James Starke, tough flank who played for Stellenbosch, Maties and the Springboks, died in frail care in Stellenbosch on Wednesday morning. He was 87. He had been in ill health for quite some time.
Starke was one of the loyalest of men – loyal as if by reflex. He was loyal to his old school Rondebosch Boys’ High, loyal to his university Stellenbosch and to the Maties, the only club he played for, and loyal to Western Province for whom he played from 1954 to 1961, when under the captaincy of Jan Pickard they twice won the Currie Cup which was then in competition only three times.
In 1956, the Springboks toured Australia and New Zealand. They had injuries and just before the first test Starke and Theuns Briers were sent out to join them. Starke played in eight matches including the fourth Test which the All Blacks won 11-5 and so won the series 3-1.
In his book on the tour, Reg Sweet wrote: “Briers, like Starke, impressed with their bearing off the field. Starke shoed his aptitude for close-quarters forward play best suited to New Zealand conditions and won a place in the final test team, then started go long voyage home by seat With Clive Ulyate…. Both Starke and Briers were good value for their places in the side.”
The No.8 in that fourth Test was Butch Lochner. He and Starke were bosom friends for years. Both of them were Maties.
Doc Craven credited Starke with pulling Matie rugby “out of the morass”. In 1949 he started at Stellenbosch, coming from Rondebosch where he played for the first teams at rugby and cricket. He turned 18 that year. He started in the Under-19 and first played for the first team ion 1951. He captained the Maties at cricket in 1951. Stellenbosch was the only club he played for till his retirement in 1965, at the age of 34. He captained the club from 1953 to 1965, a record, of course. He also captained Western Province once. In 1955 he captained the South in a South vs North match in East London.,
He also captained the Southern Universities on tours to Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe then was, and Europe, as well as against the Wallabies (won 24-5), the B&I Lions (lost 20-17 and the All Blacks (lost 14-3).
He missed a year and a half of rugby when he, a serious student, went off to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia on a Rotary bursary in 1958.
Playing days over, he became a successful business man and ran the South African Brandy foundation which represents some 95% of brandy producers.
And he stayed in rugby at Stellenbosch and Western Province where he became a selector and chairman of selectors.
While at university Starke, a popular heartthrob, met Juel (her name a mixture of Judith and Elizabeth) Basson while she was still at Rustenburg Girls’ High. She went on to become a teacher, first in Upington and then back in the Cape where they met and were married for 58 years. They had two sons, André a doctor in Canada, and Adrian who died in a motor accident.
Jacobus Joubert Starke was born in the Durbanville District on 16 May 1931. (Joubert was his mother’s maiden name.) He died of pneumonia on 25 July 2018, survived by Juel, his son André and grandchildren.
James Starke was a good man.