Servant of God: Daniel George Hyams
Danny was not a prolific writer and hence left very little original material from his pen. Being a chartered accountant by profession, one who would always remain in the background, a reserved, deeply religious and chivalrous human being whose concern was always for the ‘other’, his documentation was mostly limited to his professional work and the secretarial and legal documentation associated with LITTLE EDEN Society which he co-founded with his wife Maria ‘Domitilla’ Hyams née Rota. His few writings which exist nevertheless give concrete credence to a description of him being ‘a man of high moral values with integrity, few words, a wonderful sense of humour…humble, wise and a leader with strength and determination in his quietness..’ . To add context to this assertion, when Danny was requested by the Rt. Rev. Bishop Michael Vincent Paschal Rowland OFM in 2002 to provide his curriculum vitae (this being presumed for his subsequent Benemerenti Papal Award in 2003), he replied with one word: ‘Domitilla’. The Bishop however, equally quick off the mark, immediately retorted: ‘Too short’!
The saying that ‘behind every successful man is a woman’ can in the case of Danny and Domitilla, and without ANY doubt be readily reversed. Danny was the silent partner but that extremely important and consistent support that enabled Domitilla to realise her vision, from accepting her first inner voice calling to return to South Africa; to the first R10 donation which he contributed for the start of LITTLE EDEN; to the initial exploratory meetings; to establishing and setting up the NGO legal framework; to the initial approaching and inviting parents of the first day-care children; to the recruiting of personnel and finding suitable accommodation; to the development of LITTLE EDEN facilities and structures over the years; to the innumerable ‘Thank You’ letters to donors, helpers, volunteers and well-wishes; to guiding and advising the Society to his very end. ‘Daniele’, as Domitilla always called him, was that solid foundation, that pillar of support which Domitilla sought and always turned to both in good times and in times of trial and tribulations for his sage and prudent advice.
Without the lifetime backing, advice, encouragement and hands-on involvement which Danny afforded to Domitilla, it is extremely doubtful that LITTLE EDEN would exist today. In hindsight Danny was, without doubt, THE most critical pair of hands, always available and ready to assist when Domitilla repeatedly stated: “…we are the hands of Jesus…” In Domitilla’s own words:
“… certainly without the assistance of my husband and my children I could achieve nothing…”
Note: With reference to quotes, text in [ ] brackets has been included for the reader’s clarity.
LINEAGE & ADOLESCENCE
Daniel ‘Danny’ George Hyams was born on 1 June 1921 at 24 Doran Street, Jeppestown, Johannesburg, to Louis George Hyams (b. 30 July 1882; d. ?) and Agnes Mary Joseph Le Breton (b. 15 July 1899; d. 29 August 1973). He was baptised on 10 December 1922 in St Anne’s Catholic Church, Belgravia by Fr Francis Burns with sponsors being Louis Leon Le Breton (grandfather) and Lucy Duffield née Le Breton (sister to Danny’s mother).
Agnes Mary Joseph Le Breton (b. 15 July 1899; d. 29 August 1973) – Danny’s mother, was baptised on 23 July 1899 at St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Mayfair, Johannesburg by Fr J Dupays OMI. The lineage of Agnes Mary Joseph Le Breton is traceable back to the 1820 Settlers. Danny’s father, Louis George Hyams was born at 21 Duke Street in the sub-district of Spitalfields, Middlesex County, United Kingdom, the son of a Jewish tailor, Soloman Hyams and Hannah Hyams (née Cohen). Louis George Hyams then married a Catholic, Agnes Mary Joseph Le Breton, a marriage that resulted in 3 siblings, Louis Goodman Hyams (b. 13 October 1918; d. 20 December 1987), Daniel George Hyams (b. 01 June 1921; d. 28 December 2012) and Dina Hyams (b. 20 July 1929; d. 19 March 1974). Although Danny’s father was Jewish, according to verbal testimony from Danny, his father was resolute in ensuring that his children always attended Holy Mass on Sundays. The marriage of a younger woman, Agnes Mary Joseph Le Breton, to an older man, Louis George Hyams (17 years difference), was not successful and after the two sons, Louis and Danny, the couple divorced. Some years later they then tried to reconcile and remarried which resulted in the third child, Dina Hyams. However this reconciliation was also unsuccessful and they then went through a second divorce. Agnes Mary Joseph Le Breton then married Duket William Treurnich (b. 6 July 1892; d. 19 November 1956) on 5 May 1936 although by Danny’s frequent account to his family, his mother remained on very good terms with her former husband, often sharing social card-playing occasions and never having witnessed any acrimony. In the final days of Louis George Hyams (who did not marry again), Agnes Mary Joseph Le Breton was the one who nursed him to the end. In a documented dialogue with Danny’s youngest daughter in 2012, she wrote:
“…Danny said that …he could not understand why his parents broke up, separated and then remarried, then divorced…He does remember that his Mum tried to keep the friendship with his Dad and step- father, ‘Uncle Bill’ (that’s what they called their Mum’s second husband) going for the children’s sake…”
The dialogue continues:
Uncle Sep then turned to building, subsequently building the church in Potgietersrust; the Sisters of Charity Convent in Pietersburg [today Polokwane]; and the Brothers of Charity College in Pietersburg (College of the Little Flower).
