It was with great sadness that we received the news of Petra Mansell’s death last night.Kwa Zulu Natal Bridge Union players along with all players across the country will mourn her passing.
Petra was born in Hamburg Germany and at the age of 8 she was introduced to Bridge as her parents” fill in fourth”, they were competitive and by all accounts she could hold her own even at that tender age.
In 1936 the Bachman family immigrated to Durban. In spite of the fact that she could not speak English she matriculated a year later with 6 distinctions.
Petra’s Bridge accomplishments were many. Winner of Club, Provincial and National Championships she reached the highest level with partner Alma Schneider representing her Country in the 1960’s and 1970’s at 3 World Olympiads, South Africa winning Silver medals on two occasions. After isolation was over in 1994 she played International bridge with partner Merle Modlin, participating in the Venice Cup and the Olympiads, retiring from representative bridge in 2008. This partnership was very successful and their absence from the South African Women’s team will be felt for years to come.
I became involved with Petra in the 70’s when she asked me if I would join her in establishing the Wild Coast Bridge Tournament at the Wild Coast Sun which was held annually. It had a small beginning but with Petra’s enthusiasm and energy we were soon able to build up the entries to 150 pairs with a waiting list! This experience was a learning curve for me, in those days we scored by hand and sometimes stayed up all night until the scores balanced. Working with Petra you had to be on your toes at all times, my instructions were “customer’s first, get on with it, what are you waiting for”, this included the hotel staff and the management as well. I learnt fast. In the early days we were wined and dined by the management and on one occasion we were hosted by the MD from Johannesburg. The next morning he came to me and said” I was fascinated last night, Petra Mansell is a guinea a minute”.
Margie and I have been extremely privileged to have played bridge with Petra at home and overseas. We have enjoyed her companionship, her loyalty and her sound advice however we were not immune to a lecture when things did not go too well! During our first appearance at the Venice Cup we were amazed that so many international players were in awe of Petra, her reputation had preceded her and they were anxious to meet her. During the team matches it was always comforting to have Petra in the other room, one could always rely on interesting results coming through.
Petra received many accolades, she deserved them all. Life in the bridge world will be the poorer without her, she has been such a colourful character who has influenced so many players particularly here in KZN.
Our friendship with Petra has been important to us and we will miss her greatly.
- Di Adrain
Petra Mansell was the most extraordinary woman I had the good fortune to know. I was extremely privileged to be her bridge partner for the last several years and, more importantly, her friend.
Petra was a bridge legend – certainly the best woman player this country has ever known. At the table she was charming to her opponents, never offering advice unless asked. It was indeed challenging to be her partner and I was always being told in no uncertain terms that I should have bid or played differently. She once remarked “You’ll never be a bridge player – you’re too lazy” which is probably true. Nevertheless playing with her has improved my bridge immensely and I am extremely grateful that she gave her time to play with me.
It was fitting that we won the last tournament that we played in, the KZN Mini Congress Pairs, and on the way home she remarked, with a degree of self-satisfaction, “I’ve still got it”. She considered it a blessing that her mind was still as sharp as a razor until the day she died – “I don’t mind the pain as long as I’ve got my marbles”.
Petra was also extremely generous. We used to have wonderful bridge weekends at Val Stephenson’s cottage on the South Coast. Petra always insisted on playing for money and had small side bets with her opposition. Whenever she won, which you can imagine was most of the time, she would donate her winnings to Val’s housekeeper.
A group of us used to go to the casino almost every Sunday with Petra insisting on paying for dinner most of the time as it had become a “tradition”. Contrary to expectations, Petra was not a particularly good blackjack player. Successful gambling is about patience and to describe Petra as impatient is an understatement. She used to blame the dealer for bad cards and, when trying to explain that the dealer had no control over the cards, Petra responded “they always seem so pleased to take my money!”
Petra was devoted to her family and I was fortunate to be included in many family functions. Petra’s grandchildren doted on her and it was wonderful to witness the close relationship between them.
She was short and even abrupt on the phone and never ended a call with goodbye – it was always “love you” following which she would terminate the call immediately.
Petra will always be with me at the bridge table, so for me this isn’t goodbye but “love you”.
- Roger Wilson