Tony Pillay passionate about legal education, youth and transformation of the legal profession

July 1st, 2024

On 2 June 2024, the world learned that the Law Society of South Africa’s (LSSA) Executive Director Tony Pillay had passed away, sending shockwaves through the legal profession both locally and internationally, with many in disbelief. Messages of condolences poured in, with many sharing their encounters with a man who was mostly known for his passion for legal education and transformation of the legal profession. As messages poured in from various parts of the world, it was evident many had been exposed to the charismatic Tony, who was a workaholic and had a great sense of humour. One thing that many seem to have agreed on was that he was a brilliant leader and had an exceptional work ethic. Famously known for his blue checked shirts, which I have always wondered how many he owned, he was also known for his bubbly character and willingness to work with others for the good of the LSSA and the legal profession.

De Rebus News Reporter, Kgomotso Ramotsho with the late Executive Director of Law Society of South Africa, Tony Pillay at the dinner hosted by the Johannesburg Attorneys Association for Chief Justice Raymond Zondo in 2023.

As I write this article it dawned on me that the office will never be the same again. The routine will change, and we will miss the sound of that lift chime that always alerted us that ‘oh boy’ he is coming. You could hear the loudest laughter from the basement floor when Tony had arrived at the office. On days that we did not hear the loud and cheerful voice, we would often ask ourselves if he was in or whether something or someone had upset him. Kenneth Tladi was our go-to guy to check what the mood was for that day, as he knew Tony better than any of us. Tony appreciated people who did their work on time and efficiently, people who took pride and respected their work.

If you wanted to get along with the man, you just had to do one thing and that was your job. Although Tony was an accountant by profession, it was evident that God indirectly shifted him to his real purpose of being in the legal profession. Many thought that he was a legal practitioner. He knew a lot about the laws of the country and the legal profession, and I am not surprised many mistook him for a legal practitioner. I truly believe that his true calling was indeed in the legal profession.

The following messages from across the local and international legal landscape came as no surprise to us, as Tony lived and breathed his work and had the ability to connect and bring people together.

The Pillay family with the Law Society of South Africa Menlo Park staff
members. Tony was based at the Menlo Park office.

Condolence messages

Chair of the International Bar Association (IBA) Bar Issues Commission (BIC) International Trade in Legal Services Committee (ITILS), Mickaël Laurans: It is with great sadness that we heard earlier today of the sudden passing of Tony.

On behalf of the BIC ITILS of the IBA, we would like to express our deepest condolences to his family, as well as to friends and colleagues at the LSSA.

Our committee had worked closely with Tony and the team when we jointly organised one of our globalisation conferences in Johannesburg in September last year. Tony had been so welcoming and hospitable to our small group of speakers from abroad and was instrumental in making this conference the great success it was. He was a real pleasure to work with.

It must be such a great loss for the Law Society, also at a time of change for the country.

With our deepest sympathy.

Tony Pillay’s family visiting the Law Society of South Africa Legal Education
and Development Division staff members in Brooklyn.

Nawahl Isaacs: I was deeply saddened to hear about the loss of Tony. Please accept my heartfelt condolences during this incredibly difficult time to you all and his family.

The loss of Tony came as a huge shock to us all, especially me, as we developed a friendship over the past 20 years. He has become a part of our family at Club Travel. He was a kind and humble yet dynamic man who always had a good word for the next person. I will mourn his loss as his friendship and advice were always humorous and well received.


Jackwell Feris: I am really saddened to hear about the sudden passing of Tony! My condolence to everyone at the Law Society. My thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.


Chair of the IBA’s BIC, Ken Murphy: Dear Joanne, I write in my personal capacity but also as Chair of the IBA’s BIC at whose conference in Bucharest, Romania, you very ably represented the LSSA, in your capacity as President, less than two weeks ago. 

Let me begin by expressing how utterly shocked and saddened my fellow BIC officers and I were to learn from a key member of our group, Tshepo Shabangu, of the sudden death of our hugely esteemed colleague and friend, Tony Pillay. 