… Dad said that his great devotion to St Thérèse began with the Brothers of Charity College of the Little Flower. Every morning and every night the boarding boys had to kneel next to their beds and pray to St Thérèse for Holy Purity. Dad, since then, has always had a great devotion to this Little Flower, St Thérèse.”
This school, run by the Flemish Brothers of Charity, (together with the early formative years in the Dominican convents) provided Danny and Louis with a solid grounding in spiritual development, academics and sporting prowess to the extent that Danny matriculated in December 1937 at the age of 16 years and with a lifetime dedication and commitment to his Catholic faith. The documented dialogue continues further:
“A friend, Thomas Edmund Kinna tried to get him into a mining company to work but as he did not get an A for science (he got a B and he got an A for Mathematics) the company did not accept Danny. Mr Kinna then phoned Danny’s Mum, Agnes Treurnich, and told her he had arranged an interview for him with Hugh Hart who was a partner of Wakeley-Smith & Hart, an auditing firm. Danny attended the interview and was hired on the spot and started work the next day, in March 1938. Danny said this was a clear indication of the intervention of Our Lord as, should he have taken a job in the mining house, he would have led another life!
In March 1938 Danny started studying for his Degree towards becoming a Chartered Accountant at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits)…So he would study in the morning before work, go to work at Magor House in Fox Street, Johannesburg during the day, and study again in the evening after work.
He joined the Catholic Men’s Society (C.M.S.) of the Braamfontein Parish (where he was a parishioner in 1938) and at the age of 17 years became Treasurer. He was so taken aback, just out of school, to be sitting round a table with these older, important men, Mr Kinna, a lawyer, Justice……a manager of Standard Bank …discussing accounts and various topics and they were asking him, Danny, about the financial aspects of the C.M.S. and asking his opinion on issues!…”
In the interim with Danny having taken his first steps out into the adult world the dark clouds of the imminent WWII were rising ominously and rapidly on the horizon. To quote from Danny’s essay, ‘A pair of pyjamas’:
“War clouds were gathering in the late 1930s but South African youths and, perhaps, many adults too, were not particularly aware of world events and did not feel threatened…
…This brings me to Monday night, 4 September 1939, when, at our weekly Active Citizen Force (ACF) parade, we were ordered to hand in our bayonets and rifle bolts to ensure we did not participate in the anti-German demonstrations which were causing chaos in Johannesburg. That evening, a momentous debate was going on in the South African parliament where General Smuts finally achieved the vote to side with Britain…”
With a fervour of patriotic zeal, elder brother, Louis, boyhood hero of Danny, was soon amongst the young men streaming to join the recruiting queues. Danny was just as keen to join but having just turned 18 it required some persistent persuasion before his father consented to him taking the oath to volunteer for service “anywhere in Africa” with the Rand Light Infantry (RLI). Danny continues:
“After a seemingly endless nine months, mobilisation orders arrived on 8 June 1940, a week after my nineteenth birthday. A whole year had to pass before the 2nd Division sailed out of Durban harbour…On 21 June 1941 the 2nd Division disembarked at Port Tewfick [Tewfik or Taufiq], Suez… On 31 December 1941 the RLI took part in the Brigade’s siege of Bardia. When our “A” company commander was issuing battle instructions to the three platoon commanders and allocating positions, we section NCOs were also present. My section was part of No. 5 platoon. During the planning the No. 5 and No. 4 officers swapped their originally designated platoon positions. The result next day: No. 4 platoon suffered 100% casualties; No. 5 platoon: 1 wounded.”
