I guess there’s no such thing as karmic insurance


Two days before Christmas I lost a good mate.  He had been struck with some evil lymphoma, and in the midst of his chemo treatment he picked up an infection which carried his weakened body away within 48 hours.  It was the kind of loss that makes me want to yell:  “Why do such bad things happen to good people?”

I had known John Van Groningen for nearly 10 years.  He was the founder of and inspiration behind Red Dust Role Models, a charity that takes athletes to remote indigenous communities to model healthy lifestyles for the kids and to boost school attendance.  You would have thought him one of the closest things to living sainthood imaginable.

At one stage the Red Dust board asked me to work with JVG on his progression towards being “a real CEO”.  We did the usual coaching and feedback sessions – me trying to get an archetypically non-corporate guy into acting like a “manager and team leader”.

It seemed like the right thing to do at the time, just what the organisation needed.  We tried goal-setting, debriefing, and reflecting, but looking back I may well have been pointlessly trying to turn a spirit of nature into a cookie-cutter manager, like making gold into stainless steel.

The inevitable question for so many of us who knew him is why someone like JVG would suffer what is referred to politely as “an untimely end.”  I am pretty sure he would have said, from the standpoint of his rock-solid Christian faith: “It’s not untimely, it happens for a reason even though we may not grasp what the reason is.”  After all, his best mate Jesus also had an untimely death.

I am sure I wasn’t the only one with that question in my head at his memorial service, thronged with over 500 people, standing room only.  For me there was a constant theme coming from the telling of his story, and that was the difference he had made on the lives of so many individuals he touched.  He shot like a blazing comet across the skies of so many people’s lives and then disappeared, leaving images burnt into their retinas.

While his chaotic management style drove me nuts sometimes, he left indelible impressions on me.  He showed me:

  • The power of relentless positivity
  • The fruits of totally applied energy and enthusiasm
  • The strength of a solid guiding faith and a strong moral compass, whatever their source
  • The courage in putting good causes ahead of personal financial security, rather than following the current trend of “paying it forward”.

So maybe that’s part of the ungraspable reason – that with JVG’s passing, those of us who had been given the gift of his touch, his influence, his example had an opportunity for the gift to be crystallised and recognised within, in a way which otherwise might not have happened.

Those gifts came at a high price.  We’d better put them to good use.

David White

  1. Great thoughts on a great bloke David. I can relate to much w=of what you have reflected on. Thanks for taking the time to put this down.

    • michael sutherland
    • January 22nd, 2013

    nice words David JVG must have been a good bloke, those sort of people that only come around once in a very long while!

  2. A beautiful way to remember him.

  1. September 20th, 2013
  2. January 2nd, 2014

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