Speaking personally, I met Tony innumerable times over the years. The first time, I think, was when Nic Swart introduced me to Tony in the Law Society headquarters in Pretoria when I was there in 2006 as part of Michael Irvine’s Law Society of Ireland project designed to assist historically disadvantaged South African lawyers develop business law knowledge and skills.

The most recent conversation I had with Tony was around this time last year when, along with senior IBA leaders, we had a Zoom meeting with numerous national Bar leaders in Southern Africa. 

One thing I remember Tony emphasising then (it displayed the vision and courage of a true leader to do it) was that African Bars have an equal obligation to reach out and assist the IBA. It was a two-way obligation!

The last time I spoke with him face to face, if I recall correctly, was at the IBA Annual Conference in Miami.

Tony was enormously well liked and respected by his peers on the international stage, as I know he was in South Africa (SA). It is terrible to lose him so suddenly – as sudden and terrible as was the loss some years ago of Nic Swart. 

Please accept my deepest condolences and those of my BIC colleagues from all over the world. I would hope you might please pass these condolences to Tony’s grieving family, his friends and his colleagues in the LSSA.

May our good friend Tony Pillay rest in peace. 


The Johannesburg Attorneys Association (JAA):  The JAA is deeply saddened to hear of the sudden passing of Tony Pillay, the esteemed Executive Director of the LSSA. Tony Pillay’s untimely death is a significant loss to the legal community, and his contributions to the profession will be profoundly missed.

Tony Pillay served the LSSA with dedication and distinction since 1998. His leadership and commitment to the legal fraternity were evident in his efforts to enhance the standards and practices within the profession.

Throughout his career, Tony Pillay was known for his integrity, professionalism, and unwavering dedication to the legal community. His passing leaves a void that will be challenging to fill.
The JAA extends its heartfelt condolences to Tony Pillay’s family, friends, and colleagues as well as the LSSA during this difficult time. We stand in solidarity with the LSSA and the broader legal community in mourning the loss of a remarkable leader and a cherished colleague. Tony’s legacy will continue to inspire and guide us as we strive to uphold the values and principles he championed. May his soul rest in peace.

Memorial service

On 12 June 2024, a memorial service was held for Tony Pillay in Pretoria, where family, friends, staff and stakeholders of the LSSA attended the service.

Judge President of the Gauteng Division of the High Courts, Dunstan Mlambo.

Judge President of the Gauteng Division of the High Court, Dunstan Mlambo, said in life, the legacy of a person is often measured by their professional achievements, and how they touched the lives of those close to them. Judge President Mlambo spoke about Tony in what he said was his personal capacity. He quoted an African proverb that says: ‘If you want to travel fast, travel alone, but if you want to travel far, travel with others.’ He pointed out that Tony epitomised this wisdom, because everything he did was for the collective. Judge President Mlambo added that when Tony took over at the LSSA, he put the LSSA on the forefront of his endeavours. He said that for the LSSA to prosper and move forward, Tony embraced this wisdom that he cannot do it alone but needed to take others with him. ‘This testifies to the success of the LSSA, thanks to Tony, he was indeed one of a kind,’ Judge President Mlambo said.

Judge President Mlambo added that during Tony’s leadership at the LSSA, the organisation made significant contributions to various legal and public policy discussions, submitting numerous submissions on matters affecting the legal profession, the administration of justice and the rule of law. ‘The LSSA under Tony’s leadership did not hesitate to take legal action on matters of public interest and professional concerns,’ Judge President Mlambo said. He added that the LSSA exercised its full power in terms of getting engaged in topical issues of the country. He mentioned one of the litigations that the LSSA was in where he was the presiding officer. The matter of the Law Society of South Africa and Others v President of the Republic of South Africa and Others 2019 (3) SA 30 (CC). In this case the LSSA challenged the South African president, regarding the role he played in signing the resolution that emasculated the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal.