This was the first of what Danny was later to describe as:
“…a thin thread of minor, seemingly inconsequential decisions/occurrences being woven into the rough fabric of my life during 1939/1945. They went unnoticed at the time but, on reflection, they make one wonder: was it Divine Intervention?…”
This ‘thin thread’ of Divine Intervention continues to be evident in Danny’s story:
…With the subsequent Badoglio Armistice on 19 September 1943… during the chaos, we …made for the hills. We holed up at the shooting range at Ponte San Pietro, some 10km outside of Bergamo…Who could have foreseen that “week or two” dragging on for 20 long months till the Armistice of May 1945?……And this is how we stumbled into Albenza, the mountain village overlooking Bergamo in the distance and the Lombardy plains beyond. It was already nightfall. The good people welcomed us with a steaming pot of minestra [soup] and polenta [yellow mielie meal porridge]…”
Even though Danny and his friend Owen Fox at that stage lived a life of hide-and-seek, sleeping in various different places in order to avoid detection by the fascist authorities, Danny regularly attended Holy Mass at Albenza’s San Rocco church. Returning to his account:
“…During the Stations of the Cross, Passion Week 1944, at the third Station, I heard the priest whisper, as he stood just behind me, ‘Please don’t come to Mass or services anymore. You are endangering the church and the people.’ There was a single known Fascist in the congregation and he must have threatened the good Don Gasparini…”
Danny then recounts how he came to know the matriarch Elvira Rota and his future wife Maria ‘Domitilla’ Rota . Of interest here and with reference to Danny’s ‘…thread of minor, seemingly inconsequential …occurrences…’ the following is but one of these incidents as related in Danny’s ‘A pair of pyjamas’:
“…On one occasion, while playing bridge out in the fields with our South African friends, the alarm was sounded and we dutifully dispersed, one chap going back to his hide-out to cover his possessions. I was behind a low bush when six men, including our friend, with some Italian lads and two in raincoats with rifles, hurried by. This did not surprise me as the young men often took their weapons with them when hiding. I stood up and tried to call as I wanted to join them. But I had no voice! The two armed men were carabinieri marching the other four to prison…”
Following Armistice and Danny’s proposal of marriage to Domitilla, he subsequently returned to South Africa where he completed his studies before returning to Albenza to marry Domitilla. In this context it is worthwhile to recollect his entry:
“…Now, with hindsight, I realise that I was predestined to be her companion, her protector enabling her to express this missionary vision as recorded in her diary on 25 February 1971: ‘Little Eden is growing and is blessed as desired by the most beautiful Madonna who appeared to me in June 1967, filling my heart with joy and hope, but also with cares and anxieties. I have dedicated myself to my Jesus and to His most holy Mother’…”
It has been the universal observation of all who knew the couple that Danny fulfilled exactly that role i.e. of a protector, an enabler, one who acted in the background, one who gave encouragement and support and who proved to be THE central and necessary complementary figure in the work which Domitilla initiated. Domitilla had the incessant drive, ethereal vision and missionary spirit for the betterment of humanity not constrained by materialistic or earthly considerations. Danny on the other hand complemented this free spirit with a solid grounding in the tedium of daily realities, a cautious, conservative approach and a true gentleman in every respect, acknowledging and giving due consideration in all situations. He was the one that worried about the mundane but real difficulties facing the nascent LITTLE EDEN Society – navigating the socio-political complexities and economic realities of the day. But at the very apex of all these, he was that necessary loyal and faithful companion, a great supporter and guardian of his beloved Domitilla – one who understood her motivation and encouraged her from the very beginning to continue to fulfil her mission on earth.
MARRIAGE AND FAMILY LIFE
Taken from Maria ‘Domitilla’ Hyams née Rota’s “Marriage” section:
Domitilla was baptised in the parish church of San Rocco, Albenza. Her family, like most other village families, had close ties to the parish church with members consecrated to the religious life. As a young girl, Domitilla had dreams and aspirations of becoming a missionary in Africa. She related to authors Laura di Teodoro and Giuseppe Zois:
“…I liked to pass my free time in contact with nature, gathering chestnuts and cherries, or looking after the cows in the green fields in the fresh air, or on my bicycle riding to my music lessons in Bergamo. Always singing and praying, dreaming of one day becoming a missionary in Africa.”
San Rocco was also the church where on 8 September 1947, Domitilla and her future husband Danny were married by the parish priest Don Francesco Gasparini in the presence of her cousin, Don Enrico Rota. The marriage was then recorded in the State Civil Register on 20 September 1947.
The first encounter of Domitilla and her future husband Danny during the latter stages of WWII is best described in Danny’s own words:
“…We first heard of the Elvira Rota family when a daughter, Ester, organised a safe trip for POWs to Domodossola on the Swiss border…. We had kept remarkably well during that first winter , notwithstanding our not having three meals a day, nor a hot shower every night! Later on a nasty boil developed below my chin and Palmina insisted I get help from la signora Elvira of Cà di Precc….
