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In Loving Memory of Byron Russell: Trustee, Architect and Friend - by Claudia Titley

11 May 2022

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It is with very heavy hearts and great sadness that we share the devastating news of the passing of Byron Russell; charity trustee, architect, friend, godfather to our son and generally one of the most loving humans you could have the pleasure of knowing.

We will never forget the first time we met Byron. Matt and I sat opposite him at a picnic table at St. Michael’s school in Elgin. Our meeting was to discuss the upcoming design and build of the Porta Romana sponsored education centre. Within half an hour of speaking to him, Matt and I were overwhelmed by his enthusiastic willingness to help and care for other people. It was at the same meeting that we decided to ask him to become a Western Cape Charity Trustee; usually a process Matt will painstakingly assess for weeks before asking. Byron accepted with the exuberant joy and honour that he continued to show in every task the charity required of him.

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Over the past three years, Byron’s hard work and dedication has seen SOS Africa complete two education centre builds, purchase and design the third (currently awaiting approval in the planning process). Throughout the first week of construction on the Porta Romana building he actually camped in the back of his trusty little black bakkie to ensure that everything went according to plan until Matt and I arrived on site. That was just within his professional capacity. Byron also turned up for numerous SOS Africa celebrations, meetings with school principals and outings with the children. Wherever Byron was, you felt the peaceful reassurance from his bright blue eyes, the love and warmth from his smile and if you were really lucky his hugs too.

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During the past year he visited our family regularly to work on the current design proposal for our Gordon’s Bay Education Centre. Our son Teddy bonded so much with him that we asked him to become Teddy’s godfather, a request he accepted with even more exuberant joy and honour.

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I learnt so much from working so closely with him, not just in terms of architecture but how to be a better human being. Here are three of the most important things I learnt from B. Every time he opened his laptop to start work I’d notice this tiny piece of paper stuck to the bottom right of the screen, “forgive easily”. Oh boy he did! If anything, life had dealt him too many people who he had had to forgive. I hope everyone has the opportunity in their life to meet someone who shows as much love as Byron did... to EVERYONE. With complete and utter disregard for ANY kind of prejudice, Byron just showed love. Finally, the one that has helped us the most in our grief... “waves and trees”. This was what Byron believed was his life mantra and it’s where he found his grounding and sought his solace, in the waves and the trees. It is now where we find his spirit.

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Byron’s family and friends hosted a powerfully beautiful paddle out in his honor. Unbeknown to anyone involved in the circle they where trying to form, the waves pushed them into a heart shape. Most poignant for the most loving human being.

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SOS Africa will be holding its own little memorial for our dear friend. We will plant a tree at the Porta Romana Education Centre, outside the box window seat that fell out of budget but that Byron insisted on paying for himself.

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So, to all our dear supporters across the world, may you ‘forgive easily’, may you love constantly and may you find your joy among the ‘waves and trees’ just as our dear B did.

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