Greg Swiel 15 April 1959 – 12 February 2020
Greg was born in Cape Town and grew up in Camps Bay where his love for the sea developed at a young age. He attended Western Province Prep School in his early years. There he not only forged many lifelong friendships but proved himself a highly talented sportsman and was ‘Victor Ludorum’ in his final year in 1972. From there he arrived at Bishops in 1973 as a day boy in Gray House. This was the start of a memorable four years where Greg’s sporting skills, passion for life and extraordinary ability to connect with people soon became evident.
On the sporting front, Greg’s natural aptitude drew him to swimming in the summer season and rugby in winter. In both sporting codes, he excelled. He won the 100-yard backstroke in his matric year and continued his love affair with swimming for the rest of his life. This included cold water endurance swimming and he was one of the small group of diehard athletes who have accomplished the famous Robben Island Swim.
Greg was an integral member of Bishops First Fifteen and went on to play first-team rugby for both Cape Town and Oxford Universities too. He made a name for himself as an audacious, creative and attacking player, whether at wing or fullback. Sport was a big part of Greg’s early life, but he also had a sharp intellect. He was modest and self-effacing about his considerable academic achievements although there was no reason for him to be reticent in this regard. After obtaining an economics degree at UCT he used the Trojan Horse of his rugby talents to gain entry to Oxford, and, once there, broke out to pursue an academic career with passion and enthusiasm, graduating from St Catherine’s College with an MSc degree in Forestry and Land Management - subjects that were close to his heart. Greg had wide-ranging and diverse interests, which made him a fascinating person to know: geography, geology, the marine environment, trees and forests – and he had an encyclopaedic knowledge of each.
Moving onto Greg’s working life, much of it was shaped by his interest in the environment. He started his career at Middelburg Steel where he met his lifelong friend and brother in law Anthony Mitchell. He then spent time at Mondi, which was a natural fit given his interest in trees and forests. This was followed by a successful career in the fishing industry where he developed his interests in the marine environment - this despite an inauspicious start when, as a schoolboy, he was caught by a Fisheries Inspector trying to catch crayfish off Clifton beach, using his mother’s stockings filled with bait. Finally, he founded his own business in the fishing and food industries where he operated as a trader and entrepreneur, using his interpersonal skills to open many doors and opportunities.
At a personal level, Greg was a passionate and committed family man. He was a devoted husband, companion and soulmate to Nicky. Throughout their married life Greg and Nicky were a close and inseparable couple. Greg was also a loving, supportive and fully involved dad to Steven and Timothy, giving them guidance and encouragement in their chosen fields in life: Timothy (who matriculated at Bishops in 2011) as a gifted professional rugby player who inherited Greg’s sporting genes and Steven as a dedicated student, committed political activist and adventurous explorer. Greg was also a caring and supportive son to his mother. His father, Morris died when Greg was still young, and his mother was widowed prematurely. In the years to follow, Greg was a great joy and friend to his mother. Greg also had a broader sense of family. He was in constant communication with his many nieces and nephews, offering advice and encouragement or just shooting the breeze, making them laugh. They, in turn, loved him with unbridled love and affection.
Greg’s principal tool for connecting and engaging with people was humour. His quirky and irreverent humour was designed to cut through all affectations and to pierce the most stubborn reserve. He did so with mischievous word-play and often an outrageous comment. His repertoire was endless and always original. There was never a dull moment with Greg - and that was the point. But no-one who knew Greg was fooled, even for a minute, into thinking that his humour or jokes meant that he was only a joker. On the contrary Greg was multi-faceted, like a gem. He embraced life with boundless and infectious enthusiasm. He had an intuitive understanding of human nature, that drew people to him like a magnet. He was completely unpretentious, the antithesis of a snob. He engaged with people without regard for their financial standing or social status. He was as easy and comfortable talking to a fisherman from Kassiesbaai in Arniston as he was to a City Gent – in fact probably more so. Greg was quick to place his trust in people (at times probably undeservedly so!) - and they responded in kind.
Greg leaves behind his wife Nicky, sons Steven and Timothy, his mother Elizabeth, his sisters Annabel and Camilla and a host of friends whose lives he enhanced in so many ways.
Greg’s memorial service was held in the Bishops chapel on 28th February. Much of the above tribute is taken from the moving eulogy delivered by Greg’s brother in law, Pierre du Preez.
This obituary was prepared by one of Greg’s good friends and fellow OD Niall Brown (1973G).