Farewell to a true Blend of all things good
He was a real all-rounder, full of life, and dedicated to the well-being of others, and his sudden death has left family, friends, and the community reeling. Local business and cycling legend, Steven Blend, passed away suddenly at the age of 65, just a few weeks after his son’s wedding.
“He was in Germany for treatment for pancreatic cancer,” says his good friend and SA Jewish Report chairperson, Howard Sackstein. “It went well. He was due to be released from hospital the day he died. We chatted on WhatsApp the day before. He was looking forward to coming home.”
Blend’s strength and positivity in all aspects of life means that his passing is even more devastating to friends around the world who saw him as a symbol of loyalty and stability no matter what.
He was born on 23 September 1956 and grew up in Emmarentia, Johannesburg, attending Emmarentia Primary School and Greenside High School. “He studied to be a chartered accountant at Wits University together with his wife, Zoe, as beloved classmates endeared to each other as seen only in fairy tales,” says his friend, Anthony Chait. “In fact, his lifelong devoted marriage to the forever radiant Zoe has been just as enchanting.
“He served his accountancy articles with Tuffias Shapiro. One of the firm’s clients was Taki Xenopoulos of Fontana roast chicken outlets fame, who spotted Steve’s early entrepreneurial talent. Business ran deeply in his veins and he teamed up from time to time with likeminded members of the Jewish community. This includes Ian Fuhr (the founder of Sorbet nail and beauty stores), architect Jonathan Gimpel (who turned the Atlas bread factory into Atlas Studios), and the New York-based serial entrepreneur Alan Clingman.
“He was my dearest friend and business partner for the past 35 years,” says Clingman, speaking from New York. “We met when our wives were both pregnant and attended the same antenatal class. And our families, including his three sons, and my son and daughter, have been friends ever since.
“We immigrated to the United States a few years after we met, and Steve took over running my South African business. Since then, we have had many mutual investments. One of them is in partnership with the Chinese government, which resulted in an invitation to the Great Hall of the People [which isn’t open to the public], for a contract signing session. Steve was a mensch, with an enormous heart.”
Says Chait, “Steve always had time for everything, especially his three sons, Justin, Darren, and Greg. Later in their business careers, his sons were unstintingly mentored by him. He presided as a judge for many years at the Jewish Achiever Awards (JAA) under the auspices of the SA Jewish Report.”
Sackstein says it was Blend who convinced Absa to sponsor the JAA awards, and it has done so ever since.
“His grandchildren were the apple of his eye,” says Chait. “On 10 April, looking forward to his imminent departure from hospital in Germany, he posted pictures on Facebook of Darren and his family in Sydney at a picnic. Twenty-four hours later, Steve was dead.”
Now, family and friends are reflecting on a lifetime of memories that ended too soon. On 25 September 2019, Blend wrote a tongue-in-cheek letter to Sun City’s management which he shared on Facebook: “Dear Sun City management, I thought it may be appropriate to let you know our story about Sun City and its 40th birthday. On 9 December 1979, my wife and I got married, and I booked us a four-night honeymoon at the then unknown Sun City Hotel.
“In those days nobody knew where Sun City was … or even how to get there! After a five-hour drive from Joburg we arrived at the old ‘main hotel’, and judging by the reception, we may have been its very first guests! It took them ages to find our reservation and to allocate us a room as the hotel was still under construction!
“Eventually, we were given a room. However as they were still building, we couldn’t sleep due to the construction noise in the next-door rooms. I complained the next morning and we were given a new room that night, but alas, the same problem: banging and building the whole night! Needless to say, we checked out to go elsewhere.
“The staff and management were most apologetic and we were promised a complimentary stay to make up for our inconvenience, which to this day has never been done! Happily, I can say that like Sun City, we have enjoyed a wonderful marriage over the past 40 years notwithstanding the ‘bumpy’ start and Sun City, too, has prospered tremendously! Perhaps at your 40th birthday, you could fulfil your promise and invite us back to finish our honeymoon?”
Blend excitedly reported back, “I’m delighted to advise all fans of Sun City that unbelievably, its management has honoured a 40-year-old undertaking to make good a promise made by its original management when we left the hotel halfway through our honeymoon in 1979. This week, we received a voucher for a two-night stay on our anniversary to make up for our inconvenience back then. This must be a record for great customer service.”
It was this kind of faith in humanity and childlike delight in life that drew people to Blend and kept them there. His true passion was cycling, where he made many friends and made a difference.
“Stevie Blend and I met many years ago on an Israel cycle tour to raise money for children that have been through trauma,” says his friend, Mark Kruger. “He then decided to do something similar locally, and founded the 361 Hatzolah Cycle Tour in 2015. There have since been eight tours.”
“There are no words to describe the passing of our beloved friend, Steven,” says Leon Kramer. “As treasurer of our cycling club for 10 years, he helped to make it into one of the most successful cycling clubs in South Africa. He never left a struggling rider, encouraging them to keep going so they never felt alone. He took on the hard work of organising our successful overseas cycling trips. He may have worn a helmet, but he also wore the crown of a king.”
“Blend wasn’t just his name,” says Chait. “Steve was the closest one would ever find in a single human being to the most perfect blend of passion and aplomb, humility and modesty, kindness and generosity, with liberal doses of success and absolute joie de vivre.”