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Donny Loon (1924-2011)

As told by his son Stanley Loon

Donny Loon
Donny and sister, Hazel, graduating from Witwatersrand University in 1948

Donald Loon was born in Johannesburg on 26, March 1924.

He spent his early years in Viljoenskroen, OFS before moving back to Johannesburg.

He was educated at Jeppe High School and Wits University where he obtained an MBBCh degree.

He was introduced to his future wife, Rita Cohen, through a cousin who had married her sister. They married in 1950 and moved to Bellville where he joined Angel Mallach's general practice in Durban Road. He then built a surgery onto his house in nearby Coronation Avenue and branched out on his own. In the mid- 1960s he contracted brucellosis after drinking coffee with unpasteurized milk at a patient's farm near Durbanville and was ill for many months.

At this time, a new English Medium School was due to open in Bellville and he became its first chairman. I remember a number of meetings being held in his bedroom one of which was to name the new school - The Settlers High - and to choose the school uniform.

After recovering from his illness, he decided to wind down his practice and converted our old house into a much needed day hospital -where anyone who needed a minor operation could go home the same day - and so The Bellville Surgical Centre with 2 theatres and 8 beds came into being. After doing other similar projects in the peninsula, he then went on to design major private hospitals and became Superintendent of one, The Jan S Marais. This hospital unfortunately didn't make it financially and, when it went bankrupt, he found temporary jobs, including being doctor on set of the film Zulu Dawn where he befriended Burt Lancaster.

In the 1980s he worked in outpatients at Groote Schuur Hospital and played a major role in getting their medical data base off the ground. When he came on aliya to Israel at the age of 65, he continued similar work for the Maccabi Medical Organization.

He was an avid sportsman, sports lover and hobbyist. While at Wits, he captained South African University at squash and later coached the then South African squash champion. He also loved playing golf and tennis. In the 50s he bred boxer dogs, one of which was Sugar Ray who was South Africa's boxer show dog champion. In the 70s he took to owning racehorses with very good success. In the 80s, he took up cycling in a big way, taking part in a number of tours. From the 90s onwards, despite a couple of heart attacks, he still managed to swim forty lengths a day in a short course swimming pool.

When he retired in his mid-70s, he went back to another of his hobbies which was painting. He loved painting portraits of the people at the retirement home where he lived with Rita and had a number of exhibitions. He was an excellent bridge teacher and a very good bridge player despite the fact that he never got cards (his words).

He died in January 2011, leaving his wife, 3 children and 6 grandchildren.

There is a saying, 'He had a long innings'. My father died batting.

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An aerial view of the surgery and home of the Loon family

Donny Loon as told by his daughter Gail Loon Lustig

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Stanley, Rozzi, Gail, outside the Surgery in 1958

When we were small and had no money to buy 'proper presents' we'd spend hours behind closed doors making cards or thinking up some special surprises for one another. I remember one year when we dedicated the entire birthday card to Dad's hobbies –chess, boxer dogs, reading, gardening, bird-watching, golf, sculpting, painting, bridge, learning French and race horses.

My father studied at Wits and would probably have stayed in the Transvaal had he not met my mother who lived under the mountain in Cape Town. He started studying when too young to join the armed forces to fight in the war, something he always regretted. He was old enough to start studying though and despite tremendous hardships, mainly financial, he completed the six years it took to earn his medical degree.

After learning to write my name, I think the next word was 'Coronation', the name of the street that my parents chose to live on when they moved out of the Boston Hotel in Bellville and set up practice. My father decided to go it alone, not be a partner in someone else's practice. He wanted to decide how to practise medicine, how to make a living, how hard to work. And he worked hard, round the clock, through the night, often forgetting when he'd last eaten.

When I was old enough to notice such things, my swing disappeared in the garden at the front of the house. In its place, a yellow-brick building appeared. It had a flat roof and there were two entrances into the surgery, one for Whites and one for non-Whites. The nurse's station was in-between the two. My father would move between the two rooms to run the different clinics. This is where he listened to, examined and treated the two sides of South Africa.

We had our own private lessons in apartheid sitting with the nurse and looking through the glass window smudged with finger marks on the left, always noisy, dramatic and full of pain, home-made, colourful bandages tied around sore limbs and bruised faces.

In the waiting-room on the right, the White women, quietly turned the pages of magazines, waiting their turn, stockinged legs crossed, teased up hair, carefully made-up faces. Their pain was of a different brand. It smelled different, was expressed differently and needed an entirely different approach.

