Thursday, November 10, 2011

Gerhard Kokt.

Gerhard Kokt.

Peace sign.

After Gerhard returned to South Africa ,  I saw him very often as he traveled to Europe and the USA at least twice a year. He would go to Italy and England for business and then come to the New York by Concorde. He had a very glamorous life style. He had a beautiful home in South Africa and enjoyed the good life .Traveling ,good restaurants, theater etc. He lived life to the full.
I think he felt safe in our friendship to be himself and relax. He could stay in one of the  top hotels in NYC  but preferred to sleep on the sofa in my living room, when he came to New York.

He would meet Bob Learmonth in Milan and they will go shopping for his wardrobe at Armani.
Gerhard was tall and thin and any designers dream. When he walked in at Armani they would rub their hands. He did not buy a lot but he bought quality and was always impeccably dressed.

One day we were walking on Fifth Ave ,near St Patrick's Cathedral.
We were waiting at a traffic light when we overheard a woman say to her friend in Afrikaans;-
" Dit is seker die mooiste man in New York"
 ( That must be the best looking man in New York.)
 She almost fell over when he thanked her in Afrikaans.....
His business was doing very well and he was very successful .Gerhard made a very big name for himself in South Africa and was one of the top interior decorators in the country. His work was covered in magazines and on TV .He loved color and used it very effectively.

Here is Gerhard Kokt  in a interview on South African Television.

Me and Gerhard in his apartment in New York.

His home in South Africa.

He  worked with Mrs. Bridget Oppenheimer on their  Brenthurst Estate ..Her husband was the CEO of De Beers and Anglo America. David Hicks originally designed some of the home's interior .After Andre Louw returned  to South Africa he worked for the Oppenheimer's as well. Gerhard took over when Andre died.


Mrs. Bridget Oppenheimer.

"The Brenthurst Estate"- Johannesburg.
The Oppenheimer Residence.

Gerhard was very friendly with  David Hicks and saw him --  as well as Lady Pamela -- when he went to London .When India Hicks visited South Africa he hosted her and took her around.

David Hicks and his daughter India Hicks.

During one of his visits to New York in the late 80's he was  looking rather pale and thin. I was rather shocked to see him like this but he told me that he was working very hard and that the Dr. had him on a tonic to boost his immune system.
I went to South Africa the end of 1992 for Christmas and saw Gerhard for a week there. He was leaving to go to Phuket in Thailand and after that spend Christmas in my apartment in New York.
I would meet up with him and Cyril when I got back to New York in January.

He was not looking well when I got to New York.
The last night here we went to a seafood restaurant and he spoke about getting an apartment  in New York again, and how nice it will be to live part of the year here. I was surprised at that as it did not make sense to me. He left to go back to South Africa late January 1993.
In late February he told me his was going to hospital .He said the doctors did not know what it was and they were going to do tests. After spending a week in the hospital he was sent home . Dorothy took care of him  if he was her flesh and blood.

Dorothy + Henry posing for Gerhard taking the photo.

I would speak to him twice a week. Some days his mind was clear and we could have a good conversation .The next time he would tell me he had to leave for school and had to say goodbye.
On another occasion he asked me  where I was because he never see me anymore. Dorothy would answer the phone -- and later the nurse -- and they would warn me what to expect. I tried to stay calm  while talking to him  but would break down once I put down the phone .I know it was very selfish of me but I  was very grateful that I was spared seeing his daily deterioration. I don't think I would have been able to handle that .He was so good looking and so proud.

Wini, Gerhard and Paddy.

Cyril and Gerhard.

Gerhard's sister got married and I did the wedding gown as well as his mother's dress. Here the three of us pose before the wedding.


 Gerhard -early photographs.

Mercifully he passed away on April 1 1993 - He was 39 years old.
May he rest in peace.


In New York I had an interview planned with Sandra Prinsloo for the same  evening that Gerhard passed away.. She  was in New York doing a series of interviews for South African Television. We arranged to meet at my studio on the Avenue of the Americas at 6:00 pm with her camera crew. I told her that Gerhard passed away that afternoon .She was shocked as she knew him very well but did not realize that he was ill. She  asked if I was OK to do the interview. We agreed to keep going as planned.

