Sea Point will be a different place without Shirley Rabinowitz, who died at the age of 80 SELLECCA. LANG Tributes have been pouring in: phone calls, handwritten letters and emails from across the world to Bennie Rabinowitz, husband, lawyer, businessman and philanthropist, and their daughters, Susan and Lesley. More than 700 people attended the funeral on Wednesday January 18, the day after she died. Mourners told Mr Rabinowitz that it was one of the biggest Jewish funerals that they had attended at 1Pinelands cemetery.
The Rabinowitz couple were like two peas in a pod: they were always together. They had daily lunch dates at one of their seven or so favourite restaurants, unless Mr Rabinowitz had a meeting. The couple were married in 1956, a year after they met at a wedding in Bellville, where Mr Rabinowitz grew up. "People at the wedding introduced us and said, 'This is Shirley from Sea Point' and I introduced myself. She replied 'I have never been to a country wedding'. How could I not marry her after that?" laughed Mr Rabinowitz, who said his wife had a great sense of humour and was known for her one-liner jokes. At their 50th wedding anniversary, during her speech she said: "My husband and I have one thing in common — we got married on the same day."
Mr Rabinowitz joked that the first five years after they got married were the worst years of her life because she hated living in Bellville. They later moved to the city centre, where they stayed. The couple travelled the world together and attended eight Olympic Games, including the 2008 games in Beijing. Susan said her parents have never been apart, except for business trips, and only now when Mrs Rabinowitz was admitted to hospital after she was diagnosed with colon cancer. "If the business trip was longer than a day, then my mother went along," said Susan. Over the years the Rabinowitz couple have dedicated their lives to putting smiles on people's faces. "My mother hated poverty. There wasn't a beggar in Sea Point she didn't give to," said Lesley. "She hated seeing people scratch in bins," said Susan. Mrs Rabinowitz's heart of gold saw her placing others' needs ahead of her own. She would order extra food at a restaurant to give to the car guard or the homeless and she would give an additional tip to the person making her coffee. "There isn't a person in Sea Point who didn't know Shirley, not a taxi driver, not a waiter," said Mr Rabinowitz.
She believed charity could save the world. At one stage she was also dubbed the "dog lady" because she regularly walked dogs in the area. The couple were presented with the 2009 Inyathelo Lifetime Philanthropy Award for their commitment to giving to a number of charities, projects and causes in South Africa. Mr Rabinowitz also received a civic honours medal in 2009, presented by the then Mayor Helen Zille, for "outstanding" contribution to civic and social affairs. "When Helen Zille gave me the award, she whispered to me 'This is also for Shirley'. It was never just me. We always did things together. It was a partnership," said Mr Rabinowitz. On the arts front, the couple were involved with Fine Music Radio from its birth as well as the Cape Town Concert Series; they were sponsors of the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra and supporters of the Baxter Theatre. T
hey made endless donations to charities, including books for children. As UCT law faculty supporters, the couple started a programme in 2010 that aimed to bring academic or practising lawyers to take part in the faculty's intellectual life. Mr Rabinowitz, with the support of his wife, often defended legal cases on points of principle and he was a champion of human rights. One of the most prominent cases the Rabinowitz couple took under their wing, and largely personally funded financially, was that of the controversial Sea Point Promenade beachfront development, which threatened the use of public open space with commercial plans. Supported by his wife, Mr Rabinowitz along with other roleplayers, formed NPO Seafront For All (Seafa), who hauled the developers to the High Court to stop the development . Mrs Rabinowitz was the second applicant on the documents submitted to the High Court.
One of the tributes came from a cousin, former Constitutional Court Judge Albie Sachs. . He emailed: "Shirley was a wonderful, wonderful friend to me, totally loving and supportive at all times. I felt a tremendous connection with her, a respect for her judgement about people and things, her great sense of style, the gentleness of demeanour that must have covered huge internal and deep feelings." Her daughters described her as elegant, well-dressed, fashionable but not flashy, reserved, friendly, kind, generous, charming, witty and well-read. "She grew up in humble beginnings but never forgot where she came from," said Susan.
Mr Rabinowitz said his wife's generosity has been passed on to his daughters. "Our house was open to all, irrespective of religion or race," he said. Mr Rabinowitz said he will miss his wife's ability to make immediate decisions, which resulted in good outcomes. "A 55-year partnership has been broken," said an emotional Mr Rabinowitz. Shirley and Bennie Rabinowitz with their 2009 Inyathelo Lifetime Philanthropy Award which they received for their life-long commitment to giving to charities, projects and causes in South Africa.