Legendary lifeguard dies aged 75

Newton Collin Sisam died at the age of 75 at the Panorama Hospital.

A lifesaving legend from Bellville who saved more than 80 lives, and was honoured by the provincial government for his significant contribution to the development, transformation and growth of the sport, over decades of service, has died.

Newton Collin Sisam, 75, fondly known as Neddy, a founding member of Alpha Lifesaving Club, at Bluewaters Resort in Strandfontein back in 1961, died of heart failure at Panorama Hospital on Friday August 31.

He had had two amputations, his right leg from below the knee and two toes from his left foot in July.

Mr Sisam was diagnosed with diabetes in about 1998 and six years ago, his health took a further knock when he suffered kidney failure.

In an online tribute, Michael Wilcox, a mentee of Mr Sisam’s, said Mr Sisam was a true pioneer in the field of surf lifesaving.

“His loyalty to the club, as well as his commitment to safety along the False Bay coastline remained steadfast to the end,” he wrote.

Mr Sisam was a very good swimmer and a paddle-skier.

Under the oppressive apartheid regime, he was one of only two qualified, “non-white” surf lifesaving examiners in the Western Cape during the 1980s, within the South African Surf Lifesaving Union (SASLU).

Mr Sisam was known for his strict manner of examining the Bronze Award Proficiency qualification.

Mr Wilcox said they were led to believe that if they did not apply maximum effort, they would not make the grade and would fail the test with “Neddy at the helm, especially at CPR and torpedo bouy rescue”.

He wrote that as a result of the apartheid regime limiting their access to the most treacherous sections of the coastline, Mr Sisam and other like-minded individuals had recognised the need for aquatic, beach and surf safety.

“They gathered their own equipment by raising donations and support from those who could afford to share,” he wrote.

Mr Wilcox recalled going on hikes with Mr Sisam, having trekked up Table Mountain, Rendezvous Cave and being showed the old cable station at the summit of Kasteelspoort, and being introduced to the Swellendam Trail, where they spent seven days in the wilderness while enjoying the full route.

His son Francois Sisam, 42, said since his father’s diagnosis he had adhered to a strict healthy diet.

“My father was stern but he also knew when to crack a joke,” he said.

Mr Sisam senior was precise in whatever he did and would fail anyone on their lifesaving ability, especially cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), if it was not done 100 percent correctly.

“I will remember him for always teaching or coaching people stuff. If he did not know how to do something he would find out and do it,” said Mr Sisam junior.

“He would teach you and he would teach himself,” he said.

He loved reading and was very mathematically inclined.

Mr Sisam studied chemistry at UWC and while the student uprising prevented him from completing a degree, he was a proficient lab technician.

Born in his family home in Mount Street, District Six, where he was dubbed Neddy, he used to frequent Trafalgar swimming baths.

He loved the outdoors and in response to a friend’s request, they started the lifesaving club.

Mr Sisam met his wife Elizabeth on a church picnic, as they both belonged to St Mary’s Cathedral, in District Six.

In 1970 they moved to Bellville, where she still lives.

Mr Sisam junior said they had formed an informal hiking club called Da Hoek, after the road in which they use to live in.

He reminisced of his dad picking up youth as they drove from the northern suburbs to Blue Waters.

Two years ago the Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport (DCAS) acknowledged and honoured Mr Sisam as a “Legend”.

He last did duty at the lifesaving club last year, when he handed out certificates.

Mr Sisam had also received a lifetime achievement award from the club.

Dressed in club colours, members attended his funeral, which was in Bellville on Saturday September 8.

He is survived by his wife, three children, Patricia Sisam, 46, Francois Sisam, 42, Bevan Sisam, 41, and granddaughter Kayleigh Sisam, 4.