Judge President Mlambo said the Tribunal was for the citizens of the SADC region and entities to go to if they did not get justice in their jurisdiction. He added that the reason the president of SA signed that resolution was because the Tribunal head found against the late president of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe, regarding the farmers whose land was taken away without compensation. ‘That testifies to the courage of the man we are talking about today,’ Judge President Mlambo added. He pointed out that Tony was known internationally in legal circles and that one would be pardoned to mistake him for a legal practitioner.

Judge President Mlambo added that law bodies in the SADC and the whole world knew Tony, you could ask anyone who travelled outside SA on behalf of the LSSA, and they will all attest to one fact, that wherever they went, the question they had to deal with was ‘how is Tony?’ Judge President Mlambo pointed out that Tony did not travel but hearing total strangers speak about him, one would swear they knew him personally. ‘That is the man whose life we are celebrating today,’ Judge President Mlambo said. He added that like other people, he also mistaken Tony for a legal practitioner. ‘I bumped into Tony mostly at the JAA, because he always attended those functions religiously. He always greeted me with a smile and was always eager to chat. He effortlessly took part in discussions among lawyers where the subject would be deeply embedded in legal practice, hence you would think he was one of them,’ Judge President Mlambo added.

Judge President Mlambo said ‘In all of these JAA events when I found a quiet moment with him, I asked him why he never availed himself for an acting position as an acting judge in the Gauteng Division Bench. He would smile in his way he used to smile, and he would say to me, JP let’s talk about that some other time. Imagine my embarrassment when I learnt that Tony was not a majiana but a bean counter. I don’t believe anyone can blame me for this mistake. Tony was the best of tjommies with my DJP, Justice Ledwaba. As a former lawyer, I know this truth. Lawyers find it difficult to make friends outside lawyers’ circles. But here is this man who was a serious friend with DJP Ledwaba and lo and behold he was not a lawyer,’ Judge President Mlambo said. He added that Tony was the friend of the Bench and actively facilitated many engagements between the Bench and the LSSA. ‘I am the first one to say the Bench is poorer with Tony’s passing. As we came to discover his disposition to the work of the LSSA, it propelled him to become a go-to resource for the LSSA,’ Judge President Mlambo said.

Judge President Mlambo told mourners that Tony was firm with the finances of the LSSA and was passionate about the development of legal practitioners. He added that his demeanour and treatment of legal practitioners, and everyone else, left an indelible mark on all. ‘This to me is an epitome of a beautiful human being’ he said. He also mentioned that Tony’s quite strength, forthrightness and industry, especially in matters of corporate governance was a repository of excellence, efficiency and activeness. ‘All this is a hallmark to service all that is good in this country and the legal profession,’ Judge President Mlambo added.

Judge President Mlambo pointed out that Tony epitomised selflessness. He did his work for the LSSA and for the greater good of lawyering and legal professionalism in SA. He said that Tony’s role in the legal profession will forever be impressed in minds and memories. ‘As I bid Tony farewell today, I confess a great sense of enrichment for having known him coupled with a deep sense of loss. On behalf of the Bench of Gauteng, I will be remiss if I do not express the Bench’s heartfelt condolences to Tony’s family. Your loss is our loss. Thank you for generously sharing him with us,’ Judge President Mlambo said.

A life of beacon and hope

The President of the Law Society of South Africa, Joanne Anthony-Gooden.

The President of the LSSA, Joanne Anthony-Gooden, before giving a eulogy on Tony, started with a story of how the shuttle driver who was driving her from the airport to the memorial, was so devastated after she had told him she was going to Tony’s memorial. She added that Tony made a lasting impression on everyone, whether it was a driver, or a judge president or someone from his congregation, he touched everyone’s lives. She said that no one thought they would be attending Tony’s memorial, that his passing was a sudden and tragic loss to all. She added that the memorial was to celebrate and to honour a remarkable man whose journey on this earth touched the hearts of so many. Born in 1959 on Charles Lane in Fordsburg, Tony’s early years were shaped by the rich history of an area originally established as a mine barracks. He was the youngest son of Doreen Pillay Moonsammy and the late Peter Moonsammy. He grew up in a household deeply rooted in the values of justice and equality. His parents were stalwarts in the anti-Apartheid struggle, actively involved in the Congress movement. His parents instilled in Tony a profound sense of duty towards his community and country.

