“Mark was always firm but fair and his golden heart means that he leaves a legacy of kindness, goodwill and genuine friendship to so many. He was well loved and highly regarded throughout the industry in South Africa and he will be sorely missed.”
On the 24th of December 2020, Mark had spent a lovely day swimming with his grandchildren and cooking the gammon for Christmas day before he was admitted to hospital with a very sudden and unexpected illness. Devastatingly, Mark contracted Covid-19 during his hospital rehabilitation which led to his untimely passing on the 27th of January 2021.
As a family, we still struggle with the circumstances under which the world is living and even though we were able to contact him periodically via telephone, we were not able to care for him or comfort him and our deepest sympathy goes out to the families worldwide that are separated from their loved ones during this pandemic – this world war, where our soldiers are fighting alone and never return home.
Mark was born to parents Bruno and Colleen Schroeder on the 26th of November 1955. They lived in Port Elizabeth for a year before moving to Benoni and extending their family with the addition of another three children. Mark and his siblings all share a love for gardening and this meant many hours of comparing and advising each other, in their beautiful gardens that are filled with rare and exquisite plants.
Mark started Grade 1 at the very young age of five years old. In Grade 8, he attended Settlers Agricultural High School where he boarded for three mischievous years. His favourite story to tell was how he sent his ‘pet’ snake home in his ‘trommel’ for his mom to do his washing and hoped that it would still be there when he came home for the holidays. He completed his Matric at Benoni High School and went on to serve in the South African Navy for a year. Mark started his electronic apprenticeship on Sanyo radios and then gained experience at companies such as Rank Xerox, Lucas Alternators, Philtron and Genwest.
During his employment at Uniross Batteries, Mark worked alongside Malcolm Southern, a well-regarded authority in the battery world. Mark was always keen on research and development and he gained a great amount of technical knowledge from Malcolm. Mark’s battery knowledge and business partner Sue Andrews’ knowledge of the transformer industry meant that they had a solid basis for a successful business and early in 1990, SJ Andrews Electronics was founded. At the start, their finances were limited so Mark set out to literally build a factory. Working extremely long hours every day and weekends, he built all the benches, stools, winding machines and storage racks needed for the manufacturing side of their business. Mark’s motto in his factory was “work hard until working hard feels normal.”
Mark was goal driven, thrived on challenges and to him, failure was not an option. Prior to the 1994 national elections, Mark took on an order to design and manufacture standalone trailers to be used as polling stations. These were sent out to even the most remote locations in the country to enable all citizens to vote in South Africa’s first democratic elections.
Mark was delighted and eager to participate when the students at the University of Johannesburg called upon him to help build a battery pack for an electric car they were developing. Following on from that venture, St Alban’s College also asked him to help develop a solar-powered car that would be able to drive from Johannesburg to Cape Town in an international race against university students. The boys achieved pole position and even though they did not win, they did extremely well against the tough competition.
Mark travelled extensively to source and develop products to widen the scope of their business. This mostly included travels to the Far East where he built loyal and sincere business relationships with liaison personnel and suppliers. His main interest in importing began with NiCad batteries but then moved to lithium batteries which provided a new solution to battery backup power. His business associates in China remember Mark’s legacy with the message, “Mark taught us many things without reservation. His smile was warming and his words encouraging. With his departure, we lost a best friend and partner.” Mark was generous with both his expertise and his time, always eager to share his knowledge with others.
Mark lived by the rule that family is very important and he worked hard because he was driven to provide for his family. He was the patriarchal figure amongst his immediate and extended family. Everyone looked up to Mark as an honourable and reliable father figure.
Mark had a passion for agriculture and when he wasn’t at work or gardening, he was farming. Initially it was on the plots where Mark and his wife Sandy had built homes together during their 39 years of marriage and then when they moved into the suburbs, Mark bought a farm in Dullstroom, a lovely escape for a weekend and the perfect opportunity to continue farming cattle.
Even though the farm was a shared investment, Dullstroom became the place that held Mark’s heart. Before that he had other livestock on their plots and his children remember fondly how he taught them to ride horses bareback, shoot a can using a .22 rifle, gather eggs from the chickens, make apricot jam from the apricot trees and shell walnuts. His favourite place to shop was the co-op in town. When they sold their farm and Mark started other investments, his agricultural interests never ceased. His latest commercial property development was on a plot where donkeys roamed and beehives buzzed. Mark was incredibly proud of the honey that was being produced and started every morning with a bowl of porridge and raw honey.
