Rugby man’s remains to return to Durban

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Durban - Former KwaZulu-Natal rugby player and successful architect, Graham Downes, who died after an apparent brawl at his US home in San Diego at the weekend, may have his ashes scattered on the rugby fields of Durban High School and King’s Park.

These were among the plans being considered by Downes’s close friends and family, said his brother, Simon Downes, from San Diego yesterday.

“It was on the fields of DHS that he started his rugby career and went on to play 66 games for Natal. Many of his friends say we should consider scattering some of his ashes there, at DHS and the Shark Tank,” Simon said on Monday.

Downes, 56, affectionately known as “Basher” to friends, died on Sunday after succumbing to severe head injuries.

According to US news reports, Downes was taken to hospital for head injuries after getting into a fight with an employee of his architecturual firm at a function on Friday night.

His employee, Higinio Salgado, 31, was arrested.

Simon, a Durban businessman, flew to San Diego on Saturday. He said doctors had decided to turn off the life support machines two hours after he arrived in the US.

“They had done all the tests, brain scans whatever they needed to do, and said there was nothing more that could be done,” he said.

Simon had spoken to people who were at the function who said reports that his brother was in a brawl were not as sensational as made out.

“The best information I have is that there was nothing in it. We have to be careful about what we say because there is a court case going on, but I am told that there was no angst involved. It looked like he took a major trauma to the head after falling,” he said.

Simon described his brother as a larger than life character who built a multimillion-dollar architectural firm, Graham Downes Architecture.

“He came out to America to play rugby and ended up finding a job using his architectural skills. He then started his own firm and at one stage before the global economic collapse, had 25 architects working for him. It’s still a huge firm with many clients,” he said.

Downes matriculated from DHS in 1973 and played rugby for Natal.

In 1986 he moved to San Diego and represented the US at the 1987 Rugby World Cup. He later established himself as an architect. His work was featured in American magazines where he was praised for designing some of the best avant-garde buildings on the US East Coast.

“He was a lion of a man. He was a man’s man who loved rugby. He never got married, out of choice. He had numerous friendships and there were some special people in his life and he had a long-standing girlfriend,” Simon said.

Simon said Downes organised a rugby tour every year with his team, the KwaZulu Old Crocs. “It consisted mainly of expat South Africans living in the US, but there were also Australians and New Zealanders. Last year they went to Argentina.”

“It’s his 40th year high school reunion this year and he was looking forward to coming to South Africa and catching up with mates and family. He was looking forward to it immensely,” he said.

Simon said he planned to spend at least two weeks sorting out his brother’s affairs and ensuring that his business remained. He said the outpouring of grief for his brother was overwhelming.

“When I arrived there were about 40 or 50 people at the hospital keeping vigil. When I woke up this morning, I had received 78 e-mails, and another 80 SMSes. That was just the type of person he was. Larger than life.”

lee.rondganger@inl.co.za

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