Without him, no cliff paths or Vogelgat
Imagine Hermanus without the cliff path, Rotary Drive, the Fernkloof Nature Reserve and the paradise that is Vogelgat, and you will end up with a picture of a very dull place.
The driving force behind all these assets was a man who literally left no stone unturned to make Hermanus a better place for nature-lovers and to preserve some of its history and original beauty.
Dr Ion Williams, who died in January 2001, was modest about his achievements, and was hesitant to take the honour for himself. He considered himself a "motivator" encouraging other people to get things done.
"One cannot live in these surroundings without realising how beautiful it is." His love and knowledge of nature opened his eyes to changes in the environment and urged him to buy Vogelgat, to "do his bit" for conservation.
He described the 600 hectare nature reserve as "an absolute jewel" and shared it with others since its creation.
Thanks to methodical hacking while making paths, Vogelgat was rendered free of alien vegetation and was kept that way by Dr Williams and his friends who walked with him.
Dr Williams was born Ion lames Muirhead Williams on 29 June 1912 in Kenilworth, where he also grew up. After matriculating at St Andrew's College in Grahamstown he returned to Cape Town to study civil engineering at UCT.
Having graduated with a B.Sc. in civil engineering he worked on a gravingdock in Cape Town, the old Cape Town power station and built several bridges all over the country. Many of these have been demolished since.
Dr Williams never went lo war, because at the time of its outbreak he was working for a construction company building fortifications around Cape Town, as well as observation posts and a fort at Llandudno.
After retiring in 1947, Dr Williams, his wife Sheila, and their son and daughter, came to live in Hermanus.
Initially most of his time was spent angling and driving Hermanus' first and only 4x4 vehicle up the mountain. He soon became involved in the development of Fernkloof, the cliff paths and Rotary Drive.
In 1962, at age 50, he began studying Botany, something he wished he'd done earlier. His studies and research took him all over the country and to Europe.
Reminiscing about times spent in herbariums in London, Paris, Munich and Vienna, he said "There is nothing more lovely than sitting in ancient herbariums studying plants dried and pressed hundreds of years ago".
For his thesis 'A revision of the Genus Leucadendron', the University of Cape Town awarded him a doctorate in 1972.
This study of the taxonomy of the South Africa's approximately 80 Leucadendron species received world acclaim and brought international recognition for Hermanus in the botanical arena.
In addition to his doctoral thesis, Dr Williams also published a series of 11 papers on buchu - 'Studies in the genera of the Diosmeae (rutaceae)' - between 1973 and 1984.
His thesis and papers, as well as a collection of little black books botanical 6travel diaries' with meticulous notes on the localities of several plant species, are an irreplaceable source of information.
Dr Williams' studies were not a time of solitary research; he credited his late wife Sheila with many of his achievements. She supported his projects, accompanied him on collecting trips and typed his manuscripts.
"Over time she became very knowledgeable. Her collection of all the plants of the Hermanus area is preserved in the SL Williams Herbarium in Fernkloof."
He cherished fond memories of their life together, building their own boats, sailing and angling on the Klein River Lagoon and travelling all over the country, collecting plants.
He had less fond memories of his short stint as a member of the Hermanus Town Council. "Life was not good. The best thing I ever did was to resign from council. I had no axe to grind," he said, remembering that council meetings usually took place on days more suited to angling or hiking.
In 1997, in his 80s, he was awarded honorary freemanship of Hermanus, one of five to have that honour.
At 85 he was still full of energy and was strong and well enough to go walking at Vogelgat twice every week. Something he would like to have achieved was the extension of Rotary Drive into a route for 4x4 vehicles to reach the top of the mountain.
(Courtesy of Hermanus Times)