Tributes flow for NGO leader
In an extraordinary tribute to health and development visionary Mary Humphreys, who passed away last Sunday, staff at the Raphael Centre continued with their programmes this week. Humphreys was found by neighbours at her home around 1.30pm Sunday 1 October. Police opened an inquest docket. On Monday police confirmed that her death was caused by illness.
Speaking through tears on Monday morning, the Raphael Centre’s operations manager Anne Loeffler said every staff member had arrived at work that morning to share their grief. “But we said we can’t stop the important work that we were doing with Mary,” Loeffler said.
The team resolved to honour her commitment by going out and continuing their programmes this week, one of which was a holiday programme for school children.
Loeffler was on Monday appointed acting CEO by the Board. “Raphael Centre’s work will continue. Mary left us in a sound financial position and we have strong support from our Board and community partners.”
Already, several community partners and local and overseas funders had pledged their continued backing.
The Raphael Centre does HIV Counselling and Testing (HCT) and runs Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) programmes.
Board spokesperson Roger Walsh said on Monday, “We are all terribly upset. The board are holding an urgent meeting to ensure the work continues to honour Mary and keep our clients served.”
Humphreys had been committed to turning around a highly indebted NGO, Walsh said. “She refocused it to be an File photo asset based community development leader and dispensed with the unhelpful, disempowering and unsustainable handout model of years gone by.
“Mary managed to diversify and secure funding streams and implement policies and processes. Despite huge setbacks, such as the recent office fire, she never gave up and with the team expanded their programmes to make a positive contribution to Grahamstown and other local NGOs.”
The Raphael Centre moved to Dundas Street after a fire at the end of March destroyed their offices in Bathurst Street.
Director of Community Engagement at Rhodes University Di Hornby said Humphreys’ death was a blow to Grahamstown development circles. “Mary has been a very influential NGO Director and community activist,” Hornby said. “At an organisational level, she has re-envisioned and positioned the Raphael Centre very strategically in the Province – they have influenced a large number of NPO, CBO and school groups to use the assets they have to change their situation.
“This has made a very meaningful contribution to the development sector, particularly in Grahamstown.
“Mary was a wonderful combination of strength, courage and gentleness. She could read situations well and was never shy to roll up her sleeves and get working. She has built a strong, well equipped team around her so her work and legacy will carry on. We will work alongside them and make sure they feel supported in this difficult time.”
Bernie Dolley, the Director of Ikhala Trust, a core partner of Raphael Centre, said the news of Mary’s passing had sent shock waves through the development community.
“Mary so unselfishly often went without to ensure that others’ aspirations and dreams were met,” Dolley said. “Mary always wanted what was right and just and worked like a Trojan at great personal sacrifice over many years. She was a faithful and honest development activist”.
There was an outpouring of grief from friends and family on Mary’s Facebook page, with posts speaking of “kindness” and “a gentle soul”.
“You can be proud of all the meaning you lived and gave on. You left the world a better place,” a friend posted.
Radio journalist Xolani Kondile said, “I’m so shaken... Mary linked me with my current employer the Children’s Radio Foundation a few years ago... and we shared a deep passion for community development and children... You’ve made a profound impact on my life and I’ll forever hold you dear in my heart.”
Tragically, Mary’s family were due to visit her this week, arriving on Tuesday.
Members of the community have been invited to join them at a memorial service in the Rhodes Chapel at 1pm today.
Tributes continue to pour in after the death of NGO leader Mary Humphreys last weekend.