Doyenne of racing editors fights to the finish

Jill Pitman

When I first met the late Jill Pitman she was one of the first, if not the only, female racing editors in the country.

With her flamboyant dress sense, complete with the obligatory hat, she certainly looked the part as she covered major horse-racing events including the J&B Met and Durban July.

A couple of years later, she joined the sub-editing team on the night shift at the Daily Dispatch in East London, where she was to remain until she was practically forced to take retirement at the age of 66.

As a “sub”, her meticulous attention to detail and accuracy, as well as her vast general knowledge especially regarding sport, made her an invaluable staff member.

I remember her also as being unfailingly kind and courteous to those reporters who did not have English as their first language as they filed copy from news desks in outlying areas in the Eastern Cape. But it was the young staffers in the city newsroom who were really the lucky ones who benefited from her gracious hospitality and platters of home-cooked food at her legendary lunches. Graeson, Matthew, Graeme etc you know who you are.

Her generosity and catering expertise continued when she moved from her much-loved upstairs flat adjoining a leafy park to a charming cottage in Reform Road, Rondebosch. Back in her hometown, she continued to host superb parties for old school friends from Wynberg Girls’ High School and other long-term acquaintances until she downsized to a small unit at Grosvenor Square.

Born in Cape Town in March 1940 to Dr “Bossie” Bekker and his wife, real estate agent and bridge player par excellence Dulcie, she was christened Gillian Claire and sadly outlived her younger brother, fondly known as “Googs” Bekker.

Her own robust health and reputation as a formidable tennis and croquet player – not to mention an avid rugby and cricket spectator – continued until very recently when she was admitted to Vincent Pallotti Hospital and died after a two-month battle against heart and lung disease on September 22. She was 78. Pitman is survived by her three children, Adam, Hayley and Laura, and seven grandchildren – as well as countless journalists who will always remember her intelligence, idiosyncrasies and acerbic wit.

The Memorial service is tomorrow, Friday October 12, at 3pm at St Thomas’ Anglican Church, Rondebosch.