…In answer to the knock on the door, we were greeted by a smiling young lady, a daughter, Domitilla. She was not put off by the one fellow’s face which was wrapped in a piece of black cloth. The Rota family were no strangers to vagrant, mendicant prisoners, as for the previous 10 months, Domitilla had been taking a pot of minestra [a nutritious vegetable soup] daily to the group of Serbs hiding in the forest. This she did, notwithstanding that anyone found harbouring a prisoner could be summarily executed…Signora Elvira offered us shelter in an almost derelict building that had stood empty for many years. This brought us nearer to the other three South Africans and also we now visited the Rota girls more frequently, so much so that we were soon accepted as part of the family and the Signora changed to Mamma.
By the end of March (1945) the battle lines were still south of the river Po when Domitilla casually asked our advice about a proposal of marriage she had received from Mirko, one of the Serbs. Here was a 26-year old country girl asking two younger strangers for an opinion on such a delicate matter. In the absence of a male in the family, did she approach us as father, brother, friend, or counsellor, or, Heaven forbid! competing suitor? Counselling had not been part of our military training and we suggested she seek advice from Mamma, or Ester, or Pia, or from all three. Going “home” that night we were not particularly talkative, when suddenly Owen said, “I want to marry Domitilla” and I immediately replied, “I think I do too.” A lightning-flash awakening like St Paul’s Damascene experience. Were we crazy? What on earth did we find attractive in this unassuming young lady, with her simple innocence and fearless loyalty to her daily Mass? Perhaps, like me, Owen suddenly realised here was a pearl of great worth.
The very next day we gave Domitilla a hundred reasons why she should not accept Mirko’s proposal…
Owen had made that first shattering remark that night, as we were “homeward” bound, but now he was too shy to proceed. I then took Domitilla aside and blurted out: “Owen wants to marry you.” She freaked out, not expecting such a bombshell. After about ten minutes of protestations of her unworthiness and a hundred other excuses, I said “And so do I.” Poor Domitilla was speechless and rushed off to her bedroom where she remained distraught for a week. When Ester finally brought her sister’s answer, I realised I was now engaged. How bizarre! How unromantic! No overwhelming surge of affection or of passion – only admiration, almost a sense of duty to cherish this very precious person, who as a young girl expressed the wish to be a missionary in Africa..”
With the cessation of hostilities in Northern Italy in early May 1945, Domitilla and Danny visited the shrine of our Blessed Lady of Cornabusa where Domitilla gave Danny a souvenir ring of the Madonna as a pledge of their betrothal. On 20 May 1945, Danny recalled that he received his first peck on the cheek as he bade farewell to Domitilla, the Rota family and the many wonderful village folk who had assisted the POWs. His departing words to ‘mamma’ Elvira were:
“God willing, I will be back in two years to claim Domitilla!”
“To get married we had to wait two years. The time it took to complete the studies he had interrupted five years earlier because of the war. Few would have wagered that our story would continue. For my family for my friends it was difficult to think that a man would have waited two years for his bride distant 10 thousand kilometres but Daniele kept his promise and in 1947 our dream became true.”
With reference to the wedding day, Domitilla penned the following:
“Nuptial dawn Eight September 1947 Nuptial dawn! A radiant September morning! A dawn of light, poetry and enchantment. How filled I was with the joy of life! Unforgettable day of consecration of human love raised to the dignity of a sacrament. Shortly, after this unforgettable dawn, I will be the spouse of my beloved young man for all my life. From the decisive moment when the minister of God joins us in Holy matrimony the spirits, the thoughts, desires, anxieties and the pains of the one will also be those of the other. What moments of trepidation!…
…We both prepared for this holy day with a spiritual intensity of little sacrifices. Daniele thanked me the day before for my behaviour towards him and I thanked him for his loyalty and purity, how wonderful and great!…
…I also prepared myself with a course of holy spiritual exercises for engaged girls at the Villa Santa Maria from 28 August to first September 1947.We also both made a novena of Holy Masses and Holy Communions…
…Radiant spouses! For the first time we knelt together to receive the Bread of strength; the Life that gives life, Jesus in the Holy Eucharist! We left the temple of God with holy thoughts and radiant hearts that this halo of happiness would last a lifetime!…”
CAREER IN SOUTH AFRICA
Upon his return after the war and having qualified as a chartered accountant Danny joined General Mining on 1 June 1948 and rapidly progressed in his professional career to the point where he was in line for the position of Company Secretary. As a consequence of the politics of the day regarding the rising nationalism which also became evident in the company, Danny found himself reporting to a junior. Danny as a principled and righteous person was one who would always stand up for justice, equality and fairness. He therefore regarded this development as politically motivated, unjust and plainly wrong. Thus he resigned from the company at end August 1966 after 18 years dedicated and loyal service. This sense of justice and fair treatment of human beings was one which imbued his inner being to his dying day.
