Memorial Service Tribute by Cornie Scheffer (English)

Acknowledgements and tribute – Memorial Service of Louis Nel, April 29, 2011

Dear friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances, brothers and sisters in the Lord.

As some of you will know: Louis Nel was my father-in-law. Therefore, if you don’t mind, I will refer to him as “Pa Louis”.

Every one of us knew him in a different way… Some of you knew him only as Louis, others as mr Nel. Some knew him as the “Buddleja King” or the “Rebel without a pause”. For some others he was uncle Louis, cousin, brother-in-law, brother, father or grandfather.

He was a just and fair businessman, talented bonsai man, enthusiastic mountaineer, excelled in sport, loyal friend, loving father, grandfather and husband. In whatever capacity, in all circles, and in all areas he was popular and loved. He excelled in everything he endeavoured and his passing leaves a great void.

On behalf of the Nel family I want to start by thanking a few people. Firstly I want to thank Ma René for trusting me to perform this task and also to deliver a short tribute to Pa Louis. It is indeed an immense privilege.

We want to thank everyone that came today. We know that there are also those that could not be here, and we want to thank everyone for the e-mails, sms’s, phone calls and visits of the past week. We received numerous e-mails from across the world from “Bonsai buddies” of Pa Louis. We also received messages from the people that joined him on his mountaineering expeditions. I have never heard a telephone ring so much as I have heard it ring in the past week in the Nel house. We appreciate all the messages immensely.

The news of Pa Louis’ accident was very sudden, and we want to thank all the friends and family for the immediate support given. His death was a great shock to us and we want to thank everyone that assisted us with advice and support. I doubt whether we as a family would have remained standing without all the help, doesn’t matter in what form. The lovely flowers being delivered at the house helped to give a bit of colour to the past couple of dark days. To everyone who delivered food, a big thank you. We will still thank everyone individually, because there are too many to mention here.

I want to mention that we started a page on the internet where you can leave messages for the family, or share thoughts and memories of Pa Louis. The web address is on the cards that are available at the tea.

We thank Martins Funeral Services for their sympathetic way of helping us through this process.

We want to thank ds Andre who has always been a friend to the Nel family and to Pa Louis. Thank you for all the arrangements here at the church. We greatly appreciate it.

As everyone well knows, and will also see here today, Pa Louis had a particular love for Bonsai and we want to thank uncle Charles and the Bonsai men for making it possible that we can see some of Pa Louis’ trees here. Thank you for pruning the Bonsai for the occasion as well as the transport thereof. I am sure it is just as Pa Louis would have wanted it.

After the service some refreshments will be served. Thank you to the sisters of the church, the Bonsai group, family and friends for helping with this, in whatever way. We appreciate it.

Uncle Lammie Fourie, thank you for those last moments that you were at Pa Louis’ side. We know he was in good company and that he did what he loved during those last moments. He had immense respect for each co-runner and he regularly bragged to me about his “running buddies”. Every time I went jogging with him I had to hear how good you are. He was very proud of you.

I hope I didn’t skip anyone that had to be thanked.

As mentioned I am also doing a tribute to a very unique father-in-law.

How can one sum up someone like Pa Louis in only a few words? It is impossible. Pa Louis described himself as someone with a great love for big dogs and small trees. I know he always said: “may small trees lead to great friendships”. If I look at all the Bonsai friends he had it was indeed the case – those small trees were pruned even smaller, but led to great and sincere friendships.

When I started dating his oldest daughter, Zonia, everyone warned me off Louis. By that time he apparently had already fired/scared off a few prospective suitors. This made me a bit wary of him. And as you know he was an early-morning person and I am not at my best early in the mornings. Luckily I shared Pa Louis’ love for sport and tried impressing him by getting up early and joining him for a run or a ride on the bicycle. As time went by the need to impress faded, and we came to an agreement – the time for jogging and riding moved from five in the mornings to six!

Eventually I realised that everyone warned me off Pa Louis unnecessarily, because I got to know him to be a very compassionate person with a particular love for fellow man and for nature. He went out of his way to help those in trouble. This is not only for people, but also for animals and plants.

One of his nicknames was “Buddleja King”. This nickname came about in the time when he rescued Buddleja trees when Atterbury Road in Pretoria was lengthened. He could not endure thinking that all those trees will be run over by a bulldozer. He worked without pausing to save each tree that was in the way of the bulldozer. After this he discovered that Buddleja trees made very good Bonsai trees and thus started specialising in Buddleja Bonsai. The “Buddleja King” also compiled a book about it.