Tony’s school journey began at Junior Primary School in Vrededorp, moved through Bree Street Indian Primary School, and culminated at Nirvana Indian High School. Despite not studying much, Tony’s natural intellect shone brightly, particularly in languages and sciences. His thirst for knowledge and understanding was evident from a young age, laying a solid foundation for his future endeavours.

In the late 1980s, Tony pursued higher education at the University of Durban-Westville, where he earned a Bachelor of Commerce degree. Alongside his academic pursuits, Tony’s passion for football flourished. He played for Bluebells United, affectionately known as ‘The People’s Team’, a group that competed in the South African Soccer Federation. This Federation was part of the militant anti-Apartheid sports movement under the South African Council on Sport. Tony was instrumental in revitalising Bluebells United, enhancing its management and steering the team towards success.

Tony’s dedication to justice and equality was a constant throughout his life. He actively participated in the anti-tricameral campaigns organised by the United Democratic Front and its affiliates in Lenasia. From his youth, Tony was deeply involved in various community organisations, tirelessly working towards the betterment of society.

His professional life was equally distinguished. Tony held numerous roles in management and finance, showcasing his remarkable ability to handle both strategic and technical aspects of his work. He began his career with one of the Anglo-American companies, and in 1995, he joined Lawyers for Human Rights. His leadership and dedication were evident as he served as the chair of their board at the time of his passing. For over two and a half decades, Tony was a dedicated employee of the LSSA, contributing significantly to its mission and vision.

Tony is survived by his beloved wife, Tarsicia; his four children, Adrienne, Hannah, Joshua and Simeon; his 97-year-old mother, Doreen Pillay Moonsammy; his four sisters, Rookie Naidoo, Kalie Naidoo, Roshnie Moonsammy, Dr Subhatri Moonsammy; and his brother, Monty Naidoo. His family was his pride and joy, and he cherished every moment spent with them.

Ms Anthony-Gooden said Tony’s legacy is one of unwavering commitment to justice, community, and family. He will be profoundly missed by all who knew him. His life reminds us of the power of dedication and the impact one person can have on the world. Though he may no longer be with us in body, his spirit, values, and the memories we shared will continue to inspire us.

Ms Anthony-Gooden ended her eulogy with, ‘Rest in peace, Tony. Your life was a beacon of light and hope, and you will forever remain in our hearts.’

A friend of the BLA

Secretary General of the Black Lawyers Association, Chris Mamathuntsha.

The Black Lawyers Association (BLA) Secretary General, Chris Mamathuntsha, in paying tribute on behalf of his organisation said that when news that Tony had passed on was communicated, the BLA was in the middle of arranging a gala dinner and their National General Meeting, which was held on 7 and 8 June in Mbombela. He said he knew that their events would never be the same again, because Tony was family and a friend of the BLA. He pointed out that the last time he had seen Tony was at the LSSA AGM that was held in April 2024. He added that after the current BLA National Executive Committee (NEC) was elected in February, Tony was the first person to send a message of congratulations to him and other members of the BLA NEC. Mr Mamathuntsha described Tony as a gentleman, full of love. ‘The BLA is going to miss Tony for his passion and love for legal education and training. His expertise in the field of development of young lawyers is going to be missed by the profession,’ Mr Mamathuntsha said. He said that Tony had a love that was immeasurable, especially for young people. ‘When you approached him for assistance, he was always there for assistance,’ Mr Mamathuntsha added.

Mr Mamathuntsha said, ‘When you wanted to know about our history, the history of BLA, NADEL and the LSSA prior to the new regime, he was always there’. He pointed out that the LSSA is made up of three bodies, the BLA, National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL) and the independents and for one to run it, they need a bit of charisma. He said when Nic Swart passed on he thought it would be the end of the LSSA, but when Tony took over, it was as if he was the natural successor. ‘The BLA is going to miss Tony Pillay,’ Mr Mamathuntsha added. He told Tony’s family that the BLA is grieving as well and that they should be proud to have had someone like Tony come from their family, a true activist.