After a part-time involvement with Raptim Humanitarian Travel, he joined a pharmaceuticals company and rose to the position of financial manager. A directorship was then offered but on condition that he became a Scientologist. That evening when he returned home, he announced to Domitilla that he was without a job. To Danny, there was nothing more important than the salvation of his soul and without hesitation or discussion with his superiors the offer was treated with due disdain and he resigned there and then.
This strong conviction of faith was, as noted earlier, deeply rooted in his early school years at the two convents, then the College of the Little Flower and subsequently amplified by his relationship with his mother’s sister, Lucy Duffield (née Le Breton), Elvira Rota and his wife, Domitilla – all deeply religious women.
After his departure Danny then joined the Swiss based Roche Pharmaceutical company operating as Roche Products out of Isando, Johannesburg. Starting as accountant, here he found an ethical employment regime in line with his value system and gladly remained there for the next 20 years and from where he retired as Finance Director at the end of 1986. His stay at Roche however was not continuous and unbroken – this being by his considered decision as outlined below:
In 1975 LITTLE EDEN was undergoing a period of severe testing and stress. LITTLE EDEN had been served legal notices by neighbours to vacate its then Edenvale residential homes; the construction of the current day LITTLE EDEN Home was underway but seriously short of funds and running late; the LITTLE EDEN executive committee was debating whether or not to close down LITTLE EDEN; relocation of LITTLE EDEN residents from one or other temporary home to another was an on-going exercise. These were but some of the challenges which kept Danny, as Chairman of LITTLE EDEN Society Executive Committee and as the pragmatist player in the Hyams home, awake at night. In addition to this, in the latter half of 1974, the executive committee had commissioned a report to look into the long term viability of LITTLE EDEN and this report proved very pessimistic about the future prospects. To resolve this predicament, Danny took the decision to resign his employment position as Financial Manager of Roche Pharmaceuticals (to the detriment of his later personal financial position as his pension was negatively impacted) to assist the Society through this challenging period. Nine months later, when LITTLE EDEN’s situation had stabilised, Danny re-joined Roche Products.
This selfless, magnanimous act of resigning a good comfortable position may be viewed by some as irresponsible and ill-considered. Not so to Danny and Domitilla. Whilst their personal home situation had eased as all their children were adults by that stage, it was of paramount importance to Danny to ensure that Domitilla’s vision of helping those in need should not wither and die. They, as a couple, were quite willing to sacrifice (and did sacrifice) a life of comfort and ease in order to alleviate the suffering of one’s neighbour. During all their lives they lived in a modest home within walking distance of St Thérèse Catholic Church and the Holy Rosary Convent School which all their children attended.
Another incident serves to illustrate this spirit and readiness of self-sacrifice in the service of others. Towards the end of 2000 LITTLE EDEN was again faced with a serious financial predicament and approached the local banks for an overdraft facility in order to meet the operating costs and specifically for the monthly salaries of the employees. With no reserves or collateral for such a request, this was refused. In order not to jeopardise the sustainability of LITTLE EDEN – which by that stage was the permanent home to approximately 300 residents, Danny, and with Domitilla’s support, decided to hand over the title deeds of their only significant asset, their home, to the bank as security. Through many prayers however, Divine Providence once again was apparent when an overseas supporter, hearing what transpired, paid the bank the full loan amount.
During the early years of Domitilla’s and his efforts in establishing and nurturing LITTLE EDEN Society, Danny had joined the South African National Council for Mental Health in order to advance the interests of LITTLE EDEN Society. In an article dated 29 October 1980, The Star newspaper reported that Danny Hyams was unanimously voted as President of the South African National Council for Mental Health after serving 11 years as Treasurer. He was the first non-medical appointee appointed to that position. Always unassuming and ready to credit others, he noted that his association with LITTLE EDEN and the National Council was: ‘because I’m the husband of Domitilla’ and regarded his election as: ‘primarily a feather in LITTLE EDEN’s cap’.
As a sequel, Danny’s brother, Louis Goodman Hyams felt this development warranted an article with a photo in the Catholic weekly, the Southern Cross – which duly appeared. The then Prefect Apostolic of Rustenburg, the Right Reverend Paxton J Hallett C.Ss.R. (the same Pax Hallett whom Danny had met in 1942 at Sunday Masses in the Lucca POW camp in Italy) recognised Danny’s photo and contacted him. Bishop Hallett, as a member of the Finance Commission of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) then had him join the accounts department of Khanya House upon his retirement. There Danny served for 16 years until his ‘second’ retirement in 2002 at age 81 years.
