MUCH admired Mark Rushton, the former Clerk Of Scales at Highveld Racecourses, has died of a suspected heart attack, aged 70.
Rushton, you will remember, was the always impeccably dressed and eloquent gentleman jockeys nick-named ‘Mr Belvedere’ after the erstwhile sitcom character known for his efficiency, tact and good manners. He was in charge of the weighing-in and weighing-out procedures at race meetings staged from Turffontein and the Vaal to the old Newmarket and Gosforth Park, where he endeared himself to on-course punters by giving the “All Clear” announcement in an elegant tone with an accent that hinted British.
Rushton was born in Springs on the East Rand and educated at St Stithians in Johannesburg and Michaelhouse in the Natal Midlands, before he travelled to England in 1963 to join the British Army. He attained the rank of Captain before retiring from the force in 1977 and returning to South Africa.
The Rushton family had bred and raced horses in then Rhodesia, so Mark was familiar with horses and racing and he was very pleased to be signed up as a Jockey Club official in the late 1980s. He loved the sport and its characters, admired several jockeys and trainers but was never allowed to get too close to them.
In an interview with Rushton in 2012, Mike Moon wrote: “Mark was (never) allowed to forge friendships with the people he administered. Relationships had to be strictly business-like for a man in such a trusted position in a money-sensitive game.”
That he was strict and professional didn’t prevent everyone in the weighing room from respecting and loving him, but there were a few jocks that took chances and Rushton got to know their every trick in the book. One placed a few coins on the balance bar so he could weight out 1kg over; another puffed and draped his saddle cloth over his arm to hide a non-existent saddle so he could weigh in a kilo or two under!
“It’s been a privilege to work alongside such talented men as Anton Marcus, Doug Whyte and Felix Coetzee, who are among the best at their craft in the world – if not the very best,” said Rushton upon his retirement in 2010.
Rushton’s sister Di Husselmann said on Friday: “My my dear brother asked my husband, Herman, to speak at his 50th birthday, which feels like just the other day. He noted that Herman would be doing this service at either his 50th or his wedding, whichever came first. He wasn’t married then, but as it happened his wife to be, Anne, was a guest at the function that night and they were married just a few months later.”
In his last few years Rushton was a keen bowler in his home village of Delville, Germiston, where he lived with his wife until his passing away, presumably on Monday or Tuesday this week.
Di tells: “Anne has been away visiting family in the UK for the last few weeks and Mark was alone at their apartment when he died. Mark had suffered a diabetes scare two years ago but he didn’t seem in bad health at all, though he was somewhat subdued recently. We spoke to him on Sunday evening, he was fine, but his body was discovered by a friend from the bowling club on Tuesday after they hadn’t heard from him early in the week as usual.”
Mark Morland Rushton will be remembered, especially, for the kind and respectful way he treated people, for sharing his thoughts on many topics in conversations and for laughing merrily at jokes cracked by his colleagues and friends. The “Gentle Giant” is survived by his wife Anne, sisters Diana and Claire, step children Brenda and Stephen and his grandson Gareth, of whom he was particularly fond.
A Memorial Service will be held at 1pm on Monday, 20 June at the Central Methodist Church, corner of Meyer Street and Lady Duncan Avenue in Germiston.