Rita's Life Journey

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Rita Myerson- Childhood

Rita was born at home- 151 Park St. Belgravia, Johannesburg, on May 2nd 1922. Rita was brought up by Rei, her father used to work late at night in his businesses and she decided to have a European nurse for the children. They had 2 servants, a house-garden man, and a maid. Minnie, their grandmother also came to live with them when her husband died, in about 1924. She lived with them until she passed away, for at least over 20 years.

Rita went to Mrs. William's nursery school, and then to Jeppe Prep- and elementary school, until Std. 5. For high school Rita went to Jeppe High-School until Std. 8. Jacob Gaffen passed away on the 17th of November, 1938. On that day Rita was intended to write a public exam. Rita didn't write the exam, and the school wouldn’t promote her up a grade, so she left and went to study in a convent for the two matric years. (There were no private school except convents, and no government school would take her without passing the Std. 8 exam. There was no choice but to go to a convent…). She and Meril Bennet were the only Jewish girls (out of 10 in the class). In spite being there for only 2 years, she was made a prefect!
When Rita was 14 she had Typhoid Fever, a year after Joy had it. Rita was 14 and there was no medication for Typhoid in those days. Her body temperature got so hot, that they put her in cold water to reduce the temperature. A trained nurse came in to take care of her, and it lasted about 6 weeks! She only ate ice-cream, milk, porridge-strained, and nothing hard… People died like flies at that time from the disease, and both girls managed to come through without medication. (The aspirin wouldn’t stay down).

Rita went to Witz University for 1 year studying English, Botany and Zoology, and then moved to a book-keeping course, for a year at a business college, and got a certificate.

Rita met Cecil in 1942 on Yom-Kippur day, in shul. Ethni Cohen, Rita's friend, told her to come see the best looking soldier in shul. Ethni arranged for her brothers to introduce her to Cecil. Rita was standing in the background, and Ethni walked up and was introduced. Cecil saw Rita at the back and said to the introducer- "who is that girl standing over there?" They told him her name. Cecil had a niece Elthia, who was living at the orange grove hotel, across from the flat where they were living in Houghton Heights. Elthia had met Rita so she phoned her up (after Cecil mentioned her), and arranged going out dancing on Christmas Eve with Cecil. That was the beginning of the romance…
For a year they saw each other a lot until Cecil went to North Africa to join the South African army forces in the war. From there he went to Italy, after the British Army beat Rommel. He was an army doctor, and stayed in Italy until the beginning of 1946.

Rita had quite a few romances when Cecil was away! She had fun, and wouldn’t just wait alone.
Cecil returned from Europe in January 1946, and Rita and Cecil were married on August 8th, 1946.

Rita Myerson- Wife and Mother

           Jeff was born in 1947, the first Gaffen grandchild and the first grandson in the Myerson
           family.  He has always been  a fun loving happy person, involved in the building
           industry  and enjoyed  his golf. After Israel’s 1967 War he joined a group of
           volunteers to work on a kibbutz in the Golan Heights.

           Ronnie was born in 1949. As a little boy he viewed life quite seriously. He would 
           choose  to read rather than join his brothers at play. He and Pam enjoyed a great
           friendship and  they were meshugah religious. He did military service in Israel as a
            paratrooper and  then came back to SA to marry Elana.

Unfortunately Ronnie was a very sick baby. He had an abscess in the kidney that was caused from the Bris. He spent 3 months in hospital. He was called Hugh Ronald, and his name was changed from Hugh to Ronald for good luck. They had wonderful doctors, and the 'saving grace' was when they managed to get through to a famous pediatric neurologist in America who suggested trying a new drug called Chloromycetin which was going to be used for Typhoid Fever. It had just been released and a child dosage was sent to the Fever Hospital in Johannesburg. They tried it on Ronnie, and it was the first thing that seemed to control the infection. Ronnie was the first baby to survive this kind of illness in SA.

Brian was born in 1952 (Dec. 24th, 1 day after Cecil's birthday). He was Gran's smallest baby, born with a smile that was always present. At the age of 11 Brian developed diabetes. The implications and complications of this disease have impacted on the life that he has lead and the choices that he has had to make. Brian achieved at university a degree in Town Planning and an MBA and after working in Canada and South Africa settled in Australia. Because of inadequate medical care in his early years, Brian required dialysis. After 3 years, the time had arrived for a transplant that miraculously occured on 19 June 1999. Today Brian is well and contributing wholeheartedly to ShareLife- to increase organ transplantation is Australia. Through all Brian's trials Steve has been there. The care and attention that he has always displayed to Brian illuminates the bond that they have for each other.
           When the children were growing up Rita was always there, at bath time, at feed time, and
           for the first year of a child's life. Rita never left them. Everything else was set aside, "my
           babies came first". There were also nannies that helped.