In appreciation and recognition of his loyal service to the SACBC, on 8 May 2003, Danny was acknowledged with the Papal Benemerenti award at a concelebrated Holy Mass with His Eminence Wilfrid Cardinal Napier O. F. M. In protesting to the Cardinal that he (Danny) was undeserving of the award as: ‘…we were paid for what we did as employees of the Conference…the Cardinal replied: ‘…not for what you did but how you did it…’. These words closely reflect those of Saint Teresa of Calcutta when she noted: ‘It is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the doing; it is not how much we give, but how much love we put in the giving.’
INITIATION AND ESTABLISHMENT OF LITTLE EDEN SOCIETY
The story of Danny and Domitilla’s life’s work, the founding and establishment of LITTLE EDEN Society, was documented and published for the Society’s 50th anniversary in 2017 . What follows below are excerpts relating to initiation and development of LITTLE EDEN as they specifically relate to Daniel George Hyams.
Danny was, as indicated earlier, the background operator who ensured with great attention to detail that all processes were correctly followed from a linguistic, legalistic and financial compliance aspect. He was the one in the very early days of LITTLE EDEN who took it upon himself to administer the affairs of the Society (mostly from his desk at home), whether this was writing the first minutes of the initial exploratory meeting with like-minded persons for rendering ‘Assistance for handicapped children’; seeking moral support and volunteers to form the initial committees; chairing the steering committee and subsequent executive committees; drafting LITTLE EDEN’s constitution; registering the Society with an official welfare number thereby allowing public collection of funds; organising the street collections and volunteers; organising fund-raising events; organising suitable locations and outings for the LITTLE EDEN residents; organising suitable accommodation in the early days and as LITTLE EDEN grew; finding suitable permanent locations and physically moving residents and belongings in the course of its history; opening the first bank accounts; keeping the first set of books and ensuring financial audits from the very first year; acting as the ‘public face’ of the nascent Society at public meetings; presentations, writing letters to the various clerical and civil authorities, newspapers etc; dealing with municipal and provincial authorities; accompanying Domitilla on various visits e.g. clerical, parents, authorities, similar homes etc; assisting Domitilla with the mundane day-to-day activities of the Society e.g. providing transport for the residents; helping to move residents; helping with the daily/weekly washing of residents’ clothing, nappies etc. etc.
With LITTLE EDEN having been established and located in diverse residential homes, in April 1973 a couple came up from Durban to see LITTLE EDEN, but unbeknown to the Admission Committee brought their baby (with Down’s Syndrome) with them. As the Committee was only due to meet the following week, Domitilla and Danny had no hesitation and took young Matthew into their home where he was cared for until they both passed away. The love and care which was bestowed on Matthew by both Danny and Domitilla was beyond words. Danny would regularly and patiently sit with Matthew under a porch outside their back door and teach him rudimentary basics – whether this was one or two words in Italian or French, telling the time, holding a crayon for colouring in a child’s colour book etc. It was through witnessing the prayerful observances of Danny and Domitilla that Matthew had the yearning to be an altar server – and so became the first Downs Syndrome altar server at St Thérèse parish serving there regularly at Holy Mass as well as being the senior altar server at both LITTLE EDEN chapels . This singular act of pure human love for one’s neighbour was what saved the marriage of that couple – as much later testified to LITTLE EDEN by Matthew’s mother.
The 1970s was a decade in which Danny served LITTLE EDEN in various capacities such as the first Chairman of the (then) Executive Committee (today the Board of Governors); the first Executive Director (today the post of CEO) and first Honorary Director to his last days. In this period he initiated many far-reaching initiatives including the establishment of the current permanent home of LITTLE EDEN, the therapeutic centre, pension benefits for staff members, the purchase of a property in Bapsfontein which was later developed into the Elvira Rota Village, to name a few. Although in November 1984, a daughter, was nominated as Chairperson of the Society, Danny continued to be involved in his honorary capacity by largely carrying the administrative load on a pro-bono basis – all this in his spare time on week-ends and in the evenings.
