Rick Williams – Cape Climber Extraordinaire

Rick Williams
Photo RICK Williams Collection

by Micky Williams

A hawser-laid rope moves slowly upward, the overhang above blocking his companions’ view of the climber glued to the smooth, white sandstone face. Suddenly the movement is quicker, tugging at the belayer’s waist. Two climbers wait anxiously on the ledge below; the belayer shouts “Richard, are you up?” After a few more agonising moments comes the shout of “Off belay”. Then came the phrase that gives the new route its name: “That was touch and go, I only just made it!” Barry Fletcher, at time of writing, the sole surviving member of that first ascent, never called him Rick or Ricky. It was always Richard, or old chap – a mutual address.

Richard (Rick) Francis Williams was born on 31 May 1939 in Liverpool, England, a few months before the start of WW2. I remember having to use his original birth certificate to secure my British passport when I first travelled to the UK, and when my brother and I visited the Cavern Club in Liverpool where the Beatles first played, their replica birth certs on the wall looked exactly like Dad’s.
When the bombing of major British cities began, he was moved to Kendal in the Lake District, with his mother Beatrice (‘Mudrie’) and older brother Hugh. His father, Vincent, was in the air force and posted abroad for almost the entire duration of the war. The story goes that when he returned, Rick didn’t remember him at all and in fact resented this ‘new’ person in his life to the extent he carried Vincent’s shoes outside one day in the hope the man would follow.
The Williams family had, for a couple of generations, been in the shoe retail business. My great aunt Phyllis, the only relative I knew in England, once showed me a photograph of the family shoe shop in Croydon, London, emblazoned with ‘H.W. Williams’ along the shop front. I think that was my great grandfather, of whom the only other thing I know is that he won a cycle race in 1899. I still have the medal he won, given to me by Phyllis. In 1946, like many families keen to escape rationed post-war Britain, they emigrated to Cape Town, travelling by ship as one did then.

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