Re­tired ex­ec­u­tive play­ing ac­tive role in town

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hose South African ve­hi­cle own­ers who have a pref­er­ence for Con­ti­nen­tal tyres have a well-known re­tired Port Al­fred man, Tony Vers­feld, to thank for them be­ing pro­duced in the coun­try.

And, in­di­rectly, his wife Tr­ish also played her part in this.

Though Vers­feld spent most of his work­ing ca­reer in Gaut­eng, his as­so­ci­a­tion with the Eastern Cape started in Gra­ham­stown, where he was born. But he started his school­ing in Port Al­fred dur­ing the World War 2 years when he lived with his grand­par­ents while his fa­ther served in the armed forces.

Af­ter the war, his fa­ther re­turned to his

Tpo­si­tion at a bank and was im­me­di­ately trans­ferred to Dundee in KwaZulu-Natal. Vers­feld at­tended the lo­cal high school for the re­main­der of his school­ing and be­came one of the stars on the sports field.

He ex­celled on the ath­let­ics track and broke the school’s 100-yards record. He ex­plained that this still stands as this dis­tance was later con­verted to 100 me­tres and his time was never bet­tered. He was also se­lected to rep­re­sent North­ern Natal schools in this sport.

Ver­feld was also a tal­ented rugby player as a fly­half and cap­tained the first XV in 1953, his last year at school. At the same time he was head boy. He then went on to rep­re­sent the Natal U19 side.

Af­ter ma­tric­u­lat­ing, it was nat­u­ral for Vers­feld to fol­low his fa­ther with a ca­reer in bank­ing. He worked un­der his fa­ther and found this tough as his fa­ther en­sured he did not get any pref­er­en­tial treat­ment. He ex­plained that his bank was the first one in the prov­ince to get a man­u­ally op­er­ated cal­cu­la­tor, which Vers­feld was not per­mit­ted to op­er­ate – he had do all his ad­di­tions in his head.

The young Vers­feld was soon trans­ferred to Cape Town, where he con­tin­ued with his rugby ca­reer by join­ing the fa­mous Vil­lages Club. He played in both their U19 and se­nior sides and also played a few matches for Western Prov­ince.

In 1958, Vers­feld was trans­ferred to Jo­han­nes­burg where his life was to change quite dra­mat­i­cally. He met and courted the sec­re­tary to one of the se­nior men at the Gen­eral Tyre Com­pany.

She was to be­come his wife and he was sub­se­quently of­fered the po­si­tion of na­tional credit man­ager in 1966 at the head of­fice in Jo­han­nes­burg.

“I had the bank to thank for this as I be­lieve the train­ing I got dur­ing those ear­lier years was as good as that of an ac­coun­tant. It also made a huge dif­fer­ence to my salary as I went from R70 to R100,” Vers­feld said.

An in­ter­est­ing fact was that his new com­pany had no price in­creases on any of their prod­ucts from 1962 to 1969. “There was no such thing as in­fla­tion in those days,” he added.

It was ob­vi­ous that Versveld had a bright fu­ture at Gen­eral Tyre as he was pro­moted to var­i­ous po­si­tions un­til he be­came mar­ket­ing direc­tor in 1978.

He then be­came the as­sis­tant to the man­ag­ing direc­tor and was ap­pointed to the board in 1981. A year later it came as no sur­prise when he was ap­pointed man­ag­ing direc­tor, a po­si­tion he held for seven years.

It was dur­ing his lead­er­ship in 1983 that Vers­feld was di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for in­tro­duc­ing the well-known Con­ti­nen­tal tyres into the coun­try.

But then dis­as­ter struck when Gen­eral Tyre had a change of own­er­ship and the com­pany was re­struc­tured with the head of­fice in Jo­han­nes­burg be­ing closed. This re­sulted in Vers­feld and other top man­age­ment find­ing them­selves with­out jobs. Vers­feld had served Gen­eral Tyre for 27 years.

This meant an­other ma­jor change in his life and he and his fi­nan­cial direc­tor, John Lard­nerBurke, now re­tired to Ken­ton, de­cided to form a part­ner­ship and work for them­selves. They bought a small com­pany that man­u­fac­tured tar­pau­lins and tents.

This went well, but by 1995 they had had enough and sold the com­pany and Vers­feld re­tired.

The cou­ple moved to Port Al­fred. He im­me­di­ately be­came in­volved in the town’s ac­tiv­i­ties and soon took over as chair­man of the Ratepay­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion He then be­came the fi­nance direc­tor of Set­tlers Park in 2002 and moved into the vil­lage in 2008 where he con­tin­ued to serve as fi­nance direc­tor and on the board for 14 years.

A keen golfer, Versveld joined Royal Port Al­fred Golf Club, served on this com­mit­tee and ran the pop­u­lar Mad Hat­ter com­pe­ti­tion for six years. He has had the dis­tinc­tion of three holes-in-one, two of them com­ing in two months in Port Al­fred. He also plays bowls. The cou­ple have three chil­dren and six grand­chil­dren.

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