In the course of his life Danny was deeply committed to his community and the welfare of its constituents. In this regard he was a long standing member of the Edenvale Community Chest organising various fund-raising events for the support of local charities. His positive contributions and charitable works influenced many persons Catholic and non-Catholic alike:
“…Although I am non-Catholic, I have found that throughout my life, God has directed and guided me to become a part of this Catholic life. It is people like Domitilla and Daniel who have supported me on this path. They have practised Catholicism and used its principles in their daily lives to help and uplift others. Domitilla and Daniel are true testaments to God’s Will, God’s Work and God’s Word…”
Since a Catholic education was an absolute prerequisite for all his children, all the children attended the nearby Holy Rosary School, founded by the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary in 1940. When the Holy Rosary School Trust was established in 1995, Danny was asked if he was willing to serve as a member of the Board of Trustees. His affirmative response was immediate, indicating that he regarded it as an honour to do so. He served in that capacity for 11 years up to 2006 at the age of 85 years. Danny was also extensively involved in the various St Thérèse parish activities. Amongst these as a collection-money counter and with preparing the parish accounting books. He was a member of the parish council for many years. He was also appointed as one of the very first Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion and the first non-clergy reader in the parish.
His sense of social justice was not just limited to his ‘public’ face but was pervasive in all aspects. At home and during the apartheid era, their home was open to and welcomed Black colleagues; through his and Domitilla’s involvement with the late Fr Paul Winters OMI, their first kombi vehicle was donated to St Gemma’s Mission School. Their daughters’ First Holy Communion dresses were lent to the same school for their annual First Holy Communions. In their modest home, even though the garden was small, there was not much free time to attend to it and not being a man of practical hands Danny employed a gardener. As the gardener was getting on in age and had no fixed accommodation, Danny had very suitable living quarters renovated and from where he lived out his life being fed and clothed. Similar concern was evident towards the housekeeper for many years, for whom Danny set up a financial portfolio to cater for her retirement and for whom the family funded the education of her six children and provided transport and schooling needs.
In his later years, with more personal free time and recognising the heavy burden on the shoulders of his daughter, in managing the affairs of LITTLE EDEN, he would write some words of encouragement:
“The chapel [Elvira Rota Village ‘Holy Family Chapel’] ‘start’ merits congratulations to you and all those who are involved. Thanks be to God. It is an awesome gift…We love you… and may the Holy family guide and protect you.”
and again in giving encouragement with a sprig of paternal advice :
“Sia laudate Gesu Cristo! … You have started 2010 with a bang for LITTLE EDEN. The achievements in this first quarter are truly amazing. The new chapel [Elvira Rota Village ‘Holy Family Chapel’], the Blessed Sacrament in the cottage, an archbishop and nuns in residence. All with you at the helm! May the Holy family reward you richly in spirit. These, and all other successes come at a mental and physical price, namely added responsibilities both ethical and legal, plus tension and physical strain on your health, which you must be experiencing…Please be aware of the risks, the responsibilities imposed on you and on LITTLE EDEN. So you have the first responsibility: to look after yourself! Don’t overdo it! We support you in our prayers, with much love and Admiration.”
In one of his last letters, again to his daughter, he wrote:
“Thank you for the Holy masses Bishop Edward will celebrate for my intentions and for the repose of our dear Domitilla’s soul – may she rest in peace. Only since her passing and having read all the wonderful and sincere comments in the many messages of admiration and affection Domitilla evoked in all the notes of condolences received from parishioners and friends, many of whom only knew her casually as the little smiling Italian lady at Mass, only now, I realise that unbeknown to Owen and me, we too, were captivated by Domitilla’s gentle simplicity, honesty, her profound faith in Jesus and Our Blessed Lady that we (Owen and I) never dared to express either to each other or to her…until she opened our eyes by asking us! what we! thought of that other fellow’s proposal to marry her!! all Divine Providence…So please Lucy, stop singing my praises…just keep me in your prayers! Owen and I were the agents chosen by God…to bring our beloved Doma to South Africa and set the stage for her ‘LITTLE EDEN’. May God bless you and all involved in the work for the angels at LITTLE EDEN.”
DEMISE OF DANIEL ‘DANNY’ GEORGE HYAMS
On Friday morning 28 December 2012 at 01h45 and in the company of his daughters, Daniel ‘Danny’ George Hyams – husband of the late Domitilla, father, father-in-law, grandfather, great-grandfather, closed his eyes, gently took his last breath and embraced by Our Blessed Lady, earned his place to rest in the arms of Jesus and to bask in the glory of God for eternity.
