Durban 050312:
Sally Blackman is comfitted by a friend at her husband Jeff Rice's memorial service held at PheZulu safari Park
Picture: Zanele Zulu
Durban 050312: Sally Blackman is comfitted by a friend at her husband Jeff Rice's memorial service held at PheZulu safari Park Picture: Zanele Zulu
File Photo: Jeff Rice. Picture: supplied
File Photo: Jeff Rice. Picture: supplied

During a memorial held on Monday for filmmaker Jeff Rice, who died in Uganda after taking contaminated cocaine two weeks ago, friends and family remembered the Oklahoma native as a man who had “lost his heart to Africa”.

Several people paid tribute to Rice, 39, a father of two, before the rumble of Zulu drums concluded the service at a safari park in Botha’s Hill.

“So how does a parent say goodbye to their child? I have not found that out, I don’t think I ever will,” Rice’s father, Dave Rice, said of the son who was described by friends as having a “gypsy spirit” and “laughing eyes”.

Rice died in a Kampala hotel room just over a fortnight ago, while on a working trip to Uganda.

Ugandan police have ruled out foul play in his death, blaming contaminated cocaine, traces of which were found in his system.

His production assistant, Kathryne Fuller, who returned to SA on Saturday after pleading guilty to possession of cocaine and paying a fine, is being treated for paralysis to her right side at a Durban hospital.

Her father, Stuart Fuller, attended Monday’s memorial.

Tony Monty, Durban Film Office chief executive, said that her workplace came to a standstill when news of Rice’s death came. She spoke of him as someone who believed in the potential of the local film industry, who was compassionate and left an “indelible mark on all of our lives”.

Rice’s brother, Jeremy, remembered how he had been his protector when they were young, and how people quickly took to him.

“He could walk in the room and pick out anyone and become best friends with them. That’s something I really admired about him. I hope you saw that in him too,” he told the mourners.

Mom Tonni Rice spoke of her son’s “beloved Africa”. She said Rice’s widow, Sally Blackman, had taken his breath away when they first met in 1999, and he had followed her to Durban.

“You fell in love with Africa almost as quickly as you did with Sal. You were like a little kid again and wanted to learn everything you could about your new homeland. You packed a lot of life and excitement into a short amount of time, almost as if you knew that you didn’t have long,” she said before taking her seat, unable to control her sobbing and finish her eulogy.

Blackman, mother of Rice’s two daughters, aged seven and two, said her husband had been torn between being on the road and staying home with his family.

Her family and friends spoke of Rice’s love for his wife, and her strength. She said she had found comfort in some of the e-mails which had come from those offering condolences, which described Rice as efficient, tenacious and compassionate, but also as a relentless practical joker.

“A very bright light has gone out in Africa,” one read.

The family has still to decide whether Rice will be buried or cremated. - The Mercury