East London’s iconic flower lady who spread her motto of “love and peace” by waving a bunch of flowers wherever she went, has died.
Known as Babes, with her hair studded with a garland of blooms and her hand clutching a posy of long-stemmed plastic flowers, her smiling face was a familiar sight on the city’s streets and at the Vincent Park centre.
Long-time friend Nelmare Derry said Babes, 70, suffered from bladder complications and her health deteriorated in the last few weeks of her life.
She died at Frere Hospital on Monday afternoon.
“She wanted to make people happy and spread the love around and to her flowers represented love and peace,” said Derry.
Derry said Babes, whose real name was Sandra Marcus and lived in a Vincent granny flat, had left a will requesting she be buried with flowers in her hair and wearing a floral dress.
Born a man, Babes was one of the first people in SA to undergo gender reassignment surgery in 1989 when she was 43 and after three marriages to women.
“I knew from the age of six that I was different,” she once told this reporter. “I wasn’t interested in guns and cars and would play with tea sets and paper dolls.”
Babes hit the swinging ’60s in full force and joined a number of East London bands as a vocalist and guitarist, but her rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle masked a deep yearning to live as the woman she knew she was.
Following successful surgery Babes finally felt happy in her own skin and by 2000 became a “flower child” who turned heads by striding around the city exuberantly brandishing her bouquets.
“Many people call me names and laugh at me, but others ask for my autograph and say I’ve cheered up their day,” she said.
Friend and chess partner Rob Godfrey said he played weekly games of chess with her.
“Even when she started to feel ill, she took her flowers with her. Her favourite motto was peace and love and that’s what she lived by. She was a landmark in East London and deserves a memorial.”
Aloma Meyer said she often had tea with Babes at Vincent Park.
“ I last saw her three weeks ago, but she said she had an asthma attack while walking to meet me and that her body was shutting down.
“Everyone knew her and we could not meet without someone coming over to say ‘hello’. She was an icon in this town.”