Danny was an extraordinary example of living the Word of God and did everything in his power to improve the lot of those who needed help. In a note documented by his youngest daughter on 13 September 2012, just prior to his demise, she wrote:
“I have the feeling that God has given Dad the opportunity to live longer so as to allow him time to be his own person…But as time has gone by, a change in Dad seems more on the spiritual side. In the past Dad always allowed, and supported, Mom to have her special time for her own spiritual growth, whether it was her daily Mass, her evening prayer-time… but now I believe that the time that God has spared for Dad is to allow him to grow in his own spirituality. A time that he never gave to himself before, maybe he did not think of giving to himself, maybe because he did not think he deserved it more than Mom did?…
… Dad now appears to have chosen his appropriate Saint Faustino to intercede for him in his prayers. His devotion to Mother Mary has not changed; his devotion to the Eucharist, to Holy Mass, to Jesus, to praying the Rosary has not changed… I believe that God is allowing Dad to deepen his spirituality, to become more mystic, in a way that Mom had reached before God was ready to take her into his Heavenly Kingdom…
…And now I know that God is granting this time on earth for Dad to deepen his spirituality so that he may be fully ready to accept and to be able to receive from others before he would be ready for Heaven. He who has given of himself his entire life. In his daily life I see Dad praying, differently to how he has prayed before, talking about spirituality in a way that he has not done before; I am conscious of an opening up of a different aspect of Dad’s spiritual life that I have not seen before…”
The requiem mass took place at St Thérèse Catholic Church, Edenvale on 7 January 2013 with the burial at LITTLE EDEN, Elvira Rota Village, Bapsfontein, in the same tomb as his beloved Domitilla which is alongside the chapel under its eaves. Holy Mass was presided over by His Eminence Wilfrid Cardinal Napier OFM, and concelebrated by The Most Rev Archbishop George Francis Daniel Emeritus and The Rt Rev Bishop Graham Rose. Alongside were his parish priest, Rev Fr Joe Leathem OMI of Edenvale, Fr Kevin Bugler OMI and Fr Richard Kugbeh-Kasin. As with Domitilla and per his request, his casket was a plain pine coffin.
Condolences, as was the case with Domitilla, flooded in to LITTLE EDEN and the family from both locally and overseas.
THE LEGACY OF CHARITABLE WORKS
Whilst people saw Domitilla as a saintly person, Danny too could be similarly viewed in his own quiet way. He lived a simple, unselfish life; a life of helping Domitilla, of helping others, of never thinking of himself first. His first concern was to pray for and ensure a more peaceful and just world. Where he could exert a direct influence, he did. Having gone on pilgrimage to the Holy Land subsequently at all the Tuesday evening extended family suppers and Rosary, one of his intentions was always for ‘peace in the Holy Land’.
His example, together with that of Domitilla, of an extraordinary life in the service of others affected many people. From one of the very first volunteers helping Danny and Domitilla in establishing LITTLE EDEN:
“…I would like you all to know of the great impact your parents had on my personal life. It was immense! Their love and care for each other and for all of you was exemplary. Their carrying out of the two great Commandments of love of God and neighbour was such a priority in their lives! I was shown the value of self-sacrifice as I had rarely seen it before…We will never know of the enormous effects their presence and work among the wider community must have had…What a blessing they were to South Africa!”
Volunteers at LITTLE EDEN and especially those who witnessed the life and work of both Danny and Domitilla were, without exception, struck by their humility, deep faith, love and graciousness even into their final days.
“…I too have searched often for these things (Truth, Liberty and Love) and the TRUE essence of these, my MORAL PILLARS. It has not been easy; actually it has been very difficult to find the roots of my “vocation”. I discovered that I have been encouraged to GIVE more than to Receive; I understood that my JOY is TO GIVE much of myself for the JOY of others, more than to receive… Do you know where I discovered my vocation, my TRUE ESSENCE? … In Johannesburg in South Africa in the house of a man who will remain in my HEART for ever, in the house of Daniele and Domitilla Hyams.
Your father Daniele greeted me immediately and called me “My Friend” and had written “MY FRIEND” [in prior written letters] even before seeing my face and looking me in the eyes. At first I did not understand his message but … later my mind was clarified which helped me understand WHO I AM and MY VALUE…
It has been a difficult time for me and those near me, because they never understood my essence; foretelling my limitations and for breaking out of this I owe to YOU [Danny] TO YOUR LOVE; authentic, FREE.”
Awards and tributes, as in Domitilla’s case, flooded in with the last being a posthumous Honorary Citizenship Award in February 2016 by the Comune of Almenno San Bartolomeo (Italy) –where the story first took root some 70 years earlier. But such awards and accolades were never attributed much pride by Danny. Rather, he viewed such awards as recognition in the Divine Providence of Jesus and Mary as enabled through one’s fellow beings.
Danny saw God’s goodness and reflection in every person – including those who everyone else discarded and specifically the disabled. He clearly understood and lived the message of Saint Teresa of Calcutta:
‘God has created us in His image and likeness enabling us to know Him, love Him and serve Him in this world, so as to be happy with Him forever in the life to come. This is the true purpose of life.’
Words which embody the fruits of Danny and Domitilla’s work in LITTLE EDEN Society for the Care of Persons with Intellectual Disability.