My father's desk in the White section was enormous or so it seemed to me and underneath the glass there were black and white photos of curly-haired children whom he'd delivered over the years. He knew all their names and details of their births which were not always smooth. He loved obstetrics and had he been able to, would have specialized in the field. Instead, we would be shown the flags, pink or blue which were flown in the garden of the Hansa Clinic, the local maternity hospital where many babies he delivered, were born.

The surgery had been annexed onto our house and one evening my father whispered, 'come, I have something to show you…'

We opened the wooden door separating our house from the Surgery. The smell of the medications he dispensed, filled the air, a bowl with hardened plaster of Paris, in the basin; so quiet.

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The Loon family circa 1960's

I followed him into the non-White side and noted two large cardboard boxes under the wooden bed with 'Royal Mail', printed in black ink on the side-flap.

'This is our secret, you're not to tell Mom…promise?'

He opened the first box with a scalpel and carefully took out the first volume of the set of Encyclopedia Britannica.

'Here, Anatomy, just look at this…!'

I lifted the plastic page covering a muscular man and for the first time discovered the secrets of the human body, the organs, mostly pink and the grey brain with its convolutions stored inside the skull.

'Now, here's the peace offering. Isn't it magnificent? '

He held out the Old Testament to me. It had gold sprayed down the sides and the black rough leather cover smelled wonderful.

And so, over the next months, I read the volumes of the encyclopedia, letter by letter, being sure to keep the secret until my mother received the bible all to herself.

I won't be able to wish my father a Happy Birthday this year, but somehow I know he doesn't mind. He'd often say that he'd lived a long life, that eighty-six was a good age to reach for all the knocks he'd given his body, smoking for more than thirty years.

More than anything, he'd be chuffed by the details of the stories about his life that will be passed on –word for word, like he told them to us all that time ago in a different world.

Donny Loon told by his wife, Rita Loon

After numerous requests to tell my story of general practice in Bellville, I have finally decided to do so. My husband, the late Donny Loon practised as a general practitioner for thirty years in Bellville from 1950-1980. We started off in the Boston Hotel in Bellville, then moved to a house in Coronation Avenue.

These were the loneliest years of my marriage. I hardly saw my husband, even when he was off duty, he was on duty. He told me he was committed to treat certain patients because he had been treating them all along and knew their problems. He even drove expectant mothers to the nursing home of their choice when the husbands weren't available. He saw about forty patients a day in his surgery and lit up a cigarette each time they entered his surgery.

It wasn't much fun for me and our domestic worker to clean up the ashes in his consulting rooms, one for Whites and one for Blacks. In his later years, he admitted to me that smoking in general practice caused his frequent attacks of pneumonia while living in Israel for 20 years. He gave up smoking ten years before we moved to Israel.

Donny was a wonderful diagnostician. He even diagnosed Crohn's Disease in our son which the specialists in Bellville and Cape Town missed. On his recommendation, we took our son to Leeds in England, which is the best thing that we could have done.

Sleep was not his priority. He was on duty every third night after a heavy day's work. Even when he was off duty, he used to do calls to his own private patients who wouldn't agree to have anybody else. When I picked him out, he would defend himself by saying that he knew their symptoms better than anyone else. He would go to Coloured patients in the middle of the night in all types of weather.

His ears were tuned to the telephone and he would jump out of the bed and go as far as Brackenfell, Kraaifontein and Kuils River. On his return from one of these trips, I asked him where he had been, he told me he couldn't remember! I didn't know that God had a driving license!

His love of animals such as horses and dogs led to one of his Coloured patients bringing his sick bird, hidden under his jacket to our front door at 10 p.m at night for medical treatment. Donny kept boxer dogs which were his favourite pets. I was petrified as I had been bitten at the age of four and had to have stitches in my leg, the scar of which is still present today. His sympathy for Blacks and Coloureds who weren't allowed to be treated in White hospitals, led him to build his own hospital in Bellville called the Jan S. Marais Clinic which packed up after a year or so due to lack of finances and bankruptcy. Finances weren't his strong point.

Eventually he went to work in Groote Schuur hospital where he was happiest and where he should have gone in the first place.

His ex -patients in South Africa sent their sincere condolences to me in Israel, on hearing of his demise and expressed their appreciation of the kindness he had showed them in general practice. My three children have all inherited his talents and kindness to their fellow beings.

May his dear soul rest in peace.

Donny Loon as told by his daughter, Rozzi Loon Budow

'Shnuki duk duks! Do you want to come with me on a call?” And I'd run to his car, number-plate CY 1010, and settle myself on the front seat.

I so enjoyed these trips with him, my brilliant father, so humane, so clever, so generous, so loving. Somehow, waiting patiently for him outside some suburban house, whether simple and modest, or of the fancier type in Boston Estate, or even outside a home in Bellville South – 'on the other side of the railway line', or in the parking lot of a local nursing home, was just fine. Every trip was a lesson in itself, never just 'sommer'.