When the children were very young, Cecil and Rita would select a movie that would be suitable for the children, pack them all in the car, and take them to watch drive-in movies. Before it started they used to get supper (hot-dogs and hamburgers, or go to the 'Pic'n chicken' after), and then watch the movie. Rita remembers how they would all fall asleep quarter way through…

Work and Zionist Activity

As a teenager, Rita became involved in Zionist work, which continued throughout her life. Before she married, she was chairman of a youth-group, and they raised enormous funds during and at the end of the war for Zionist funds. They couldn’t send anything but they were building up…

While Rita had the children she continued with the Zionist work, and in 1963 became chairman of Oaklands Branch of Johannesburg Women Zionist League (Wizo Johannesburg). She occupied the chair for a long time, and in 1970 was elected to the Women Zionist Council of SA. She did a course of public speaking, which helped her go out to the various societies around the Transvaal, to talk to them. She was the editor of the magazine 'News and Views' for 7 years. Rita did a tremendous amount of fundraising, until she moved to Australia. "I think in the last function that I did, we made about 250,000 Rand. One shot. That was a huge undertaking. It was a play, a cocktail party, and an auction sale of very good items- art and antiques."

Dr. Cecil Myerson
Cecil worked as a GP, he graduated from Witz Medical School in 1941, where he studied with Jo Newman and they were good friends. After the war he set up a practice in Hillbrow, Johannesburg. He started from scratch, just put his board up, and it really didn't take him long until he had quite a number of patients, which just grew and grew. In 1952 he was contacted by his friend Isadore Kaplan, and he was appointed the doctor to the Oppenheimer family. That lasted until he retired from practice in 1989. He had another famous patient- Gary Player and family. Player was South Africa's very good golfer, who won many many overseas tournaments, one of the best golfers in the world, at his particular stage. When Rita and Cecil moved to the farm, he had a small practice out at the farm.

Cecil was a very good golfer and loved the game. He had a passion for farming. He had a collection of silver, he was passionately fond of and he studied it. Everything he did, he did thoroughly. He had a tremendous general knowledge, he spoke 5 languages (English, Africans, a black language, Italian and Yiddish), and he had a very receptive brain. He was very chatty and liked talking to every person he came across.

Rituals and Tradition
When the kids were young, going to Ramsgate every July was a ritual. (steve: "there was no other place that I'd ever been besides Ramsgate until my first flight to Israel at the age of 16!"). They stayed in the same block of flats every time, Rita used to bring 2 maids with, and she used to make her fruit cakes and take them down, and Cecil used to play golf twice a day, he spent every single day on the golf course. He'd wake up, practice, swim, eat lunch and back to play a round of golf. The kids used to go with to the golf course, or stay and play. The routine was very similar. Maybe once a week they'd go for a drive to the Petrified Forest and the Pont.

The Jewish aspect was an important part of the Myersons life. Granny, Cecil's mother, used to want all the boys to say Kiddush one after another. Rita always lit candles after she was married (her mother didn't). Rita used to take the four boys to shul on Saturdays, with Pam. She used to drop them off, pick them up for lunch at Granny, and they'd have fried fish balls and Tziballa-Kuchen (small flat rolls with onion on them). On Holidays Rita and Cecil always went to shul, and always had seats at Oxford Shul (an orthodox shul, with Rabbi Norman Bernard most of the time).

Travels and Hobbies

Rita and Cecil loved travelling. The first trip they took was to London. Rita left Steve at the age of 16 months and the other 3 boys with Goga and Norman who moved into the house to take care of them. Cecil went over to do post-graduate medical studies, in London, and Rita was with him. After he finished they travelled through the whole of England and Europe. They went to Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, France and Italy. In Italy they were visiting some small village. They happened to drive in there at siesta time and they were standing in the town square. At 4 o'clock all the windows opened, and one of the inhabitants recognized Cecil. "All of a sudden- it was like a bush telegraph- the whole town came out to welcome him. There was one child who during the war had been injured playing when one of the mines exploded. This poor child was badly injured, and Cecil stitched him up. This boy came and took off his clothes to show Cecil where he'd been sewn together again. In two minutes they got a party together, and there was great celebration, we ate and drank and they danced around him, and it was really one of the most wonderful experiences."

They were away for 5 months, and Steve didn't know her when they got back… he wouldn't come to Rita, and Goga had to stay for an extra week, for Steve to get used to Rita.

