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Monday, August 24, 2020


(Rosemary Draper)

Rosemary Draper, a major supporter and stalwart of Durban theatre, collapsed at home on Thursday (August 20, 2020) at the age of 82, as she was preparing to leave for her hairdresser. She was comatose when found and, after a brief period in ICU, died that night from a large intracerebral haemorrhage.

Born Rosemary Gillings in 1939 in Durban where she was brought up with her younger brother Brian, she received a Catholic education at Convent High School, Durban.

Her son, Robin, shares his memories:

“She spoke often of the nuns, who seemed to me to be divided about equally into angels and child-hating psychopaths, given the stories she told. They were mainly Irish I believe, and my mother could do a great impersonation of an Irish accent well before there was any obvious interest in a career in drama or amateur dramatics.

I was always surprised at her lack of bitterness or rancour about her schooldays, she always had a great acceptance of whatever cards life dealt her and was not one to wallow in self-pity.

She had wanted to study at university, but her early choices were between training as a nurse or teacher, these being deemed the only acceptable choices for a young woman at that time. Neither appealed, so she worked as a receptionist in a travel agency. Again, she held no bitterness about this, just accepting these were the times she lived in. Clearly she kept hold of her ambitions and realised them later in life completing her BA honours in drama and a vibrant career in the theatre world.

She married my father at a young age in 1959 and subsequently had three children between 1960 and 1966. During this time she dealt with the early death of her father, supporting her grieving mother and her brother’s mental illness which was to last the rest of his life. These were hard times, I think, dealt with strength, determination and not a hint of self-pity.

She was always involved in local organisations such as the drama group of the “WI” (Woman’s Institute). This I think was where she started her interest in acting.

Around this time she began modelling clothes for a clothing agency, eventually doing a diploma. She started becoming very active in amateur dramatics, joining Pinetown Reps and even having my father participate in plays, which was quite an accomplishment. She performed in many plays, usually farces as I remember, playing always to packed audiences. She would usually be in one of the leading roles. I think these were the times before television, it seems to me people were very eager for entertainment.

Her theatre life was also reflected in her vibrant social life – my parents’ parties were legendary. There was a lot of travel with my father and she took time to learn languages – French and Italian, the latter inspired by her Italian roots – she could do a mean pasta, too!

 She decided to enrol in University after some hesitation about being a mature student, but she was never one to hold back, entering the school of Drama in the same year that her youngest son entered the same university. 

 Others can talk more about this time, but suffice to say her interest in arts, literature and culture blossomed during this time, something she kept for the rest of her life.

I think it was a disappointment for her that she couldn’t pursue an academic career in Drama, but never looking back, she went on to found and run “Saviour Faire studios”. This she ran for a number of years, mainly focusing on teaching public speaking, elocution and deportment.”

Rosemary regularly performed for the Westville Theatre Club. She held a UKZN BA Degree majoring in English and Speech & Drama (1987) going on to achieve an Honours Degree in Speech & Drama in 1988. She also had a diploma from the London Academy. She was a solid supporter of Tape Aids for the Blind and had been reading for the organisation for many years. 

Close friend Tony Toms writes about his and his partner’s Lindi Drummond’s sadness at this loss.

“It’s been a difficult week for Lindi and I as we have had to say goodbye to not one, but two special friends in the space of a few days.

A mine of information Rosemary retained her whit and cognisance to the end. Prior to her move to La Domain she had been a constant companion to Lindi and I on our frequent visits to the theatre. Her passion for the arts was unquestionable.

“Although in her eighties she fitted in well with our younger circle of friends. There was never a question that we had to tip toe around sensitive or taboo subjects, indeed we laughed together heartily, often,  at the ribald, risqué and irreverent. We shall miss her presence and elegance and cherish the friendship. RIP.”