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Farewell to SA Cricket’s ‘Papa Joe’



Joe Pamensky – or “Papa Joe” as almost everyone knew him – died last Wednesday, 8 March, in Johannesburg after a long and uncomplaining battle with dementia aged 92. As benefited a former opening batsman and cricket administrator, his reputation grew in singles, few of them cheeky.

He was never one for the flamboyant heave over mid-wicket or the lofted cover-drive when singles and judicious twos would keep the scoreboard ticking over.

As an accountant who specialised in tax and estate issues according to one of his two sons, Kevin, “Papa Joe” was meticulous. Even more important than his attention to detail, was his calm. He dampened down many a heated situation over the years with his steadiness and sheer unflappability – a true opener.

He not only played the avuncular elder statesmen role to perfection but he lived it, bringing gravitas and integrity both to his professional life and his 55-year tenure as one of South African cricket’s truly great administrators. “With Joe in a meeting,” said his fellow administrator, Lee Irvine, “there was always a sense of decorum, nothing petty was allowed to rear its head.”

According to Kevin, Joe told him that the harder you work, the luckier you’ll get, but also warned mildly “that life is no dress rehearsal”. Kevin remembers his father as a creature of habit with a remarkable appetite for hard work. “I could even phone him at two or three in the morning and knew he’d pick up because he was at his desk,” he says.

The son of Sam and Florrie Pamensky who owned a jewellers on Loveday Street in central Joburg, Joseph Leon Pamensky was born in Port Elizabeth (now Gqeberha) on 21 July 1930. He attended Grey High, excelling in maths and playing first team cricket, where he opened the innings and kept wicket. Unusually, he was a school prefect for not one but two years.

Pamensky studied at the University of the Witwatersrand after World War II, and played his club cricket first for the university and, later, at Pirates in Johannesburg. “He loved the game enormously,” said his lifelong friend and colleague, Ali Bacher.

The signs that “Papa Joe” was well on the road to becoming a dedicated cricket administrator appeared early. He sat on the Wits All Sports’ Council while still a student, and was elected onto the Transvaal Cricket Union’s junior board as a 23 year-old in 1953 before being elected onto the full board two years later.

On the Transvaal board, he wore many hats, including that of vice-chairperson, chairperson, treasurer – a position to which he was well-suited with his accounting background – and, eventually, president.

His election onto the South African Cricketers’ Association board duly followed in 1967. He was one of the “main drivers”, according to the Central Gauteng Lions President Anne Vilas, of the short-lived unity process in the mid-1970s and, as honorary president, was supportive of Bacher becoming Transvaal cricket’s first full-time chief executive in 1981.

The 1980s weren’t an easy time for cricket administrators in South Africa, with the national team banned from international competition after the cancellation of the proposed tour to Australia in 1971/2. Pamensky, Bacher, and fellow administrator Geoff Dakin’s response was to initiate the controversial “rebel tours”. This resulted in English, Sri Lankan, West Indian, and Australian tours to the country, a necessity, believed Pamensky, if South Africa was to keep abreast of standards in the world game.

The tours were hugely popular with white South Africans but controversial with the oppressed majority and those supporting the sports boycott outside of the country. For Pamensky’s sons, Kevin and Martin, and his daughter, Beverly, the tours had an upside – regular international guests at the family home, 27 Limpopo Road in Emmarentia, where they were wined and dined.

“Donald Bradman was my dad’s hero, and they did so much together in supporting the development of the game, supporting cricket at grassroots level, and in disadvantaged communities around the world,” said Martin from San Diego, where he lives.

As challenging as the 1980s were – both within cricket and the country at large – so the early 1990s brought South Africa’s back into the fold. Pamensky and Bacher were at the forefront of the re-integration process not only within but without the country too.

He handled these exciting (and sometimes fraught times) with gravitas and dignity. “Joe’s name was good throughout the world,” said Bacher. “He was trusted and highly regarded wherever he went.”

Seven years ago, Pamensky was diagnosed with what Kevin refers to as “semantic dementia” and he and his new partner, Jackie, moved into the Livewell care facility in Bryanston after the death of Joe’s first wife, Pam, 14 years ago.

Pam and Joe were married in 1958 with 800 people invited to the wedding as guests.

A little-known fact of Pamensky’s life was his sensitivity to those around him, including servants and retainers. One of these was Morgan Ncube, who worked for the Pamensky family as gardener, cook, and cleaner at 27 Limpopo for 38 years. Pamensky helped Ncube buy his home and complained, according to Martin, that things were never quite the same with him gone.

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