Ackerman remembered as founder of modern retail, wonderful father and deeply ethical man
The memorial for Raymond Ackerman was held on the Cape Peninsula at the Clovelly Golf Club – founded by his father 92 years ago.
Raymond Ackerman might have been a remarkable retailer, innovator and statesman, but those who knew him remembered him best as being kind, caring, loving, exceptionally ethical and profoundly humble.
He also loved golf – very much – and never cancelled a game in his life, come rain, wind or sunshine, which all featured at the memorial for the man credited with founding modern retail in South Africa.
Hundreds of mourners shrugged off the biting cold on Monday morning for Ackerman’s memorial at the Clovelly Golf Club near Fish Hoek on the Cape Peninsula. Among them, his widow, Wendy, with whom he co-founded Pick n Pay in 1967; their children Gareth, Suzanne, Kathryn and Jonathan; his brother Bruce and extended family; as well as Ackerman’s long-time friend, Hugh Herman.
The family’s devoted Labrador and Golden Retriever dogs, Penny and Seve, never left their side.
Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Shoprite founder Christo Wiese and Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis also paid their respects.
Jonathan Ackerman, Raymond’s youngest son and the master of ceremonies, told guests that the family’s rabbi, Greg Alexander, had been their “rock, who has held us tightly during this time”.
Ninety-two years ago, Ackerman’s father Gus and Michael Pevsner bought what was then known as the Clovelly Golf Links, after they were denied membership at other golf courses due to their religion. At the time, they vowed that the land “shall only be used for sporting and other activities of the Clovelly Country Club, from the membership of which no person shall be debarred by reason of nationality or religion”.
Jonathan said his father had three great loves in his life: Family, Pick n Pay and Clovelly. “I’m not sure in which order.”
On his father’s 70th birthday, Ackerman launched the Raymond Ackerman Golf Academy which provides tutoring in life skills, training and golf to high school students from nearby Masiphumelele and Ocean View.
“Today, we have over 300 graduates who are doctors, lawyers, engineers, dentists etc, so his legacy lives on at Clovelly.”
Gareth Ackerman, Raymond and Wendy’s oldest son and chairperson of Pick n Pay, said his father was an exceptional retailer, a devoted family man and an extraordinary husband.
“Importantly, he was at his best when he was a statesman. He was a truly unique human being … he was caring, interested and made special time and space for each of us.”
Ackerman was never afraid to challenge the government or to display leadership in the retail industry or the country when it was needed.
“This was not often an easy part. But he chose it deliberately and with courage. He could never understand why people would not just do the right thing.”
Celebrating the key role of his mother in Pick n Pay’s success, Gareth said Wendy accompanied Raymond to the US in the 1960s to learn about retail and came back “bursting with knowledge”.
“Often, when Pick n Pay stepped up to meet a pressing social challenge, such as those embodied in our legacy projects, it was Wendy and Raymond who were the torchbearers. They are exemplary role models.”
Ackerman’s granddaughter, Nikita Montlake, described Raymond as righteous, kind, humble and “incapable of complying with systems of oppression”, adding that she believed him to be a “lamed vavnik” – one of the 36 “hidden saints”, described in Kabbalah or Jewish mysticism, who save a generation.
Herman, who had known Ackerman since the mid-1970s, lauded his friend’s many virtues: “He brought discount retailing to South Africa. He changed the way people operate in business. And he had these incredible values of wanting to reach out to other people.
“His position in life enabled him to walk with captains and kings – which he did – but he also mixed with the common people. When I [did walkabouts] with him at Pick n Pay, I was intrigued by the sheer number of people who wanted to touch and to talk to him – from staff to customers.”
Ackerman left a giant legacy, he said, of wanting to do good and wanting to help others.
“Wendy and the rest of the family will carry on that tradition of values; of running relationships the proper way; doing good business and treating people kindly. He was one of a kind and we shall not see the likes of him again.”
The memorial wrapped up with a reading of Psalm 23 in Hebrew and traditional prayers, including the Kaddish – a group prayer honouring the memory of a person after their passing, before Ackerman’s grandchildren played a symbolic round of golf in memory of a life well lived.