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News > Passing of friends > Christopher Rawlins (1958O) passing

Christopher Rawlins (1958O) passing

We say farewell to Chris, an eccentric activist and avid ballroom dancer.
Chris pictured in the middle with his dance partner in 2005
Chris pictured in the middle with his dance partner in 2005


Class of 1958

Christopher (Chris to his friends) Rawlins (1958O) passed away on 2 December 2023.  He was a flamboyant character and fondly described by one of his classmates, Peter Wallach (1958G), as a bit of a maverick.

His remarkable life started in the heart of London at the end of the Blitz on May 23rd. He later moved to South Africa with his family, arriving on the Winchester Castle while still very young.

Peter remembered that he and Chris had attended Micklefield together before transferring to Bishops Prep, where they were taught by the wonderful Shelagh Wolf. After just over two years, they were both advanced a year academically, though catching up on the missed year of maturity proved  challenging, and later that practise was stopped.

Many of their classmates remembered Chris as quiet, determined, athletically gifted, and exceptionally bright. Even during his school years, there was a rebellious and strong-willed streak in him, which became more pronounced after he left.

His mother played a significant role in shaping his views, as she was deeply involved in activism, including joining the Black Sash in the late 1950s. Chris and his mother worked together to raise awareness about the high death rate of rural African children from malnutrition diseases and were among the founding members of the non-racial Progressive Party in 1960.

Influenced by his mother's activism, Chris became a supporter of the African National Congress (ANC), led by Chief Albert Luthuli, and later emigrated to England in 1961 to avoid being conscripted into what he called "the apartheid military," forfeiting his South African citizenship in the process.

He worked in Bristol, studying at night while advocating for economic sanctions against the apartheid regime. Chris returned to South Africa in 1967, graduated from the University of Natal, and then spent time back in the UK before returning to South Africa in 1994, with the help of the ANC, to regain his citizenship.

Chris' activism later extended beyond political issues; he became deeply involved in health matters, particularly questioning the use of anti-retroviral drugs in HIV/AIDS treatment. Despite facing criticism, his views found support from figures like Thabo Mbeki.

In his later years, Chris shifted his focus to genealogy, traveling extensively and researching his family history. His travels took him to the United States, where he engaged in various activities, showcasing his boundless energy and zest for life.

Chris never married, though he did have a steady dance partner (pictured above) until he had to give that up. He spent many of his adult years taking care of his aged and wheelchair bound father who lived well into his nineties.

In his final years, Chris battled bone cancer, refusing conventional treatments.  Peter Wallach writes:

He had a great suspicion of current medicine (including his contrary views on HIV and Covid) and refused conventional treatment for his cancer of the ear, so ended up in a great deal of pain that even strong pain killers couldn't alleviate much.

He was a man with strong convictions, dedicated to justice and equality for all. He may have shifted slightly to the right politically in his later years, but his commitment to his beliefs never wavered.

Not one to visit Bishops very much, he did write to Peter just over a year ago to say:-

Just bought two expensive new books with a connection to our old school, The History of Golf in South Africa 1885- 1992 by Peter Sauerman and A Brush with Bishops with paintings by Richie Ryall and text by Paul Murray.

I expect you have seen the latter. Good to be reminded of the familiar buildings and teachers from so long ago, I don’t think I’ve ever been back since leaving in 1958.

In his final Christmas (2022) letter to all his friends, Chris wrote this poignant message: 

"We are hoping for a fine Christmas day so we can sit outside the restaurant as we did last year. As the lights go out in Ukraine and South Africa and possibly Europe as a whole perhaps it is apposite for my flickering light to extinguish as well. Regrets I have a few but it has been a life enriched by great experiences and good friends"

He passed away on December 2nd, 2023, and was buried in a serene resting place at the Marianhill Mission grounds.

By all accounts Chris Rawlins led an unconventional and interesting life and he will be sorely missed by all who knew him. 

Our sincerest condolences to his extended family and friends.

Whilst researching his life, we were fortunate enough to find a detailed autobiography where Chris tells his life story in his own way. 

To read it please CLICK HERE: A biography (autobiography) written by Chris Rawlins

Chris Rawlins Photos  - with thanks to Peter Wallach for these photographs and his research into the life of Chris.


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