In 1963 they travelled to America for 3 months. They went to NY, Boston, Chicago, Detroit (for a medical conference), and then they crossed to San Francisco, and took a motor trip all the way down the west coast. They stopped at Pebble beach, one of the most famous golf courses in the world. Rita played caddy for Cecil while he had a round of golf. Then they went to LA and to Las Vegas.

In 1967 they went as a family to Israel. Jeff was there as a volunteer, he left after the six-day war to volunteer on a kibbutz at the Golan Heights (just outside Kunetra). Israel was rejoicing after the six day war, they were able to go to the Kotel, it had been opened up. "We had to walk across a lot of rubble, and we all prayed".
In 1970 Rita came to Israel to the SA Zionist conference, and she was elected to the council. Cecil and Goga accompanied her. In those years they travelled every year to a different destination. They travelled to the far east- Thailand, Hong Kong and Japan. The next year they did a trip to Australia and New-Zealand. In other trips they visited Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia, London, and travelled often to Israel. Ronnie was in Israel at the time (1971) and he once stayed with them at the King-David Hotel.

When they were in America in 1963 they happened to be in NY when Kennedy was assassinated. "It was doom and gloom, we walked up and down 5th Ave. Everything was closed, and every shop windows was just a huge picture of Kennedy and black curtains. We happened to go into the Cathedral on 5th Ave. just to see what it was like- absolutely packed, and thousand of candles burning. It was the most moving time. Sad."

Rita's hobbies until today are playing bridge and being with her children and grandchildren, always a very close bond.

Granny Rita

Yaeli is Rita's first grandchild, born to Fiona and Jeffrey in 1974, on Goga's birthday. Jeff has 5 more children- Alon, Gabi and Daniel with Sue, and Shayne and Ayden with Candice.
Ronnie has 5 children- Rami, Gilad, Rachel, Tali and Yossi, who live in Israel.
Steve has Darren, who lives in Australia. As of today, Rita has 11 great-grandchildren. Yaeli's children- Michael and Jaimie, Rami's children- Adino, Hodaya and Elon, Gilad's children- Oz, Nadav and Gabi, Rachel's child- Amit, and Tali's children- Shai and Yotam. The true meaning of nachos for Gran is the pride and joy she has from her grandchildren. They are all warm and loving towards her.

Cecil retired in 1989 and by 1992 he was already beginning to show signs of Alzheimer's and dementia. After years of caring for him he passed away on Gimmel Tishrei, 2003, the night after Rosh Hashana. Rita then moved to a flat in Illovo, where she lived until coming to Australia in April 13th, 2005.

After Cecil passed away, it was Brian and Steve who decided that she should recolate to Sydney. The last 5 years in this beautiful and vibrant city have been a dream holiday.

In Australia, Brian and Steven refurbished a beautiful apartment in Darling-Point, overlooking Rushcutters Bay, where Granny lives today. Granny enjoys playing bridge with South-African friends she knew and met in Sydney. Ethni Lurie and her have been friends for 70 years, and still get together often. Liza, her Zionist colleauge and mate has been a caring friend.

Rita and Ethni- now and then...

Granny has Steve and Brian over for lunch every day of the week (almost), and she's an independent, strong and vibrant lady.

Having Tali for 8 days choosing pictures and making notes of her journey through life highlighted the reality of her grandchildren growing up and maturing in countries far from where she lives. Being with them for short periods perhaps only for once a year she realises how much she has missed out.

Gran and Cecil spent 2 years at the farm before moving to Copeley Ave. She loved spending time there with her grandchildren. She would pick them up on her way home and at night Rami, Gilad, Yaeli and Alon would mime comedy acts for t hem. After much laughter and fun and a late night snack Gran would retire contented and happy. Birthdays, Yom Tovs, Friday nights and family functions were great events but it all ended when Fiona and the children settled in Australia and Elana and Ron made their home in Israel. As young children she was very involved with Gabi and Dan especially during Susan's illness. One afternoon Gabi and Gran watched Dan doing karate. Very casually Gabi said that she would like to try it. Gran promptly bought Gabi the attire and she earned her Springbok colours travelling to many countries to compete.

Today, in September 2010, Gran has Yaeli, Jamie and Michael in Canberra; Gabi, Welly and Dan in Sydney; Along in Johannesburg; Rami and family living in London; Gilad and his family recently relocated to London; Rachel and Tali in Jerusalem with their husbands and children; and Yossi is an officer in the IDF. Darren her youngest grandchild lives in Rose Bay. She hopes it will be soon that they will spend more time together.

Grandchildren in 1985