A Tribute to Nora Kreher

Dec 10, 2008

The introduction and commentary to this newsletter is for the first time not being penned by Nora. Many of you will already know that she passed away on the 30th October, after a protracted battle with cancer.

For those of us who believed she still had so much more to do, we should take comfort from the fact that she considered that she had led a very full life, that she had lived that life, that she had no real regrets or unfinished business at the end of it, and that she was at peace when her time came.

She has left a wonderful legacy, not only for conservation and the environment, but also for many of us in the way in which she tackled life and the values that that she espoused.  Although she is sorely missed, we should take strength from the example she set, remember her fondly, and carry on life, and The Bateleurs, in her spirit.

This newsletter will be longer than usual as in addition to the normal mission feed back, we wish to recognise and remember Nora through the following obituaries and take on the continuing challenges as so beautifully presented by Michael McBride further down.


Obituary:  NORA  KREHER  by the Board of Directors of The Bateleurs

The Board of Directors of The Bateleurs wishes to convey its sympathy to Corinna and Sven  Kreher on the death of their mother, Nora. The world of conservation and human society in general has lost a remarkable woman, but Nora’s spirit will continue to inspire us and we intend to honour her memory by ensuring that The Bateleurs thrives and has a positive impact on the environment and conservation, in South Africa and beyond.

The Bateleurs have just had another successful year. The increase in the scope and volume of our work is a source of pride to us, as directors and hopefully to you as members and  readers. The Bateleurs operate as a service organisation, which by design, fills a low profile role, our contribution  often easily  overlooked and only our list of clients, which reads like a ‘who’s who’ of influential environmental bodies, reflects the full scope of our work.

In our low key way our contributions have been felt throughout the southern African region and indeed, in some instances, beyond. The reputation and profile of the Bateleurs has grown steadily since its inception ten years ago and Nora was synonymous with The Bateleurs. Nora was always quick to recognise the role of the directors’, staff and pilots in the success of The Bateleurs, but we have till now, been the supporting act to the main show – Nora.

Nora founded The Bateleurs in 1998, recruited the pilots, sourced the missions, gathered her team about her and personally arranged every mission we flew. In the year of our tenth anniversary we are proud to claim membership of 71 fixed wing pilots, 53 microlight pilots and seven members who are not pilots (or are not active pilots), together with a total count of 273 missions accomplished, for an impressive list of just over 100 beneficiary individuals or organisations.  

In almost every way that mattered Nora was The Bateleurs.  She was a remarkable woman, as attested to below in a “reprint” of the obituary that James Clarke wrote for the Sunday Independent. It was impossible to meet Nora without being touched by her, and working with her inspired all of us.

Nora’s passing away last month leaves our hearts empty and our in trays full. Nora, you are one hell of an act to follow, we mourn you and miss you. Perhaps more importantly, you touched and inspired us all, we respect your legacy and each one of us, as the directors of your organisation, will ensure your vision continues to thrive. Hamba Kahle, dear friend.

Obituary:  NORA  KREHER   by James Clarke

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The conservation movement in South Africa has lost one of its most successful and energetic activists with the death of Nora Kreher of Westcliff, Johannesburg.

Kreher – sometimes known as the “Red Baroness” – was the founder of The Bateleurs, a voluntary environmental air force which has achieved a great deal throughout southern Africa since it was formed ten years ago.

Kreher got the idea of forming a voluntary air wing for conservation during the campaign to stop the mining of the dunes of Lake St Lucia.  The area is now a World Heritage Site.  She was in the forefront of the battle to save St Lucia and helped organise the biggest petition in South Africa’s history.

Earlier in the 1990s Dr Ian Player of KwaZulu-Natal had organised volunteer private pilots to fly politicians and officials over the St Lucia dunes and over the nearby Richards Bay mining concession.  They were able to see how mining was already having unacceptable impacts at Richards Bay.  This led Kreher to visualise a national and cross border non-profit, non-political society of volunteer flyers.  She knew that conservation groups and even government agencies were chronically unable to afford aerial reconnaissance and surveillance.

Ian Player, a close friend, described Nora Kreher as a “very brave and noble lady (who was) critically helpful to the Wilderness Leadership School” which gives young people the chance to appreciate the African wilderness.  Kreher’s life as an environmental activist began after she experienced a wilderness trail with Player in Zululand.

The Bateleurs now has approximately 120 pilots and since 1998 has flown hundreds of vital missions throughout southern Africa, using fixed-wing aircraft and Microlights.  They have performed aerial surveys of a wide range of land abuse and illegal land use cases as well as helping with wildlife population counts and missions to relocate various animals and birds for conservation purposes.

Kreher was recently quoted as saying, “We may have some of the most sophisticated environmental laws in the world, but people and corporations are still getting away with murder because of both enforcement apathy and simple ignorance.  By taking to the sky to survey an issue we are able to help organisations monitor urgent situations and gather photographic evidence needed for public education and legal action.”

Paul Dutton, one of the original members of The Bateleurs, said, “It has been a great honour to fly in her squadron.  I feel very humbled by a call from her (just before she died) – the warmth and good cheer so typical of her friendship still evident even when she knew the end was so near.  The Red Baroness has flown her final mission.  Oh how we all will miss her.”

When in 1977, Ian Player organised the world’s first “World Wilderness Congress” in Johannesburg, now held every four years in different cities around the world, Kreher helped fund it by organising a concurrent international wildlife art exhibition.  This exhibition remains the biggest seen in South Africa.

Kreher was a founder of the National Parks Support Group and a trustee of the Wilderness Leadership School.  She was born in Johannesburg and went to Parktown Girls High.  In 1957 she married Roland Kreher (one of the founders of Cargo Motors) and the pair celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in June 2007, shortly before Roland died on 28th October 2007.

The couple were intrepid travellers and together they explored both polar regions and Alaska, as well as some remote parts of Russia (where Nora’s parents were born), the Middle East, India and China.  As a result they had a worldwide circle of friends – many of them renowned conservationists – who were frequent guests at their home on the Westcliff Ridge.

Nora died almost a year to the day after Roland.  She leaves a son, Sven, and a daughter, Corinna, both of Johannesburg.

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POEM  ABOUT  NORA  –  for all of us, by Michael McBride

Before she departed this world for the next,
She smiled that beautiful smile and passed to each of us a baton.

It is as light as a feather and as solid as a stone.
It is a message of love and laughter, responsibility and commitment.

As we happily accept what she has passed to us
in both outstretched hands,
We accept the gift with feet confidently on the ground,
Just she accepted her own path with grace and intelligence.

She did not falter in the face of adversity,
She gave us precious insights to and knowledge of the balance we require.
As she worked for the common good, so shall we.

I pray for strength for each of us, that we can we do the same.

I pray to the omnipotent force that created the mystery surrounding us,
That she will not have lived in vain but rather that she lives within each of us.
The good work to which she put her hand, calls to our hearts, sings in our minds,
and we are inspired.

Let us be as one, let us find solace in the wild places.

A lone Bateleur soars in the evening sky on the last of the day’s updrafts.

Thank you Nora, we loved you well.

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