a founder with his brother, Ronnie, of the Field Band Foundation, which gives previously underprivileged children a chance to develop their musical talents and life skills.

The oldest serving member of the Board of Business Leadership (formerly the SA Foundation), a founding member of the Manufacturing Circle and a member of the World Economic Forum Task Force, Lubner was the recipient of a host of awards, including the President’s Order of Meritorious Service.

A vice-chairman of the Board of Governors of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, he received the first-ever Lifetime Achievers Award from the university and was founder and president of the SA Associates of the university. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the university.

Lubner was, till the time of his death, a vice-president of the Institute of Directors.

He served on the board of the SA Jewish Report since its inception. He was also a director of its forerunner, the SA Jewish Times.

One of his most recent awards was the prestigious Eric Samson/Mendel Kaplan Communal Service Award, which he received at the most recent biennial national conference of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies.

After his tough decision to resign from his executive positions at the PG Group, although retaining board membership and chairmanship of the holding company, he devoted more time to community work. “It was time to have quality in my life without having to keep apologising to everyone.”

Then came a defining moment in his life. At the age of 70, he had still not learned how to relax and found himself in ICU after a five-artery heart bypass operation and kidney failure. He had to be given electro-cardiac resuscitation.

He was forbidden visitors, except for the immediate family. But he did not count on his friend President Nelson Mandela, chief patron of Afrika Tikkun, who, straight from an overseas trip, came to inspire the founder. “Nobody could keep Madiba away,” Lubner said afterwards.

Lubner underwent regular dialysis, making business calls and dictating to his secretary while on the machine.

He resumed his walking regimen, played golf, went skiing and carried on with all his previous activities until quite recently.

He said, at the time of surviving his surgery: “I have the highest gratitude to G-d for giving me a second chance.”

Lubner made use of the extra 15 years, travelling, going about his civic and charitable duties, with his additional portfolios - president of the SA/Israel Chamber of Commerce, a trustee of the Worcester School for the Deaf and Blind and vice-chairman of the Olympic Foundation. He simply could not give up his active life, his legacy as a member of an entrepreneurial family.

Having studied for a B Com degree at the University of the Witwatersrand, he joined the Plate Glass Group as a trainee and in 1953, he moved to Zimbabwe to develop the company’s interests in the then Central African Federation.

Back in South Africa, in the early 1990s the group was operating in 19 countries and employed 23 000 people. Lubner and his brother, Ronnie were joint chief executives. The family sold control to SA Breweries in 1992, except for the international glass operation, but later bought back all its glass interests.

Bertie Lubner’s life was one of deep fulfilment for himself and caring for others. He never forgot to pay tribute to his wife, Hilary, for always being at his side. He is survived by her, their children Richard, Tony, Marc and Sue, six grandchildren, and brother Ronnie and sister Pam.

Tributes have poured in to the Jewish Report from all over, including from the Smile Foundation and SA Jewish Board of Deputies, which recalled in a statement: “On one of the occasions when he was being presented with an award, he stated: ‘One should never expect to be rewarded for doing the right things. The reward in one’s own soul is far greater’. Throughout his life he was true to this stirring maxim, making him a source of inspiration to all he had known.”

Lubner, who was a founding member of the Great Park Shul, was buried in West Park Jewish Cemetery on Wednesday.

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