Tony brought people together

Representative of the
Independent Attorneys, Umesh Jivan.

Representative of the Independent attorneys, Umesh Jivan, said Tony was a part of the professions’ life and he will be missed. He pointed out that Tony would avail himself to any province when needed and as a result he had friends in all nine provinces. He said that Tony’s dealing with all constituencies was respectful, sincere and candid. He added that he had an effervescent charming personality, which was always accompanied by his warm greetings and his memorable smile. ‘In the face of adversity and different viewpoints, he had patience to understand and listen to the different views and then explain his position as best he could and if necessarily propose a solution to the diverse opinions to hopefully reach consensus and progress,’ Mr Jivan said.

Mr Jivan pointed out that Tony liked bringing people together and bringing people together was for him a progress not only for the attorney’s profession but progress for the LSSA. He said as the Executive Director of the LSSA, Tony widened the knowledge of council by sending articles concerning the attorneys’ profession on a monthly basis. ‘He introduced me to a magazine I didn’t know existed called The Continent that deals with important issues in the African continent,’ Mr Jivan added. He said whether Tony was meeting with the Minister of Justice or a judge he communicated with them in an informality and respect that he would in dealing with any other person as he encountered daily or frequently. He noted that Tony’s work ethic was not limited to working hours or limited to weekdays.

Not just a professional, but a comrade

National Association of Democratic Lawyers Member,
Ugeshnee Naicker.

Ugeshnee Naicker of NADEL said that Tony was not just a professional, but he was a comrade and a soldier. She added that Tony would laugh at her because of her political views and had the greatest sense of humour. ‘To Tony’s family my deepest sympathy. Grief is something that lives with us for many years. But our memories of the person fill the gap that grief leaves us with,’ Ms Naicker said.

Ms Naicker added: ‘Today I want us to remember Tony the person, Tony the human being. We are all born with an all spark, our soul, our life. And as we grow in life we turn to grow and take on fitters of our identity, our gender, our personality. What I saw in Tony was that Tony could transcend all those barriers.’ She reminded attendees that Tony was challenged, however, he showed up at work every day, sacrificing his health for work. She asked that the legal profession must always remember how Tony showed up and they must honour him.

An exceptional person who never got tired

Chairperson of the Law Society of South Africa’s Audit and Risk
Committee, Ashwin Trikamjee.

Chairperson of the LSSA Audit and Risk Committee, Ashwin Trikamjee, said he met Tony in the early 1980s when he was the head of a football body and Tony was the secretary of a famous football club called Bluebells United. Mr Trikamjee began by reading a letter the current secretary wrote: ‘Tony Pillay joined Bluebells United in the late 1980’s. He served in the role as secretary and played a pivotal role in the club’s success and survival. He joined the club at the time resources were scarce, especially because of the fierce opposition of the Apartheid government.

Running a professional club at the time required officials and players to make up huge personal sacrifices. Tony earned the respect of all whom he encountered. He was instrumental in ensuring that the club continues to play under the non-racial banner. While Tony always shied away from the limelight, his contribution to the success and progress of the club will never ever be forgotten. The name Tony Pillay will forever be etched in the history of the Bluebells United Football Club. Farewell to the legend of the game.’

Mr Trikamjee said Tony was a young man full of energy and life when they met in the 1980’s and had a contagious smile. He pointed out that he had the ability to walk in the room and make everyone feel comfortable, it did not matter who they were. He added that Tony’s life goes back to when his parents played a part in the non-racial struggle in the country. He spoke about the 1956 Treason Trial that involved activists who were fighting against Apartheid. He mentioned that one of the accused, Paul Joseph, is still alive today. He said that Tony’s parents were close to Paul Joseph. He shared how Tony’s parents and the Joseph’s were close with the Mandela family. That when the late Nelson Mandela was jailed Tony’s parents would visit the late Winnie Mandela and the kids and help take care of them. ‘This was recognised by the late Madiba when he was inaugurated as the first democratically elected President of SA. He had a special invitation for his table for his inauguration as the president of the non-racial South African society. That is the part that many of us do not know about Tony,’ Mr Trikamjee said.

