Big place in history for the famous Lithuanian émigrés
LOUIS Washkansky and Cecil Moss shared something in common before their paths crossed almost exactly 50 years ago in a way neither could have imagined. Their families having arrived in South Africa from Lithuania, the former earning his living in Cape Town as a greengrocer, the latter made a name for himself as a Springbok.
They met at the Groote Schuur Hospital before a six-hour operation which turned Dr Christiaan Barnard into a global celebrity. ‘Doc’ Moss was there in his professional capacity as an anaesthetist, part of a 30-strong team which made Washkansky a household name as the first man to receive a heart transplant.
Some twelve years later, in 1979, Moss was involved in another highprofile piece of surgery which proved to be positively mundane by comparison. Nelson Mandela, then incarcerated on Robben Island, had his solitude interrupted long enough for a bone to be removed from his heel.
The following year Moss witnessed tragedy on the rugby field during his 20 years as coach and manager of Western Province whose full-back Chris Burger broke his neck during a Currie Cup match in Bloemfontein.
“I was allowed to stay with him (in hospital) and I sat next to the bed holding his hand,” Moss recalled. “He faced death with great courage and dignity. He said to me: ‘I know my God. I am ready to go.’ ”
Moss’ own playing career had been unique from the very start. Introduced on the wing for the four-match home series against New Zealand in 1949, he finished on the winning side in all four, serving later as coach, manager and chairman of selectors.
Until his death late last month at the age of 92, he had been the oldest living Springbok.