For Mark, December shutdown meant road trips and deep sea fishing. Mark and Sandy would meander their way down to the southern Cape through nature reserves and over passes, along a route that Mark had spent most of the year meticulously planning, every year a new route. Their holiday would start with a cup of coffee as they watched Benoni in the rearview mirror and every little town along the way meant cappuccinos and lemon meringue.
Mark filled his soul after a long and tiring year as they drove through the quiet in the Karoo and crept along to their ultimate destination, Struisbaai. There they were welcomed by Oom Andre, Sandy’s uncle and Mark’s confidant and mentor. If the weather was good, deep sea fishing was how they spent the day. Mark not only developed a deep love for the open water while in the navy, but he also had his skipper’s licence and spent many hours fishing off boats around South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana, often accompanied by his son Grant and biggest ally, Andy.
Customers, competitors and colleagues remember Mark as a friend, someone who was always willing to help and who had incredible knowledge about his products and his industry: “Mark was a dear soul, with a good heart and a true asset to SJ Andrews.” Mark was “always so helpful and knowledgeable and one of the really nice guys that we so seldom meet in the course of our daily business.” “When you look at the night sky, look for the brightest star in the sky.”
Mark lived a full life and he was taken at his peak, at a time when everything that he had worked so hard for was coming to fruition and he was so enjoying watching his grandchildren grow. He was an excellent granddad, he took interest in each of them and their curiosities, and never let a day go by without phoning to see how everyone was.
The irony of his passing is that Mark was particularly careful and took every precaution to avoid contracting Covid-19. During the lockdown in 2020, Mark took it upon himself to shop and deliver groceries, not only for himself and Sandy, but also for his children and others within his community that were at risk of going into public areas. He also bought large amounts of vegetables for shelters and his charitable nature rang true to his favourite saying, “the world is round, you get what you give.”
His true giving from the heart was his expression of love. He had accomplished so much, yet he had set his sights on so many more bucket list items. Mark was always firm but fair and his golden heart means that he leaves a legacy of kindness, goodwill and genuine friendship to so many. He was well loved and highly regarded throughout the industry in South Africa and he will be sorely missed.
Mark’s wife has lost her deepest companion, his children and their spouses have lost their mentor and best friend and his grandchildren have lost their hero. The industry has lost a guru who held an irreplaceable amount of intellect and experience acquired after years of hard knocks and dedication. Sue has lost an unfaltering business partner and their employees have lost a captain.
In Mark’s words, which were always spoken with such love and concern, we salute him and say “take it easy.”
A personal message from Andrew van Heerden
I started working for Mark a few years after Mark and Sue had started SJ Andrews Electronics. Working there was quite demanding as the company was still quite young. Mark was an extremely hard worker, he worked every Saturday, most Sundays and public holidays and even the odd Christmas in order to grow the company.
He led his staff by example and even though he was not the easiest to work for, for us it was comforting to know that you were dealing with a reasonable and fair man with integrity, wisdom and knowledge. He called a spade a spade, what was right was right and what was wrong we had to redo and make right.
The other side to Mark was understanding and compassionate. Mark made time for people. To receive a call from him out of the blue just to see how you were doing was a common occurrence. Mark took a sincere interest in people’s lives, good and bad and followed through with whatever the person was going through. He was the ‘go-to man’. Some sought his wisdom and advice and for others it was just his reassurance that helped to guide them in the right direction. He helped many people who were in dire straits, gave to the needy and was always willing to help out where needed. At work, he became known as Mr ‘No Problem’ as he could never say no to a job.
He would not buy anything he could build or make himself and would never throw anything away either. If he could make it himself for cheaper he would. I think this is what inspired him to go to China. He was one of the first South African entrepreneurs to head out in search of products from China. This was even before the time of cellphones. He was the first person I knew with a cellphone which just goes to show his foresight and initiative. Believe me, in those days the first time most people saw a cellphone they thought, “what do I need a portable phone for?”
Most people specialise in a field and know a lot about a little. Mark on the other hand was an all-rounder and knew a lot about a lot. He was always reading up and had a vast knowledge ranging in the electrical, mechanical, civil engineering and military fields. Most of his knowledge was self-taught and came from hands-on work, designing, building and completing projects. If Mark built something, he built it to last and when I say last, I mean last forever. He always over-designed.
Mark was a scholar and a gentleman, a good man and my irreplaceable best friend.