We were sitting on either side of at a big table that had a beveled 2" thick glass top .The interview was going  well and  they had the lights on and the camera was rolling. All of a sudden we heard a sound like a canon shot and the glass top cracked in two - crashing  to the floor between me and Sandra. We were all stunned. Thank heavens  nobody was hurt.
As soon as we calmed down I said to Sandra that was Gerhard saying goodbye.....I really still do believe that. One of the  crew had opened a window as it got very hot with the lights on and he thought a draft that came through the open window  caused  the glass to  crack. It was April and not that cold outside. Be as it may- I still believe it was Gerhard saying goodbye. He did not like being ignored. Gerhard had an enormous drive that would trouble me many times. He was very competitive and driven. I am sure this was why he was so successful. He was very charming and knew many people, but  close to very few. I think he was a better friend to me than I was to him. Cyril told me later how upsetting it was for Gerhard when I left South Africa for New York .
 I understand his drive better now .I think he knew he did not have a long life ahead of him and he had to fit a whole lifetime's experience into 39 years.
I met Gerhard through Christo de Jongh -- they worked together. We shared an apartment for a while and Gerhard would turn up with arm loads of flowers that he plucked  from Joubert Park. He would take some and leave the rest to us. We were young and poor so I am sure he was forgiven.
I still miss him and think of him very often. He would have loved to see New York today. He enriched my life. I remember his love of flowers and everything beautiful. He would put money down on a painting or a statue that he loved. He would  pay some money every week until he could take it home. We would visit all the antique stores in Melville and Rosebank over the weekends and he got so excited when he found something he loved. Before he could take it home he  would drive me there at night -just to go and look at it if it was displayed  in the window.

He owned a Art  Deco vase that ended up with me. It was one of the first things he bought It is dirty green glass vase with yellow broken glass daffodils on it. I always hated it .....but now it reminds me daily of one of the best friends I ever had.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Henry,

    I couldn't believe my eyes, a couple of days ago, as I bumped into your blog on the internet. I don't know why but after so many years I suddenly started surfing on google hoping that I might find a picture of Gerhard, a very dear person I had met in Joburg many many years ago and for whom I still pray every evening.
    I met Gerhard in mid 80's through friends who owned an antique shop in Old Mutual Square, Rosebank.Back then I was a young and naive Wits student from Greece, engaged to be married , and a permanent fixture at the Square, where beautiful people were coming and going, dressed to the nines, smelling delicious and smooching in the air as they passed by the glamorous shops, greeting their friends.
    I remember Gerhard fussing around and fuming as he was trying to organise his new shop! He was so handsome, always effortlessly dressed, gorgeous, kind, gracious and ethereal, like a Greek god!
    We never really were friends but we used to socialize quite often in Willie Barlow's glamorous do's. He would always come up with a genuine compliment, a word of encouragement during exams, he would give me style advice and he taught me how to make a room full of huge objects look light and airy. I loved his effortless simplicity and airiness. We talked nonsense every day and shared jokes. There was something about him that I cannot put in words. He was all about grace. It was this grace that made him stand out and leave everybody else far behind. I think almost everybody was jelous of him.
    I saw him one last time in a red tracksuit- he hated tracksuits!!!- when he visited my next door neighbour, a doctor, who used to help him with some sort of treatment. A few weeks later he was gone. I still cannot believe that such a beautiful and gracious person had to go so young.
    Don't ask me why, although we never really were friends, rather acquaintances, he left such an imprint in my heart and I think he was genuinely fond of me, that I never stopped thinking and praying for him.
    I remember how angry I was when I was told that the vultures were out to get everything they could after his death. His things, his furniture, his car...
    So, the other night I was googling info for my dear friend Willie who, alas, suffered such a violent death. Apart from a death notice, not one article, not one photograph, as if this person never existed. Then I started googling Gerhard, and there it was! What a surprise! I nearly dropped off my bed when his glamorous photo appeared on my screen, as if saying a cheerful hello, just like in the old days!
    Then I couldn't help it but read your entire blog, reading astonishingly your life unfolding before my eyes, refering to people I had also met at some stage in my life. And suddenly my youth was unfolding before my eyes, too! I remember Colin and David from Bouganvillia and Balduccis restaurants! Especially David. My husband- fiance at the time- and I used to frequent Balduccis on a regular basis. We have the most beautiful memories from those times. Glamorous years, beautiful people, carefree life...
    I'm a mother of three teenage kids, living in Greece, amidst a horrifically chaotic economic drama that affects everybody alike. C'est la vie! We have to appreciate everything that comes in our stride, I guess.

    It was such an unbelievable pleasure reading your blog. Thank you for the memories, thank you for sharing your journey! May The Lord keep you safe and embrace you in all your endeavours along your special journey!

    With all my love

    Antonia -