PRETORIA News sports editor Lester Mills, 49, the gentlemen of sports journalism, has died after a battle with cancer.
Mills, who had always been an ardent supporter of local teams from the Bulls to Mamelodi Sundowns, the Titans and Supersport United, died in Wilgers Hospital yesterday.
Pretoria News editor Val Bojé said: “The Pretoria News is a small, tight team and Lester was an integral part of it which makes it particularly hard to imagine the team without him. While rugby reporting was his speciality, no sport was too small to have his interest and it was Lester who pioneered our coverage of school sport.
“He also alerted us to stars of the future, particularly Oscar Pistorius. Lester’s own sport was road running and his greatest achievement was running the Comrades.”
His Run of the Mills column had many followers and he practised what he preached, being a member of the Agape running club and competing in eight Comrades marathons, completing six.
Walter Vilakazi, manager of Athletics Gauteng North, said: “He loved running and was always looking at ways to better the sport and always willing to assist. “
Mills had been part of the ’News team for more than 20 years and was a mentor to many young sports reporters.
Vata Ngobeni, chief sport writer at the Pretoria News, recalled: “It was the kind, gentle and loving side of Lester that stood out.
“It was under Lester’s guidance that many naive and ignorant sports journalists have been moulded into award-winning senior journalists and sports editors.
“As much as Lester was my boss, and the best boss in the world, he was also a mentor, father figure and good friend.”
Tim Whitfield, group sports editor for Independent Newspapers, said: “He always aimed for the highest standards and performed his duties with integrity, but had a warm human side to him when it came to his colleagues. This was demonstrated clearly when it came to developing and nurturing young talent. The profession of sports journalism will miss him, his talents and his personality.”
Matthews Mpete, sports editor of Daily Sun and Sunday Sun said: “I have never worked with any sports editor like him. Even when you made mistakes, he would correct and guide you in the right direction. Sports journalism has lost an icon. It’s a sad loss to not only sports journalism but also to the road-running fraternity.”
It was his strength of character that many commented on and the term “gentleman” was used time and again.
Cape Times sports editor Ian Smit said: “Lester was a gentleman in the finest and truest sense of the word.
“I admired his courage and fortitude as he continued to work despite his illness. I will miss our rugby conversations and his warm smile at our sports editors meetings.”
A family man, all knew of his pride in his wife, Lesley, and their children, Michelle, Daniel and Matthew.
A man of principle, he would stand by what he believed in and was never too busy to lend an ear.
“Lester was a humble person who loved his job and always stood up for his colleagues. I will always have fond memories of Lester, aka ‘Milzerama’,” said metro reporter Patrick Hlahla.
Kevin McCallum, who is in London covering the Olympics for Independent Newspapers, described Mills as “a man who always had a kind word, a big smile and an enormous heart”.
Kobus van der Walt, director of TuksSport, said: “His biggest legacy is that he made a difference in people’s lives. He was indeed a giant among his peers and will be sorely missed.”
For colleagues his loyalty to them and the Pretoria News was unwavering. And although he was in pain over the past few months, he soldiered on and continued doing his job – with a smile.
A keen Christian in word and deed, he was a deacon in the Central Baptist Church and headed the family Bible hour ministry.
Condolences to the Pretoria News and his family have come from many quarters.
Toby Sutcliff, chief executive of the University of Pretoria’s High Performance Centre, said: “He was an unbelievable sports journalist. He used to write for our magazine, Medallist. He contributed immensely. He will sorely be missed by Pretoria people.”
Barend van Graan, The Bulls chief executive, said: “Lester Mills was a valuable asset to the rugby fraternity, a good friend and an enthusiastic, cheerful and passionate journalist. We had the honour and pleasure to work with Lester and will cherish those memories.”
Elise Lombard, Titans chief executive, said: “He was a stalwart and staunch Titans and Northerns Cricket supporter.”
David Skosana, spokesman for SuperSport United, said: “He has always showed a lot of courage. Six years ago he played a pivotal role with the launch of Let’s Play at the University of Pretoria.”
Alex Shakoane, ex-communication manager of Mamelodi Sundowns, said: “He was a kind-hearted, hard-working and very helpful man as anyone that crossed paths with him can testify to.”
Mills will be laid to rest at 1.30pm tomorrow at the Zandfontein Cemetery followed by a memorial service at 3pm at the Central Baptist Church in Schoeman Street.