Over 150 people came together in St James’ Church in Graaff-Reinet last Friday morning to bid a final farewell to Reverend Canon Francis John Weldon, rector of the church. He had passed away suddenly on 6th July at the age of 75 in Kroonstad, while travelling to Johannesburg for a short holiday with his family.
The requiem mass was conducted by Bishop Brian Marajh, and many members of the clergy from the diocese of George were also present at the moving service. Rev John Davies gave the address, with a touching tribute to his old friend.
“We as the Anglican Diocese of George have been blessed to have had Father John, who came out of retirement to come to help us as Interim – Rector of St James, Graaff- Reinet, as part of our clergy ministry team for the past five years. His spiritual insight and wisdom, at our meetings, will certainly be missed. He was a true servant indeed, who placed service of God and others first. We are grateful to God for his life and witness” said the Bishop.
John was born in Zimbabwe in 1941. During the war his father was in the navy and John and his mother in Harare. As his mother was working, she took John to her aunt who was teaching in Somabula, between Bulawayo and Harare, where he spent a significant amount of time. He was usually in the classroom with her so picked up a lot before he started school in East London after they moved to South Africa. His sister Gail recalls that when he went to school at the age of five, at Selborne Primary and College in East London, they didn’t quite know where to place him as he was way ahead of the others who were starting school. He ended up in a class with boys a year older than himself, and so matriculated at the age of 17.
“With John being five years older than me he was definitely the big brother” said Gail. “The happiest holiday memories I have with him were at our holiday home at Bonza Bay near East London. He and his friend who lived next door often went out at night on a boat on the river crab fishing. I remember being so jealous that I couldn’t go out at night with them! He also spent many holidays on a farm in Wooldridge, in the Peddie district, which belonged to my grandmother’s family. I know he loved the time spent there and this could be why he really loved country towns.”
From school, John went on to study at St Pauls Theological College in Grahamstown, and it was during this period that he met Denise, who was to be his wife for 50 years.
He was ordained in 1965, and spent many years at various parishes in the Eastern Cape (including five years at St James’ Church in Graaff-Reinet) before moving to Johannesburg in 1983, where he was Rector of various churches. He was also a military chaplain from 1964 until he retired.
In 2006 the couple retired to Aberdeen, where they had bought a holiday home six years previously. The retirement was relatively short-lived, as in 2012 he was asked to serve as interim rector at St James’ once again. This was initially to be for three months, but he stayed in the position for over five years.
John always had a love of music, and sang in the church choir from an early age. He also played the violin for a short time, and in one school play he was part of a group dressed as gypsies, playing the violin. Many Aberdeen residents will remember another musical occasion when John dressed up –this time as a young Japanese lady at the poetry evenings leading the men in “Three Little Maids”!
He was a very talented craftsman, and his woodworking skills, particularly at fretwork, produced many beautiful and intricate pieces which will be treasured by his family and others fortunate enough to one them. John also loved old cars and motorbikes, and was a member of the Midland Car club in Graaff-Reinet. He took great delight in sharing his knowledge of cars with his daughter Susan last year when she bought her first car. “I bet I’m the best prepared person on the road thanks to Dad, as he stocked my car with spare bulbs, fuses, oil, and everything else I could possibly need” said Susan.
During his time in Aberdeen, John was actively involved in the community. He was deputy chairman of the Publicity Association, and also served on the committee of the Aberdeen Club. He was also a member of the Heritage society in Graaff-Reinet, and was on the committee of the Graaff-Reinet and District Cancer Association.
He leaves his wife Denise, children Jo-Anne, Debbie, Susan and Peter, and grandchildren Katherine, Liam and Emily.
In the words of his friend Rev John Davies, “John was tired, and his holiday was long overdue. Father Oriel Alby graciously agreed to come and give John a break; but enough is enough, and the good Lord reached down suddenly, from on high, to take him into paradise, like Elijah of old.”
May he rest in peace: he will be sorely missed.