Dry cleaner gets Madiba shirt as thanks

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THE STAR

George Parpottas, Mandela's dry cleaner, stands in front of the Madiba shirt he had framed and hung in his shop in Rosebank, Joburg. Madiba sent it to him after he said he liked it. Picture: Sharon Seretlo

Johannesburg - On a wall in a dry cleaner’s office in Rosebank, between shelves stacked with shoe polish and brushes, hangs a framed vividly patterned shirt and a letter.

The shirt is an olive swirl of wines, leaves and flowers, with a typed letter enclosed with it.

The letter is a personal thank you for years of dry-cleaning of clothes and household items.

“The generosity you demonstrated has left us humbled,” the letter says.

It’s signed in an unsteady but unmistakable hand: N Mandela.

For more than 20 years, George Parpottas of Exclusive Dry Cleaners washed Nelson Mandela’s characteristic shirts. Always silk, always brightly coloured and bold.

But the one with patterns of black, beige and olive was his favourite.

“It’s the only shirt I used to clean with my own two hands,” said Parpottas, who left the rest to his staff.

And for good reason.

It’s the shirt Mandela was wearing the first time he visited Parpottas’s home.

Parpottas had gone from liquor store to liquor store trying to find the right wine for Mandela’s visit.

“I know nothing about wine, so I said ‘I want the best wine you’ve got!’ And I bought a beautiful red and a white.”

Later, the president was sitting in his home with Parpottas’s baby granddaughter on his lap and he leaned forward and said: “George, listen to me. This wine isn’t for me. I want cheap, sweet, white wine.”

So Parpottas sent his son scrambling to granny’s house to raid the fridge.

The memories are on his wall: the first time they met, Madiba’s birthday, Madiba with his daughters, Madiba with his granddaughters.

Parpottas mentioned at that lunch - the first of many - he wanted the golden olive shirt one day.

Nearly a decade later, it arrived. And that’s what Parpottas remembers most about Madiba, what he’ll miss most.

“I’m a normal guy. I do nothing but work and go home and sit with my family. He met every day with ministers and kings and queens. How the hell did he remember the dry-cleaner?”

kristen.vanschie@inl.co.za

The Star


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