Mr Trikamjee pointed out he later met Tony when he was involved in the activities of the then Law Society which was called the Association of Law Societies. And he became the member of the finance committee. Mr Trikamjee said that the Law Society was looking for a finance director, three candidates were selected. He pointed out that the morning of the interviews when he arrived at the Law Society office the then Executive Director briefed him about the three candidates and told him one was in a wheelchair. When the person in the wheelchair came through the interview room door, to his surprise Mr Trikamjee saw Tony Pillay. ‘I said to him Tony Pillay, he said yes Ashwin, we haven’t seen each other in a while. He had that ever present smile. As they say the rest is history, I recused myself from that interview because I knew Tony so well.’

Mr Trikamjee said Tony was appointed as the finance director. ‘I soon became chairperson of the finance committee and Tony and I interacted almost on a daily basis.’ He spoke about how sometimes they would clash at the finance committee meetings, however, they both never took it personally. Mr Trikamjee pointed out that when Tony became the Executive Director, phone calls increased and sometimes they were very late at night that he would scold Tony to stop and be with his family. The last time the pair spoke was Saturday morning, on 1 June 2024. He described Tony as an exceptional person, who never got tired. He said no one got angry with Tony because they accepted that it was his commitment to the work and he loved his work and the people he worked with. Mr Trikamjee said the legal profession lost an invaluable person.

A change that was not anticipated

Finance Director of the Law Society of South Africa,
Zimasa Mcwetu.

Finance Director of the LSSA, Zimasa Mtwecu, said when news of the passing of Tony came, it was shocking and made the LSSA family anxious as it caused drastic change that was not anticipated. He added that death took a genuinely warm individual, respected colleague, and most importantly a loving husband and father, brother and son. ‘And deprived so many of us of a wise man, a wealth of wisdom and an archive of all events of where we find ourselves as a democratic country,’ Mr Mtwecu said. He added that Tony identified with all, irrespective of race, colour or professional status and religion. He pointed out that Tony was warm to all at the LSSA, in all different ranks, because he understood that people were created in the image of God. Mr Mtwecu shared how objective and professional Tony was, and never took things personally.

Tony left an invaluable mark

Chief Executive Officer of Legal Services Ombuds, Victor Seroka.

Chief Executive Officer of the Legal Services Ombuds, Victor Seroka said that his relationship with Tony was one that was established recently, as the Legal Services Ombuds is a new office in the profession. He added that Tony left an invaluable mark and often when they would have conversations they spoke about the war in Gaza. He pointed out that he would also share stories of his other life with Tony on his involvement with the Kathrada family. He said Tony’s unwavering commitment to justice, equality and access to legal services inspired many. He added that his leadership and vision transformed the legal landscape and significantly impacted the lives of many in the legal profession. He said Tony’s legacy will continue to guide the legal profession.

Tony was always helpful

Chairperson of the Legal Practitioners Fidelity Fund, Peppy Kekana.

Chairperson of the Legal Practitioners’ Fidelity Fund, Peppy Kekana in her tribute to Tony said that she got to know about Tony when she served in the LSSA committees, and what she found out about Tony was that Tony knew how to read people’s energies. ‘When you engage with Tony, he will read how you want to be treated and he will treat you exactly that way. If you want protocol observed he will do that, if you want easy or casual, he will do that. He respected the position that people held. You might have had a casual relationship with Tony, but when it is time to work, Tony would address you as such, he respected that,’ Ms Kekana said.

Ms Kekana pointed out that Tony was very helpful and up to date with the developments in the legal profession as if he was a legal practitioner. She added that she discovered the wealth of experience that Tony possessed when she served on the Audit and Risk Committee of the LSSA. ‘Two days after the committee meeting, we would get our minutes, action items, dates. Resolutions would be actioned timeously. Tony showed up where he needed to represent LSSA and he never minced his words about his mandate of representing the LSSA,’ Ms Kekana added.

