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Sunday, October 29, 2023 - 21:58

In late October 2023, friends and family gathered in Johannesburg to celebrate Flo Bird's 80th birthday. Flo has been a tireless campaigner for Johannesburg and South Africa's heritage for several decades. Below is the speech delivered by Kathy Munro to mark the big occasion.

Flo and your family, welcome and to all our heritage community, we welcome you. Today we have the extraordinary privilege of coming together to celebrate a momentous occasion - an 80th birthday.

But this is no ordinary 80th birthday; it's an opportunity to honour a life that has left an indelible mark on Johannesburg and our heritage community.


Flo Bird unveiling a plaque on Doveton Road, Parktown


Flo is a born and bred Johannesburger. She has always lived in Parktown and is descended from Johannesburg pioneers. She has spent her entire adult life committed to her city – researching and writing about Johannesburg, She founded the Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust and in 2012 she founded the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation. She is still engaged in the heritage fight and still sits on the Joint Plans Committee - its meetings are a fixed date in her calendar.

It is due to her efforts that we do not have another motorway slicing through Parktown, that at least some of the heritage homes of Parktown were saved and this suburb is a heritage conservation area. Most of all it’s been Flo’s efforts that raised awareness of the value of these  heritage homes  - their architecture and how and why they should be preserved.


The View and Hazeldene Hall are two examples of Parktown homes saved from demolition (The Heritage Portal)


It is Flo who has been behind the Resource Centre and its fine library; the digitization project is her passion. She has shaped the educational tour programme. She is an exceptional tour guide. Flo has championed blue plaques since 1986 and has led the way in taking blue plaques to Soweto and to Alexandra. She has created a partnership with the City of Johannesburg. She backed the tour guide training. In each area of our heritage endeavours Flo has been a leader like no other - no one can match her determination and her sheer courage.


An Alexandra Blue Plaque (The Heritage Portal)

Sometimes Flo has fought for and with  Joburg – she can be sharp, angry, infuriated and never minces her words when she thinks the city bureaucrats need to be called to order.

Here are her words about the Johannesburg Public Library:

Dear Ben,
I think that after 4 years of allowing people to use the building and then closing it for “Health and Safety Reasons” I am entitled to a tour of the building to be shown exactly what this danger is. I intend bringing an architect and an  engineer with me just to check that the wool isn’t being pulled over my eyes and those of all the ratepayers in Johannesburg.

I will not be party to a cover up. As far as I am concerned something disgustingly underhand is being done and no doubt someone is benefitting financially in keeping the Johannesburg Public library closed for 4 years and now sealing it so not even the staff can be aware of what is going on. I hope you can prove me wrong. 

Please provide me with the contacts in Facility Enhancement  - what an ironic title when they are depriving the citizens of Johannesburg of a facility, I personally have used for 75 years. I need this so we can set up a date for the inspection.

Flo Bird


Johannesburg Public Library (The Heritage Portal)

Flo has been backed by her family – her late husband John who so loved and admired her and her three sons Edward, William and Stephen and their children (Flo’s grandchildren). They have grown up in the thrall of their mother and making Joburg their world. Flo has passed her enthusiasm to the next generation as she is now a great grandmother!

She is a collector of all things Joburg. She leads tours with knowledge aplomb and fun – who can forget Flo jumping across graves in West Park or in Brixton or Braamfontein.


Braamfontein Cemetery (The Heritage Portal)

The individual we are celebrating today has not only reached this remarkable milestone in their life but has also touched the lives of so many people in Johannesburg – our members, our friends our associates – in fact everyone who stops to read a blue plaque. She had contributed significantly to our community, our culture, and our history.

Flo never gives up the fight and I think this is what I admire most about her. She has been an inspiration to all of us here today and so we recognize Flo with a unique blue plaque.

A  blue plaque is the highest accolade awarded by Johannesburg Heritage – we must now have close to 400 of these in the city - and it is a campaign and work Flo has been engaged with for four decades.


Celebratory Blue Plaque

As we present this plaque and celebrate 80 remarkable years, let us remember the importance of valuing those who have dedicated their lives to making our world a better place. May Flo’s legacy continue to inspire us all, and may she enjoy the love and appreciation of family, friends, and the community for many more years to come.

Thank you for joining us today in honouring a truly exceptional individual.

Kathy Munro is an Honorary Associate Professor in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of the Witwatersrand. She enjoyed a long career as an academic and in management at Wits University. She trained as an economic historian. She is an enthusiastic book person and has built her own somewhat eclectic book collection over 40 years. Her interests cover Africana, Johannesburg history, history, art history, travel, business and banking histories. She researches and writes on historical architecture and heritage matters. She is a member of the Board of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation and is a docent at the Wits Arts Museum. She is currently working on a couple of projects on Johannesburg architects and is researching South African architects, war cemeteries and memorials. Kathy is a member of the online book community the Library thing and recommends this cataloging website and worldwide network as a book lover's haven. She is also the Chairperson of HASA.


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