Soil for Life’s founder hits 70

Soil for Life founder, Pat Featherstone.

Soil for Life was filled with fairy lights, food, bunting and blooms from the flower sellers in neighbouring Brounger Road, on Saturday August 19, as guests and family celebrated its founder’s 70th birthday.

What made the event even more special is that in April 2013, Pat Featherstone found herself at death’s door (“Pat’s gift of life,” Bulletin March 13, 2014). Her heart collapsed and she needed a transplant but with no hearts available, she was fitted with a left ventricle assistance device (LVAD).

The party was organised by Pat’s three daughters, Michaela, Leah and Jacky.

Pat arrived flapping purple nails in a flurry of excitement after being pampered with a manicure. As someone who is often found digging into healthy soil for a carrot or escapee grub, this must have been a challenge.

With music from the 1950s to 1970s playing in the background, guests heard about Pat’s life as pictures flashed up in front of them of some of the high points.

Pat’s sister, Louise du Toit, lives in South Korea and sent her speech, which was read by her daughter, Elloise Du Toit.

Pat, or “Tish” as she’s also known, loves music of many genres and was a classical pianist, performing at eisteddfods and concerts on the Steinway at Salisbury Girls High School.

“Pat was her grandmother’s and parents’ pride and joy with her long, straight legs and golden curls. Those legs carried you vaulting over the high jump pole, hurtling into the long jump pit and tearing around a 400m track,” said Elloise.

“Her expertise in things biological was initially honed at the University of Rhodesia where she pored over files of biochemistry and zoology for four years only to be awarded an Honours degree in 1969.

“And while Michaela slept in her office, Pat set challenging academic standards for her siblings with her knowledge of biochemistry, genetics and zoology as a high school teacher in Zimbabwe and Cape Town and then in the biochemistry department at UCT.

“Over the last 30 years she has researched and developed knowledge about the life of plants. She is infused with a passion for how plants and fungi keep our world alive and in balance,” said Elloise.

But Pat, she said, also held a sense of adventure and memories include her riding a gigantic three-wheeler; sliding down rocks at Cleveland Dam; squeezing through forbidden water pipes and hanging upside down from a branch shattering her arm (again); swimming in icy pools at Nyanga (Zimbabwe); walking two rescued Bambis on dog leads followed by neighbourhood dogs; sleepwalking out of a window at Keurboomstrand; on seaside holidays in Fish Hoek (Rhodesia by the Sea); wearing arm-length gloves and satin dresses to balls; and Tish letting her hair down on Inhaca Island (Mozambique) and falling in love with a game ranger at Hwange.

“Her soul flies in wild places, and I, her sister, have been fortunate to accompany her on a few desert sojourns – unforgettable Oman and magnificent Namibia. As I write this, I am drinking my last bottle of Underberg and looking forward to our trip to the Kalahari next year,” said Elloise.

Pat’s older sister, Leanne Featherstone, who lives in northern France, also sent a speech read by Jacky.

Leanne recalls Pat in the hostel at Mabelreign Girls High with Pat making nature scrapbooks.

“My love of birds and nature comes from those formative years. And you rinsing out your mouth with Dettol so no one would realise you’d been smoking,” wrote Leanne.

“Then Pat moved to Joburg and they spent wonderful holidays in the Cape when she lived in Kenilworth and then Hout Bay. I’ve always looked up to you in awe. One of your many amazing gifts is your ability to make something with nothing. Even in your hardest times, your graciousness, intellect, your way with words and your creativity have always allowed you to make a home where one wouldn’t expect it, serve up a delicious meal with simple ingredients, make a gift for someone with a few bits and pieces, write rich words even when exhausted, grow gardens where they normally don’t grow and energise and inspire others when your health was so fragile. This is your success: an amazing something from nothing,” wrote Leanne.

Pat’s friend, Jean Stretch, sent her speech and said she knew “Feathers” at university from 1966 to 1969. “Flower power; Twiggy; minis and maxis; culottes and bell bottoms; The Beatles; Peter, Paul and Mary; free love and drugs. Wow! This is how I remember Feathers. Artistic, joyous, happy, a great companion, always up for it, be it a midnight swim or something wilder… an open generous nature,” wrote Jean.

Another university friend, Gerry Adlard, met Pat in February 1966 when she was 18.

“Her head thrown back, laughing uproariously; or with her lips pursed, eyes focused, listening intently; or sitting cross-legged in the middle of a floor somewhere, slowly creating an enormous sticky beehive, like a mound of candyfloss, as a gigantic crown. Beyond everything else, what made Pat unique, was her enthusiasm,” wrote Gerry.

On Tuesday, Pat told the Bulletin she felt she had been in a cocoon for the first 45 years of her life.

“I realised that when I watched a carpenter bee in our garden. The mother bee lays one egg in a tunnel in wood and she fills it with all the things that the larva will need to grow and develop.”

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“The tunnel is sealed off with mud and in spring a new bee emerges in all its glory. I watched one puffing up its wings, in the warm sunlight before it finally took off to go and get its own food. It reminded me about myself in ‘the cocoon’.

“I had been well fortified by my mother, both physically and emotionally; I had three precious sisters, who added fire to my development; and I had all my friends, from whom I have learnt the world; and three daughters, who are my angels, my guides, my mentors and friends. They are wise beyond their years. Without all this ‘nourishment’, I would have been like a bee with no wings,” said Pat.

“One event in my life encouraged me to get out of my cocoon and take on the challenges that life has to offer. When the cocoon split open, the new ‘I’ came out – a fully-fledged being with wings to fly – no matter how high. That is how I feel to this day.”