Celebrating Tony’s life

Chairperson of the Legal Practice Council, Janine Myburgh.

The Chairperson of the Legal Practice Council (LPC), Janine Myburgh, said that her message is to celebrate Tony’s life. She said Tony’s passing is a huge loss to the profession and to some a personal loss. She pointed out that at the LPC most of the interaction they had was through Tony. ‘On behalf of the LPC, I convey a sincere message of support to you, Tony’s family, friends and to all other colleagues at the LSSA, including the staff,’ Ms Myburgh said.

Ms Myburgh added that the LPC appreciated Tony’s commitment to the legal profession. She described Tony as a devoted, hardworking individual who did not keep office hours, but one would never be agitated by his late calls, even on weekends. ‘He gave us the greatest lesson on how dynamic he was and how he could collaborate and make things happen. But every interaction that I had with him was touched with an amazing sense of humour,’ Ms Myburgh added. She pointed out that since the inception of the LPC and even before that, during the time of the National Forum, it was important for the National Forum, and now the LPC, to continue working with the LSSA. She said that the major success of the stability of the relationship of LSSA and LPC has to be attributed to Tony’s capable and selfless leadership.

Ms Myburgh said with Tony’s passing, the legal profession lost a leader who was forward-thinking, cooperative, and modest. He never aimed for the public eye but was always supportive in advancing the legal profession. She pointed out that many of the LPC staff and council worked with Tony since 2012. She added that she admired his gentle composure particularly when a sensitive matter was to be dealt with. ‘Our profession can be robust and direct and having someone with Tony’s demeanour helped navigate a number of crucial issues that needed to be dealt with. At the LPC we are indeed grateful to have worked with Tony, a man with such distinction,’ Ms Myburgh said. Ms Myburgh shared two things she learnt from Tony: First, not to take yourself too seriously. Secondly, not to wait for someone’s passing to tell them how great they are.

An advocate for transformation

Chairperson of the General Council of the Bar, Myron Dewrance.

Chairperson of the General Council of the Bar (GCB) and Advocates for Transformation, Myron Dewrance SC, said he met Tony a year and half ago on Teams, when cameras were off, however, he remembers a couple of things about Tony from that meeting, and it was his knowledge, application of the knowledge, as well as him being an advocate of transformation. He added that they had set up a meeting in person to discuss mutual interests between the GCB, Advocates for Transformation and the LSSA. ‘We met at his office and when I saw him the first thing that struck me was his smile. That was the thing that made an impression on me,’ Mr Dewrance said.  

‘I knew Tony as a very fine lawyer. I thought he was one of the finest lawyers I have ever met in my life and just to be told he was not. He made me think of a character in Suits, Mike, the non-lawyer. I thought he knew a lot more than some senior counsel with the knowledge that he had and his application of the knowledge,’ Mr Dewrance noted. He added that Tony was considered as ‘Mr Law Society of South Africa’, because he had interaction before with the late Nic Swart, when he was part of the committee that drafted papers. ‘I heard Tony’s name. He was like a myth. I heard his name but had never seen Tony. As I said he was Mr Law Society of South Africa. For me he was also the legal profession’s Executive Officer.’

Mr Dewrance cited the objective of the LSSA, and said like the Constitution, is aimed to fix the mischief of the past, Apartheid and its ills. ‘One of the ills of Apartheid was the eroding of the rule of law in order to achieve a certain political objective. And this is precisely why one of the Law Society’s objectives is the respect of the Constitution and the protection of the Rule of Law, same as the GCB and the Advocates for Transformation,’ Mr Dewrance added.

A mentor and leader

Chief Executive Officer of the SADC Lawyers Association, Stanley Nyamanhindi.

