Coronavirus News Africa

Covid-19: Radio personality Rob Vember remembers his dad: ‘The saddest part is that he died alone’

Rob Vember with his father, Ralph.

  • The father of former KFM presenter Rob Vember has died of Covid-19.
  • Vember, who lives in the US, is back in the country to be with his family.
  • He, too, has now tested positive for Covid-19, and is in self-isolation.
  • Vember says it was heart-breaking that he wasn’t able to say goodbye.

Former KFM presenter Rob Vember has described his father, Ralph, as a proud and passionate man, who was “addicted” to cooking and loved choral and orchestral music as well as gardening. 

Ralph Vember died on 29 May at the age of 71 in a Cape Town hospital after suffering a heart attack. Although he tested negative for Covid-19 twice, his last result – taken on the day of his death – indicated that he had seemingly contracted the virus. He also showed symptoms while in hospital, where he was admitted for something unrelated. 

Though Vember is not sure what to make of the disparate test results, he says he is under no illusion how serious the coronavirus is.

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“I recognise fully that he was a prime candidate for Covid-19 – he was 71 years old, he had comorbidities, he was diabetic, hypertensive, and he was overweight – but the difficulty to accept is that two prior tests came back negative, and he certainly did not have it when he was admitted.” 

Vember, who lives in the US, told News24 the last time he called his dad he received a text message back saying it was too painful to speak. “I messaged back and told him not to worry, everything will be fine. And that was that. That’s the last contact I had with him.” 

Vember was repatriated to be with his family, following his father’s death. 

A proud man who carried his head high

Ralph Vember was born and bred in Cape Town and was raised in District Six, where he became a passionate supporter of the struggle against apartheid. 

“He never finished school because his dad died when he was about 14. The only reason I mention this is because it speaks to who he was and that he left school after Standard 9 (Grade 11) to support his family. I credit him and my mom with the way I view women and gender roles. 

“My mom was always the more educated and the higher earner, but it was never an issue. He was a proud man who carried his head high.”

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Vember said his dad worked for the Golden Arrow bus company as a senior buyer in a career that lasted 41 years before he retired. 

“He was a modest man and a churchgoer – we’d always sit three rows from the front every Sunday and he would sing loudly… He was an average man, but the kind who gained your respect because he knew who he was. 

“Of course, he could be stubborn at times and into his old-school ways, but he was always there, which makes coming home so strange, because now he is gone.”

According to Vember, his father loved food:

I don’t know if it was a passion or an addiction, but he really loved food. He was known in the family as the ‘curry man’ – he would cook at all the family occasions.

“Music was also his thing. I remember one of the last conversations we had was him reminding me how he was still playing his music from CDs, despite me hesitantly trying to get him into streaming. He was very much into choral and orchestral music. Every Sunday morning you’d wake up and his music would be blaring – that was standard practice in our home.”

His dad also loved planning weekend trips and doing gardening, Vember said. 

Tested positive himself

Vember has himself since tested positive for Covid-19 and is self-isolating until the end of June, though he is completely asymptomatic. He believes his result may be a false positive, because he traced all his close contacts in the US, none of whom have the virus. He was also placed in quarantine on his arrival in South Africa on 1 June.

“We received a list of dos and don’ts that include not leaving your room under any circumstances, your meals get delivered to you, nursing staff visit you and take your temperature.”

After some bureaucratic to-and-fro, Vember was allowed to leave the facility that following Wednesday after being tested for Covid-19, which came back positive on the Friday.

“It makes no sense,” says Vember, as he’s had no known close contact with anyone who has the virus. 

“It makes the mourning period very hard, though. We’ve had to clear out the house. Ordinarily, people would be coming over to pay their respects and support the family, but because of me, that cannot happen. I’m alone in the house with my mother – my brother and his family have gone back to their home, and I can’t really do anything. I came back to look after my mom and now she has to look after me. I can’t touch anyone, I can’t even hug her.” 

Vember said he would have to wait out his period of isolation. 

“His death is a huge loss to us. Especially the suddenness. We didn’t have the luxury to prepare for it. Even when he was in hospital, he was never said to be at death’s door. At 18:00 on the day of his death, my mom was told that he was fine. Fifteen minutes later, he had a heart attack and, 45 minutes later, he was pronounced dead. It’s heart-breaking that we were not able to say goodbye, but the saddest part is that he died alone.

“You kind of wonder what he was thinking in those moments. We will never know the answer to that…” 

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