Despite his deteriorating health Mike remained cheerful and positive and bore his illness with great courage. His strong Christian faith enabled him to face his last months with peace, and his sense of humour intact.
Professionally, Mike had two great passions – one was fish, and the other was the SA Journal of Aquatic Science.
Michael Merriman Coke (1958O) was born in Cape Town on 7 March 1941 but spent his first few years in Tanganyika where his father was in the Colonial Service. The family moved to Johannesburg but his father died suddenly when he was 7, so the family moved to Plumstead where his mother built a house adjacent to her parents’ home.
Mike completed his high schooling at Bishops College, cycling in all weathers to get to school. He also undertook several hitchhiking trips to Namibia, Zambia, Eastern Cape and the Free State. He studied Botany and Zoology at UCT, did an Honours degree, and was offered a job at Natal Parks Board, based in Pietermaritzburg. He stayed with them for 34 years, doing work he loved – out in the open studying freshwater fish in all the rivers of Natal. One of Mike’s legacies includes hundreds of data records of fish sampled during his time at the then Natal Parks Board (now Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife). These data remain a critical and important component of the biodiversity database. While sampling was extensive across the province, particular focal areas included Pongolo, Jozini and Ndumo areas. Besides fish, he had a particular fascination with eels, crabs and frogs.
After Rhodesia declared UDI, the UN withdrew their team of international scientists working at Kariba. Mike then spent an extremely stimulating and challenging year doing research at Kariba Dam. Another highlight was being in charge of 22 rhino which was being flown to America. It was only at Durban airport that he was shown where he’d need to give an injection should a rhino become unsettled! Once he’d delivered his large charges he spent 4 months hitchhiking around North America, UK and Europe.
A confirmed bachelor, at the age of 40 years and 1 month, he finally married Diana Douglas at Claremont Methodist Church in Cape Town.
Their great sadness of not having children of their own meant they became involved in the lives of other children. It also enabled them to indulge in their shared enjoyment of travel, and they went on a number of extended backpacking trips to such far-flung places as Nepal, Thailand, Ecuador and Galapagos, the Barrier Reef, New Zealand, America and Canada. Everywhere he went Mike made friends. The language was never an issue, as his friendly nature and sense of humour (often with actions) drew people, and especially children, to him. He was also genuinely interested in people’s lives.
Mike was a member of the KZN Section of the Mountain Club for many years, and was a keen and useful committee member for the annual July Camps held in the Drakensberg in mid-winter! He was also Chairman of the Pmb Ramblers’ Club for a time. He helped run a number of Scripture Union camps to introduce young people to the mountains he loved so much. A highlight for him was joining a group of approx. 50 MCSA members who climbed the Sentinel in Royal Natal National Park in 2010 to celebrate the centenary of the first ascent of it.
In 1992 he and Diana trekked in the Himalayas. Mike managed to get beyond Tilicho Tal, under Tilicho Peak, to an altitude of between 5 100 and 5 400 metres (depending on which map you used!). He also climbed Kilimanjaro in 2000; quite a feat for a man nearing 60 with bad lungs.
Mike kept detailed diaries of his travels, which make fascinating reading as he had a wonderful way with words, and noticed everything around him. He was also an excellent photographer, especially loving the play of light, and cloud effects.
Mike became Honorary Editor of the small Limnological Journal in 1998 and grew this Journal over 20 years to become the internationally recognised African Journal of Aquatic Science. The Journal was very much Mike’s passion. He put his all into it and he will always be remembered for his meticulous editing and strong command of good grammar and expression. He was honoured with a Silver Medal at the 2018 SASAQS Conference for his “Outstanding contribution to Aquatic Science on the continent”.
Comment from Professor Brian Allanson, previous Editor of the Limnological Journal:
"Mike’s personal and professional contribution to Science communication is massive. Mike brought a major change in the reporting of South African Limnological Science, so much so that our Limnological Science is recognised internationally. Mike and I went a long way together and I enjoyed and learnt the meaning of human kindness and respect from the manner in which Mike developed his personality and career: He needed so many skills within the framework of his career and found each one as required. It was an immense undertaking to accept the early editorship of the Journal and just look at how it developed- a primary journal for African Limnology south of the Sahara."
Mike never lost his interest in Bishops, and used to read (and keep!) every issue of the Bishops magazine. He was also Secretary of the Pmb OD group in the late 70s/early 80s. He attended the 40th, 50th and 60th class reunions and was very pleased to catch up with old school friends.
He is greatly missed by all who knew him as a very unique and special man with a quick and spontaneous sense of humour.
- Diana Coke