IN looking for an intro to our Chris Gerber tribute today, we came across a quote from French poet Paul Valery: “A great man is one who leaves others at a loss when he’s gone.”
Everyone we spoke to this morning expressed the same sentiments after Gerber’s passing away on Wednesday afternoon: “Chris was a great man… a great father to his children… a great friend… a great businessman… a great breeder in the making…”
Alec Laird, his trainer of choice, noted: “It was honour to know Chris as a sportsman, a racing partner and a close friend. He played fair, he was a man among men.”
Trainer Mike de Kock commented: “Chris’s loss is incalculable. He was that kind of man, a man who cannot ever be forgotten, who cannot ever be replaced. We’ll be having memorials for him years from now, when his memory will remain as strong as ever and his influence on all our lives will still be felt!”
Fellow-breeder Mick Goss said: “There were few men who served the racing industry in so many capacities and with so much competence. And he did it with a verve and an energy few of us could match. It’s hard to close the hole Chris Gerber has left behind, but at least he left us a template by which his successors could measure themselves.”
The racing industry got to know Chris Gerber not only as a successful owner, but over the last decade also as a successful breeder. He founded Moutonshoek Stud with partner Dr Bennie van der Merwe in 2003 and studied pedigrees to the point of obsessing over them. He and Bennie steadily improved the stock on the Piketberg farm to the point where runners raised on its plains were getting on the Graded boards with regularity. A first Gr1 bred finally came earlier this year when Undercover Agent (Captain Al) won the Gold Challenge at Greyville and became the highest-rated racehorse in South Africa.
Chris’ many friends among the younger brigade included Alistair Cohen and Gareth Pepper, who said from Australia today: “His generosity and world class hospitality was endearing. A visit to the Moutonshoek braai at the sales was a must and spoken about worldwide by all who attended.”
Indeed, the Moutonshoek Sales Office at the TBA Complex is where hundreds of people got to meet Chris and spend unforgettable social times with an extraordinary man. He’d sit in the corner behind his bar counter, pouring drinks for guests. Or he’d stand at the braai in his apron and invite everyone to test the tenderness of the chunk of steak he’d discovered at a butchery somewhere. And, invariably, he’d turn up the volume of his sound system loaded with oldies and most of Bruce Springsteen’s greatest hits, and play ‘DJ’.
In between all of this, he’d engage in sometimes deep conversations about life and philosophy, politics, sport, breeding and racing and one thing that we’ll all remember is Chris’s regular advice to ‘Live! Live! Today could be your last!’ He’d shake your hand, look you in the eye and say, ‘Life is Good!’. You’d respond, ‘Well.. uhm… Chris, no, life is shit…’ and he’d pull your hand back and say, ‘Look me in they eye… repeat after me… Life is Good!’
One night at a Moutonshoek get-together held at his house on the farm, Chris discussed his views on life and said: “After I’d had my triple heart bypass a light went up. I said to myself, ‘you came close to death, from now on you’re going to live your life to the utmost!’ He kept his promise to himself in the best of terms. At a youthful 53, malaria put an abrupt stop to it.
At his 50th birthday bash, Chris was asked why he partied so hard following his heart operations and he said, “Because I’m not going to live forever!” (Readers, are you beginning to see the message?)
As noted, Chris adored the music of Bruce Springsteen, so much so that he attended reportedly 16 Springsteen concerts around the world. Negotiations to fly in Springsteen and his entire band to perform at his 50th went down to the wire.
Chris recent stallion excellent import The United States, a Gr1-winning son of Galileo, was obtained after months of research and negotiations, and one has to wonder if Springsteen’s best-selling album and song ‘Born In The USA’ helped to sway the decision.
When he played Springsteen’s tunes to friends, Chris would caution with a waving finger and count down to the climax… ‘here comes the chorus… now all sing along… ‘Boooorn In The U S A… Booorn in the USA!’ and all would get involved.
Chris’s friend and colleague Colin Gordon noted this morning: “Chris brought value to every person he met!” – perhaps the one description as close to knowing Chris as one could get. Value. Added.
Springsteen sang in another of his hit songs, “I will take you higher… oh, oh, oh, I’m On Fire!” Chris had this rare quality. He comforted and uplifted people, gave them hope and inspired them to be the best they can be.
Time spent with Chris Gerber were Glory Days. We are humbled. He had the Human Touch.
The Memorial Service for Chris Gerber will be held at King Edward VII School 44 St Patrick’s road Houghton on Tuesday the 6th November at 14h30 in the School Hall. Wear something RED!