He would either talk about some medical topic, his own special attitude towards antibiotics for instance. At the age of six, I already knew that you had to finish the entire course, that you shouldn't just take them every time you had a sore throat, yet for an ear infection you probably needed them anyway, and, that the usual dose, in those days, was penbritin 250 mg, 4 times a day!

These chats would definitely have been interrupted by the crackling sound and a muffled voice calling for 'double two five, come in! Over!'

And he would lift up the receiver piece and answer: 'double two five, double two five coming in, over!' And then, this mysterious voice would give him a message to visit yet another patient on the opposite side of town.

I knew the suburbs, mainly to the north of Bellville so well and of course that was another sort of lesson. I pride myself with an excellent sense of direction because I had no choice! He made me aware, as far back as I can remember, how to navigate the quiet streets of our neighbourhoods and even how to get to Stellenbosch, (there was a nursing home there too), or to a farm between the two towns, (Stellenbosch and Bellville), where his patients would need him.

When he left me in the car, he was so trusting and maybe naïve, never suspecting that anything could happen, always believing that humans are good before evil. He had faith that nothing would happen to me alone in his car. That's how things were in those days and nothing bad ever did!

While waiting, I developed my own ritual. I would ruffle through his cubbyhole. A doctor on the road had to have emergency supplies for survival, I suppose. So, I would find the little brown packets among the different shaped pipes and boxes of Rothmans cigarettes and go through them one by one. Always finding a few samoosas, or the most aromatic tobaccos. His favourite had a cherry smell that was much nicer raw than burning. My best was to discover that he still had some fruit gums left, bought by weight from the corner cafe on Voortrekker Road.

My sister loved the 'pianos', the lemon flavoured ones, my brother the 'grape flavour' and I the blackcurrant ones. I would dip my podgy hand in to find them and revel in the sweetness of my delicious find. At home we never had treats of this kind.

I have no doubt that my dad's dental problems stem back to those days when he skipped meals, had to make do with chewy sweets, smoking pipes and eating spicy curry-filled pastries for sustenance between house calls.

Lessons about good driving practices, how to play car cricket, kindness and in the same breath, shall I say, lessons regarding the injustices of racialism, the importance of family; one by one he would enlighten me about the Loons, a special flock! In his own way he made me so proud to be one.

The visits did come to an end and I do realise that these trips did have a profound effect on what I am and what I believe in. While now, I realise that I romanticise them and that they were probably hell for him and my mother, for me, they were , as my son says some fifty years later and every time we are in the car together –'one-on-one quality time, Mama!'

Reminiscences of Stanley and Gail Loon Lustig, Donny Loon's children.

I had my first kidney stone attack in 1983 and went straight from work to Dad who was working in out patients at Groote Schuur Hospital.

We went to the X-ray department around about 1 pm. The radiologists had all gone to lunch but the professor happened to be there.

He asked Dad what was wrong and then immediately phoned one of his senior radiologists and told him to forget about lunch and get back immediately.

He then told dad the following:

'Today is payback time. I was playing in a rugby game for UCT 2nd XV at Kraaifontein and dislocated my shoulder. You ran onto the field and put my shoulder back in joint and put on a figure of eight dressing. I am still waiting for the account!'

Once, my father was learning French and he fell asleep with the book on his chest. In the middle of the night someone phoned and he picked up the phone and said: 'un, deux, trois...'

My mother grabbed the phone and closed it.

A few minutes later it rang again, this time she answered.

'Jeez Mrs Loon, I'm so glad it's you, just got through to a mad Frenchman!! '

He liked to tell of the time he was a houseman at Baragwanath Hospital.

One day, he was told to go to an address in Soweto where a woman was already in labour. When he arrived there, he was directed to a one room shanty where the woman was lying on the floor and the room was filled with other people. He told them to get out and then delivered a healthy boy.

Everyone was so surprised and delighted that a doctor had come and that the baby was alive that they asked him what his name was. They then said that was a perfect name for the baby as 'don' in their language meant 'gift'.

Dad was always careful and conscious of not missing an emergency, where if he didn’t act quickly, his patient might die.

One day a mother brought a child who was covered in spots on his abdomen to see him. Dad dropped everything and rushed the child to the emergency room at one of the local hospitals. He was sure this was a case of Meningococcal Septicaemia, which, if missed would result in death in hours.

How red his face was when smiles broke out on the doctors' faces in ER - a case of flea-bites. You see, he’d been trained in Johannesburg where flea-bites were as rare as seaweed!

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