Cape Town - Rob Meek, one of South Africa’s top sailors and urban designers, posed for a photograph with family and friends at a Wild Coast beach house at midnight to mark the new year – seconds later, he was murdered.
One of three armed men wearing balaclavas, who had apparently intended robbing the group, shot him and then the three ran away.
The 62-year-old Newlands resident’s daughters, Louise, 28, and Claudia, 25, tried in vain for two hours to resuscitate him at a nearby hospital.
On Wednesday, Rob’s wife, Di Meek, 59, tearfully speaking to the Cape Times from the Wild Coast, described in detail how moments after cheering and opening bottles of champagne to celebrate the start of 2014, her husband was killed.
She said her family, including her mother, Jean Almon, 83, and close friends, totalling nine people, had been staying at a self-catering beach house near Port St Johns since December 27.
Meek said the area, with three cottages at beach level, was isolated. On the last day of 2013 her family and friends had spent the day swimming and having fun with local residents. The group decided that instead of going to another cottage to celebrate New Year’s Eve, they would spend the evening, their last night in the Eastern Cape, at their house.
“We had a nice feast,” Meek said, adding they had prepared food including oysters and mussels.
They had dinner at 11.30pm and, in keeping with tradition, did their “highlights” – each person around the table was given a chance to speak about their year.
About a minute before midnight, one of them set up a camera with a self-timer so a photograph of the whole group could be taken at midnight.
“We moved out on to the deck overlooking the sea. The flash went off. We popped some champagne. We all cheered.
“You can see in the photo my husband had turned around. He’d already seen the three guys,” Meek said.
She said three men wearing balaclavas approached them. She said they looked as if they were holding pieces of wood, as residents had done earlier while offering to make bonfires. “My husband said: ‘They’ve got guns,’” Meek said.
Meek, who had seen three guns, did not recall hearing the three men ask for anything.
She lay flat on the deck.
“They looked nervous. I heard a shot. I just saw my husband... There was no provocation.” After the shot went off, wounding Rob in the groin area, Meek said, the gunmen ran away. They had not stolen anything.
She, her family and friends managed to fashion a tourniquet to try to staunch the blood flowing from Rob’s wound, and they carried him up a steep hill from the house to a vehicle.
“We got him into the back seat. My daughters sat and spoke to him. I was driving.”
Meek said at a nearby “TB mission hospital”, two doctors tried to save Rob. Her daughters also tried to resuscitate him and “kept pumping him with oxygen”.
“They just tried and tried… They were amazing… He was the most incredible father to his children.” Meek said they had wanted to donate their blood to him, but the hospital had not been equipped for that.
“I didn’t think he’d die because he’s so fit and so strong,” she said.
Meek and her daughters stayed at the hospital overnight. She said she was thankful that earlier in the evening Rob had spoken fondly of his daughters.
“When we were doing our little highlights around the table, he told them he loved them and how proud he was of them,” she said.
No arrests were made.
Rob had planned to return to Cape Town on Thursday so he could be back in time for the start of the Cape to Rio yacht race on Saturday..
On Wednesday yachtsman David Abromowitz described Rob, the eldest of three brothers, as “a gentle giant”.
“He was a wonderful yachtsman, such a quiet, unassuming guy... His brother (Geoff) is probably South Africa’s finest yachtsman. Robbie wasn’t far behind,” he said.
A message on the Royal Cape Yacht Club’s website said: “Thank you Rob for a lifetime of positive sailing. We love you and are devastated by your tragic passing.”
Rob was a founding member of GAPP Architects and Urban Designers. On Wednesday a director of the company, Sally Tsiliyiannis, said Rob had been a “peacekeeper” and had not liked confrontation.
She said: “While GAPP has lost one of its founding members, both an astute colleague and special friend, South Africa has lost one of the finest urban designers in the field.
“With particular experience in waterfront developments both at home and abroad, Rob leaves behind a gap that will be hard to fill.”