Born in Port Natal (Durban) on 4 December 1940, Dirk will have been irked to shuffle off this mortal coil just 5 months shy of his 80th birthday. He was often heard to say that anything beyond three-score & ten is “extra time”, and I believe he knew he’d had a fair inning.
Over Dirk’s lifetime, he proved to be a remarkably resilient man. Life threw endless challenges in his way. Yet his ability to dig deep, bounce back and stay upbeat earned him the admiration and respect of all who came in contact with him.
Dirk’s journey from borderline destitution in his youth, to a signaller in the Navy and a hoist driver in East Driefontein speaks of humble beginnings. Yet his life was to take some unexpected turns, ultimately taking him to Wits University and a life dedicated to supporting and training partially sighted and disabled youth.
One day as a young man in the navy in Simons Town, suffering from severe toothache, Dirk instructed the dentist to remove ALL of his teeth – and for the next 6 decades sported a set of even white pearly dentures. Whatever may come down the track for Dirk, toothache was not going to be featuring!
In the 1960s Dirk met and married Maryann Stewart.
In the ’70s the family set off on what was to become a legendary road trip through Zimbabwe in their customized blue VW campervan. It remains their all-time favourite childhood memory.
The family moved to KwaZulu Natal. For the next 15 years, Dirk worked as Natal Manager for Angus, supplying fire fighting equipment. He was on the road a lot. He was a charismatic, charming raconteur; well known and loved amongst his clients.
In the early 1980s, aged just 43, Dirk’s life was to take a dramatic turn. He was diagnosed with macular degeneration and over the next 3 years, his sight diminished rapidly. It is only latterly that the connection between the toxic Teflon chemicals in firefighting foam has been linked to retinal degeneration.
Forty years with his sight. 40 years without. We may all wonder how we would have coped.
Well, as Dirk’s sight declined he seized life with newfound vigour. He embraced technology and started Nationwide Computer Literacy; providing training for unemployed disadvantaged visually impaired persons. Over this decade he provided training to private and corporate clients, including Johannesburg City Council. He garnered a reputation as a beacon of positivity, the go-to man on software and hardware that supported visually impaired learning.
He remarried. Michelle, 20 years his junior, brought with her a burst of youthful energy. She has shared wild stories of Dirk riding a scooter to bush pubs around Honeydew, head tilted sideways using his fading peripheral vision to navigate.
Spurred on by his loss of sight to ‘Seize the Day’, Dirk ran the Comrades Marathon. For four years he captained his own yacht (his kids tell of him sailing it perilously close to shipping tankers in Durban Harbour).
Dirk Sky-dived. Dirk Scuba-dived. He rode on the tail of a whale shark and came eye to eye with ragged-tooth sharks (always joking that he could see neither the sharks nor the shipping tankers so nothing to worry about there.)
1990's - 2005
From 1997 to 2005, Dirk was the I.T manager in the Disability Unit at the University of the Witwatersrand. His responsibilities included training and supporting students with disabilities, especially those with visual impairments, to use PC’s, managing the computer centre on the main campus as well as those at the residences. He was instrumental in setting up the centres at 2 residences. Keeping up-to-date with new advancements in the IT field for people with disabilities, providing hardware and software technical support to staff in the department, setting up the test/examinations venue for students, invigilating during these tests/examinations, and networking with other tertiary institutions with similar disability programmes as Wits.
During his time at Wits, he organized and facilitated Saturday morning Computer Literacy classes for the unemployed from outside the University. Microsoft S.A supported this project. Dirk felt this project was of immense benefit, not only for the computer literacy factor but gave people self-esteem and confidence in themselves.
In his 8 years at Wits, he continued to touch many lives. His reference letter from Wits Disability Unit Head of Department Ms Nita Lawton-Misra, is a testament to how loved he was by the staff and students. Of Dirk she wrote:
“His innovative style ensured the Unit was always equipped with state of the art equipment. Our students benefited enormously from his technology research. Mr Lamprecht did not hesitate to go the extra mile in working beyond his job description. He was instrumental in securing good sponsorships for the Unit in the form of software and hardware. He also trained young students as interns to work with adaptive devices and students with disabilities. He is friendly, helpful, extroverted, and assertive. He is unafraid of new challenges. I could always rely on him to deputise for me during my absences. The staff respected him and students benefited from his experience and empathetic training style.”
2005 - 2017
Sadly a violent and traumatic home burglary challenged him once again to dig deep. Then, aged 68, Dirk returned to Durban, basing himself in Winkelspruit. From here he taught for the KwaZulu Natal Society for the Blind for 5 years, and latterly a 4-year tenure in the computer lab at the Open Air School
Right up until the age of 78 Dirk got up every morning at 5 am, steeling himself for the walk to Winkelspruit Station and the train into Durban Station, uplifted by the songs of the gospel singers in his preferred carriage. White stick in hand, he crossed three major roads and walked 15 minutes up a hill to start his duties by 8 am. He was known and hailed and helped along the route by many kind hands. His resilience matched only by his fortitude and determination.
Dirks students called him fundisa – the isiZulu word meaning: to teach, educate, influence. This gave him an immense sense of achievement and satisfaction. He made a difference in so many lives that were less fortunate than himself.
At his home in Winkelspruit, he was known and loved by the retirement village staff and residents. He was a regular visitor at the frail care centre – a jovial and generous presence to those so near their end-of-days.
Dirk led an initiative to do a weekly shopping run for the less abled and started a monthly bring & braai, which became a festive and enjoyable monthly institution.
While his belly went the same way as Santa Claus’s, he kept fit walking daily and was commented on as having THE nicest legs and calves ( by those residents noticing such things). I do believe he was wolf-whistled on at least two occasions.
2017 - 2018
Dirk senior finally retired in 2018, at the age of 78, moving into the studio apartment on his son’s estate. This Dirk often told his daughter was a treasured time for him – as he and his son were to be found frequently talking ‘like two old ballies’ setting the world to rights.
In September 2019, Dirk moved to a retirement village on the ridge in Durban. In his 10 months here he found simple happiness in looking after his parrot Jackie, listening to audiobooks, and generally pottering around. He commented often that he was happy, he had reached a state of equanimity and a joy in the simplest of things.
At Dirks’ very end, he surrendered his earthly body; returning it ashes to ashes, dust to dust. His spirit now free to watch over all he loved, and to live on through those whose lives he touched.
He is survived by 3 wives, Maryann, Michelle, and Geraldine.
2 children: Dirk and Carina;
6 grandchildren: Danielle, Nicole, Chris, Ross, Arwen, and Vincenzo
4 great-grandchildren: Tristan, Elizabeth, Ryan, and Zach.
Rest in Peace Dad.
We will hear you in every bird song (even the ever-present background d soundtrack of the ha de da), remember you in every belly laugh, and feel you in every bear hug.
Tribute by his son Dirk & daughter Carina