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News > Passing of friends > John Bettison (1944F) | 1928 - 2020

John Bettison (1944F) | 1928 - 2020

John passed away on Wednesday 11 November in Cape Town. Our thoughts and prayers are with John's family during this time.

Llyod, Alex, John and Marc Williams
Llyod, Alex, John and Marc Williams

John Bettison (1944F) | 1928 - 2020

On the desk of John’s office was always a photo of John’s father, Major Cecil Bettison. Distinguished in his uniform of the SATC.  He was killed at Bir Hakeim near Tobruk, Libya in 1942 when John was just 14 years old.

Between these two dates and three generations later, came the family who was the focus of John’s life and provided the drive to leave a legacy of which we are all so very proud. He will be sorely missed by his wife Shirley, daughters Jane, Mary, five grandchildren and a great-granddaughter. Sadly, he outlived his youngest daughter Linda and eldest grandson Jono.

Alongside this was another love which was engineering… sometimes even vying for top position!

John was privileged to have attended Bishops, in Founders House where he was equally successful in both the classroom and on the sports field. Since then two further generations of the family have attended Bishops: Sons in law Clive Silberbauer, Lloyd Williams (Gray House), and grandsons Jono Sliberbauer (Founders), Marc and Alexander Williams.

John’s career choice was Civil Engineering over Medicine; which his mother had favoured. Thank goodness Engineering won, as any health complaint was usually dismissed with, “go take a disprin & a ginger ale & get over it!”

The next 4 years were spent at UCT, graduating in 1950 with a BSc in Engineering.  For his thesis, he “borrowed” a newly imported machine/instrument involving the prestressing of concrete beams from a well-known construction company in Cape Town.  As a result of this, on graduating, he was offered a job and immediately departed for Rhodesia to join the construction team building the Hunyani Poort Dam just north of Salisbury.

This was exciting work and to hear John talk of his experiences of holding back the floodwaters that were threatening to destroy the cofferdam enclosure, AND totally destroy the work already done, we’d like to think that he had done it all on his own!

This was put right very recently when a letter was found addressed to John’s mother (in 1952) which reads and I quote:  - “You must realise, of course, that the construction of this Dam was a collective effort on the part of all of us, and in particular your son John.  John proved a great success and, in my opinion, will go a long way in being a most successful engineer.   Not only is he outstanding in his work but is also most popular with all the men.  We are hoping to get another contract in which we can carry out our work together.  Kind regards, yours sincerely, Clifford Harris.”

John in attendance at his grandson, Alex Williams's (2016G) Valedictory in 2016. Far left is John's son in law Lloyd (1980G) and Alex's brother Marc (2012G) on the far right.

Then began a long association in which John became a Director in 1956 until the company was sold many years later.  Engineering Arbitrations followed as a further career. For the whole of his engineering career John worked for the same company, which was not uncommon in those days.  Contracts included Railways, Sewers, Tunnels, General roadworks & Bridges, ALL 46 of them!

Giving back to the Engineering Industry, he was Chairman of the Industry Training Board, Council member of the SH Institution of Civil Engineering and Trustee of Civil Engineering Foundation. John believed that education was one of the most important gifts that you could give a child and served on the Board of Western Province Preparatory School.  Inevitably, having three daughters, he was co-opted to the Herschel Council and was Chairman there for many years.

Away from the Construction world, Round Table played a big role in his life, with solid friendships made whilst doing great charity work and making a true difference.

Underlying all of his activities throughout his life was the obvious love of his family comprising of Shirley and daughters Jane, Mary and Linda and later on their respective families. He had great pride in seeing it succeed and grow and he will be sorely missed by them all.

John Bettison, may you rest in peace, knowing that the love and legacy you leave behind will never ever be forgotten.  A very big thank you.


- This tribute is written by Shirley Bettison


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