This Christmas tradition is about ’pudding’ others first

James McGregor (1945 to 2014) as the founder of Westlake United Churches Trust.

Veloshni Baker, past manager at Westlake United Churches Trust

At this time of year, our valley can boast a tradition that began in Tokai and is now more than 55 years old–the Children’s Christmas Charity, begun by the late Jean McGregor in 1965, continued by her son the late James McGregor. Today it continues to fund the needs of children.

Charming, personable, insightful with deep spiritual leanings and compassion, Jamie McGregor was an inspirational man. He was born in 1945 into a family who believed in a free South Africa for all and an end to discrimination. The young Jamie and his siblings watched their parents, Jean and Alec, speak out against apartheid. As Black Sash members, his mother and sister, Mea Lashbrooke, were often in the centre of things. Today his sisters, Mea and Mim Haggie, and brother, Bruce McGregor, remain committed to the betterment of their communities.

During the war, Jean was a cook in the Wynberg military transit camp. Her fiancé, Alec McGregor, an accountant, had to pay 10 pounds for Jean’s release from the army. Jean felt called to open a crèche for farm workers’ children on the site of the old Raapkraal Farm, supported by Retreat Hospital Association. She taught the children English, games, sewing, and gardening and could be seen driving to Muizenberg Beach with her car filled with children. This was in contravention of apartheid laws at the time; however, Jean was an unconventional woman who fought against racial injustices.

Jamie inherited his mother’s determination to actively strive towards a free South Africa. In his late 30s, he followed in her footsteps, and, among other philanthropic activities, occupied a position she had held for several decades – chairman of Leliebloem Children’s Home.

Jamie had a heart to serve the poor, and this was reflected in the next 30 years of working with charitable organisations. Jamie went on to play a vital role working with local churches, and Westlake United Churches Trust (WUCT) was born, serving the Westlake community in areas of education, health and community needs, including the preschool facility, Emmanuel Educare.

One could ask what would inspire someone as successful as Jamie to initiate such a daunting project. The answer would be his profound belief in working in underprivileged communities to make deep changes in the social and political landscape in South Africa. Winner of the 2013 Inyathelo award for over 30 years of philanthropy in poorer communities, Jamie said at the time, “We all come to a place where we say, ‘What can we do?’ We do what we can. There’s no shortage of ability out there, only a shortage of opportunity. If I can help in some way to provide that opportunity, that’s exciting.”

Fifty-five years ago, Jean requested donations in cash or kind to make eight Christmas puddings – using an old family recipe from Scotland – to sell as a fund-raiser for needs at Raapkraal Crèche in Westlake. By the following year, volunteers were making several hundred puddings – in the bath at Jean’s home. This was the origin of the Children’s Christmas Charity.

Today the proceeds are divided between five children’s charities, including Leliebloem Children’s Home in Athlone.

Taken in 1970, this picture shows volunteers making several hundred Christmas puddings.
Jean McGregor making Christmas puddings in her bathtub in 1980.