Gertrude Hope (nee Posthumus) Cooper, the second-youngest of eight children was born in King Williamstown but grew up Worcester where her father, an engineer for the South African Railways, was stationed. She attended Girls High School, Worcester where she attained her Senior Certificate in 1941 and then went to the University of Cape Town from 1942 to 1944 where she graduated with a BA degree with her main subjects being English and Nederlands and Afrikaans.
After graduating she joined the Cape Times in 1945 and as a cub reporter, one of her first coups whilst covering fringe social events was during the Royal Visit in February 1947 to interview HRH Princess Elizabeth. In 1949, at the age of 25, she was appointed to the position of Woman’s Editor, expanding its functions, and becoming an influential social arbiter, much in demand on the diplomatic social network during parliamentary sessions. Many of the diplomats became good friends as did the politicians, hoteliers, restaurateurs, businessmen and a range of other celebrities who she interviewed in her over forty years career with the newspaper.
On 22 October 1949 she married Wilfrid Edward Cooper who was then busy studying for his LLB degree at the University of South Africa (UNISA). He would later become an eminent Senior Counsel at the Cape Bar and in his latter years Judge at the Cape Supreme Court. They set up home in the late 1950s in Newlands, Cape Town and lived there for over forty years before moving to a townhouse in Constantia. Their home in Newlands was at the end of a small, unnamed lane next to that of the parents of Richard (Dick) Dudley who they got to know. In 1961 in terms of the Group Areas Act the Dudley’s were forced to move and in later years Gertrude would lock horns with the Cape Town City Council to have, after a long struggle, the lane was officially named Dudley Lane in honour of the Dudley family who were wonderful neighbours but who had to bear the brunt of unjust Apartheid legislation.
Her career was temporarily put on hold with the birth of her first daughter, Susan-Ann, in January 1954 but being a workaholic she immediately started freelancing with a column “What’s your worry” as well as doing fashion supplements. After her next two children, Megan and Gavin were born in 1956 and 1959, she returned to the Cape Times to continue her career with the newspaper until her retirement.
She went on to become Social Editor, and creator of “Gertrude Cooper’s People’s Page,” published weekly on Saturday: it was a “must” read of social events in Cape Town. She covered annual events such the Metropolitan Handicap at Kenilworth, the opening of Parliament and the Nederberg Wine Auction, diplomatic events such as national days, book launches and many other events. She supported as many charities as she could including; Hospice, The Red Cross Children’s Hospital, Community Chest, Round Table and any other which required publicity on her page to raise funds for their causes
She was a truly professional journalist, winning respect from her colleagues for the vast amount of time and energy she poured into her duties and the perfection of her work. She had a reputation for speaking her mind and did not suffer fools easily. She was remembered years after her death by Tony Weaver, then Assistant Editor of the Cape Times, when he wrote in his Man Friday column, on 13 December 2013:
I started on the Cape Times in 1981 as a raw cub reporter over at 77 Burg Street. Tony Heard was the editor. We even had a Society Editor back then, the wonderful, incredibly glamorous Gertrude Cooper. It was Gertie the subversive who rallied the secretaries, the high speed dictate typists and the men from the presses to threaten downing tools when a hostile takeover loomed. The night Madiba died, I walked into the Cape Times just before midnight and into controlled chaos. Gertie would have loved it.
She held the position of Social Editor until her retirement in 1989 with the last “Gertrude Peoples Page” appearing on the 29th of April. Retirement from the Cape Times did not mean that she stopped working; she continued freelancing for the Top of the Times as well as working part time for the public relations company, Lange PR. She continued “part time” with Lange PR until mid-1998 when it became necessary for her to be at home full time as her husband Wilfrid’s health was failing and he needed attention so ending a career of 51 years in journalism.
Gertrude was an excellent cook and very knowledgeable on food and wine matters and became well known by many local and international restaurateurs and wine makers. One of her great friends was the flamboyant English chef John Tovey. While visiting her daughter Megan in England she would visit him from time to time at his hotel, Miller Howe, in the English Lake District. They met in January 1974 and their friendship endured until her death.
Having been fit and healthy all her life, having played golf in her youth, swum every day in summer, walked on Table Mountain regularly and tirelessly worked in her garden; in June 2001 she was startlingly diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. Gertrude Hope Cooper died at home in Constantia on 17 April 2002 in bed next to Wilfrid.
At her memorial John Tovey had the following to say of her:
“Well, in her inimitable way she outlived that initial prognosis (of her cancer) by many months. This was the Gertie we knew always facing the opposition with determination and complete courage. Honesty in all things was paramount with her and this she kept up to the last moments of her life. She was one for the few people I knew and loved who stuck at all times to her ideals on life in general – idiosyncratic as they sometimes were. Right up to the end, everything, but everything had to be done her way. She had a powerful intellect which was widely acknowledged.”
Gertrude and Wilfrid had three children: two daughters, Susan-Ann and Megan, who were educated at Rustenberg Girls High School, and a son, Gavin, who attended the Diocesan College (Bishops) and Abbotts Colleg. The eldest, Susan-Ann, graduated from the University of Cape Town and completed her studies in Canada where she is a lecturer in English literature in Ottawa; Megan after schooling studied the restoration of documents and manuscripts at the Camberwell College of Art in London and works at Windsor Castle as a member of the Queen’s Household staff where her expertise is used to conserve documents for the Royal Family. Gavin, after his schooling and two years national service, went into the world of commerce, and, having accumulated over thirty years experience, has owned and operated two businesses in international freight forwarding and customs clearing.
Gertrude also had three grand children; Matthew, Petra and Edward.
Cooper, G. (2015). Email from Gavin Cooper to SAHO, dated 30-01-2015