Another nickname was that of “Rebel without a pause”, a name also courtesy of his talent with Bonsai. This nickname does, however, not only stay with Bonsai. In all areas of his life he lived up to this name. The energy and enthusiasm he exerted with everything he did was, for me, and I am sure for many of you, an inspiration. His inexhaustible source of energy tired all of us. He was forever on the go, especially in the early morning! If he visited us, or I was here in Pretoria, I ensured that I was fit, because I knew I would have to get up early for a jog – at least 10km! As soon as you got to know him you realised that with Louis there was no time for “breaks/pauses”. Those that wanted to keep up had to make sure that there was enough energy drinks close by.

The second part of this nickname came by because of his unconventional view on life as well as his ideals. We know that one of the things he still wanted to do, was to have a sleep-over in a cave in the Drakensberg joined by his two grandkids. I don’t think there are many grandfathers that are so adventurous!

Not many of you probably knew, but Pa Louis suffered from Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and at times it was a challenge. But he never talked about it or complained. He tackled it just as he did any other challenge in his life. His favourite saying was: “I must just hold on to stop life from getting any better!” In a way the MS indirectly led to the founding of BRUNEL, and in the end BRUNEL was his big dream that came into being. Without saving himself, he poured all his energy into BRUNEL and made it his life’s task. He was very proud of it. He regularly talked to me about it – the fact that he could do something to provide work to others that in turn saw that they could put food on their own tables. This lay him very close to the heart and he wanted to provide work for as many people as possible. Today we want to thank everyone that worked with him, and helped him to realise his BRUNEL dream. Loyalty was an important aspect in everything Pa Louis did. I am sure many of his relationships with employees, colleagues, suppliers and clients was built on loyalty, and I believe that it was this view that helped to make a success of BRUNEL.

Whilst doing my doctoral degree, he was less impressed with my choice to further my studies. He always said: “Schef, all you need in life, is a backbone!” (The Afrikaans for backbone is a play on words for a degree.) I know he didn’t mean it literally, but what he tried to say was that success is only possible with hard work and strong principles. He lived according to this as well and for this example we will forever be grateful.

For the sake of our English friends in the congregation, I will also say a few words in English.

It is often said that we must live every day as if it is our last day. I think my father-in-law really epitomized this saying. He was always seeking a new adventure and was never scared to tackle something new. He would just announce out of the blue “Oh, I just received my Northern Transvaal colours in Duathlon”. We barely knew he was doing duathlons! Or at the dinner table he would announce: “I am going to Everest next month” as if there is nothing unusual about it. Or at breakfast he would say “Oh yes, I have been invited to go to China next month to give a talk at an international Bonsai conference”, and then he would also add: “…perhaps while I am there, I will see if there are any nice mountains to climb!”.

The ancient Egyptians had a certain belief about death. They believed that when their souls got to the entrance of the afterlife, the guards asked two questions. Their answers to these questions determined whether they were able to enter or not. The questions were: “Have you found joy in your life?” and “Has your life brought joy to others?”. In the case of Louis, I think we can all agree that the answer to both these questions is an unequivocal YES!

Many people wrote to us about his wonderful sense of humour as well. He was always joking around and never took himself too serious. One person also wrote that during their climbing trips together, they thoroughly enjoyed all his jokes and that he always managed to lighten tense situations with his reasonable and rational temperament. Many work colleagues had similar experiences with him, and this is something we will always remember about him.

During this past week, when browsing through all the great things people write about him, I truly wish that one day when it is my turn to pass, people will think about me and remember me like they do of Louis. His life was inspirational, and his memory makes me want to be a better person. He was truly larger than life, and today we mourn his passing but we can also celebrate his life, a life that has brought inspiration and joy to all of us.

Today would have been the 39th wedding anniversary of Pa Louis and Ma René. I think it is typical of his loyalty as husband and family man. I really enjoyed watching as Pa Louis embraced and enjoyed his role as grandfather. One of the saddest aspects of Pa Louis’ death is that my children will not have the privilege to get to know him better. Pa Louis unconditionally embraced me as one of his children.

My last two acknowledgements: firstly, thank you Pa Louis that you made it possible for me to have a wonderful family of my own. Your memory will live on in my loving wife and children that shares my life. You entrusted them to me and I will forever be thankful for that.

In conclusion, on behalf of all of us, I want to thank our Heavenly Father for the privilege He bestowed on us in knowing Pa Louis. The world is indeed poorer without him. However, I know by this time everyone in heaven is more fit than they were a week ago, they get up early to go jogging, has had to go mountain-climbing at least twice, and there are at least one Bonsai at Heaven’s gateway!

Pa Louis, we will surely miss you.

Thank you,


April 29, 2011

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