Chief Executive Officer of the SADC Lawyers Association (SADC LA), Stanley Nyamanhindi, said that ‘Tony was a man outside of the borders of SA. I was inaugurated and mentored by Tony in regard to the vision, the unity and the duty, the leadership, and the responsibility of the legal profession,’ Mr Nyamanhindi said. He added that the most remarkable thing about Tony is what Judge President Mlambo said that the departure of Tony left the bench poorer. ‘We are not talking about a lawyer, we are talking about an accountant who gave his life and career so that the practice of law for lawyers might improve and be better. This deserves for us to stop and take a moment to really think about what it means,’ Mr Nyamanhindi added. He pointed out that it is true that Tony was a unifier.

Mr Nyamanhindi spoke about his last conversation with Tony in which Tony told him he was worried about the duty of the legal profession in SA to provide leadership to the continent and the region. In leading the agenda for the responsibility of the legal profession to advance democracy, to advance development and fight poverty. The second thing that Tony was worried about was that it was happening but in silos. He pointed out that Tony stated that there were great formations at continental level, at regional and economical level, at local level, but he was not seeing where gaps are closing.

Passion and commitment to rule of law

International Bar Association representative, Tshepo Shabangu, addressing the memorial online, said Tony will be remembered for his passion and commitment to the rule of law, the legal profession and the independence of the legal profession. His humility, kindness and humor personified him. She pointed out that Tony led by example and people trusted him, and had faith in his capabilities, to not only do the work. But to do it well and on time. Ms Shabangu added that Tony’s influence was not only recognised in the country but worldwide. ‘Whenever anybody needed him to do the job. He was the man for the job,’ Ms Shabangu stated.

SAWLA had a friend in Tony

Secretary General of South African Women Lawyers Association,
Zodwa Maluleke.

South African Women Lawyers Association (SAWLA) Secretary General, Zodwa Maluleke, said Tony was almost synonymous with the legal profession itself. She added that he was accessible, opened up to everyone, and anyone could reach him. She pointed out that SAWLA knew they had a friend in Tony. She said that Tony stood up for transformation in the legal profession. She added that although SAWLA is not a constituent member of the LSSA, the LSSA has been very supportive of SAWLA’s initiatives. ‘We saw women lead in the LSSA and we have no doubt that their success was aided by Tony’s support. As much as he respected authority and protocol, when it came to himself, he was selfless, and was able to relate on the level one wants to be treated,’ Ms Maluleke said

A father leading by example

Tony’s daughter, Hannah Pillay.

Tony’s daughter, Hannah, described her father as her hero, best friend and biggest inspiration, her whole heart and shelter that kept her safe. ‘My dad knew I was his stubborn child and opinionated to say the least. I have never seen him angry or shout at me. He always knew how and when to talk to me. My dad gave the best hugs and kisses and a good laugh.’ Hannah pointed out that there was never a day when he was not laughing and making jokes. ‘Most times I never understood his jokes, but I would laugh because of how he would laugh. When I was at a shopping mall with him in a lift with kids, he would always pull funny faces at them, and I would just look down at my feet with a smile but more out of embarrassment.’

Hannah added that Tony would tell her stories of situations of where people would be mean to him and she would be angry. ‘I would be the one to get angry. He called me Twinkle. He would say to me, “Twinkle, I am not worried. Leave them; life is too short to be angry.” That was the type of person my dad was. Very gentle, kind, patient, forgiving, always wanting to put a smile on people’s faces and he had the biggest heart.’ Hannah pointed out that Tony was her inspiration for studying finance and even though some days he was tired and busy, when she went to him for help with work, he never turned her away or told her they would do it tomorrow. ‘He would instantly finish with what he was doing and help me. I could always hear his excitement in his voice, and we would sit for hours and talk about accounting and finance, until I told him, I needed to go and sleep but that did not stop him.’ Hannah said she would get an e-mail at 1am with more help from Tony. She pointed out that Tony taught her to be kind, patient and hard working. ‘I am incredibly honoured and grateful to have been able to call him my dad and to have had a dad like him.’

Tony’s son, Joshua Pillay.

When delivering his father’s eulogy, Joshua said losing a loved one is an indescribable pain. ‘And as we found ourselves enveloped in the weight of sorrow. We bound together by the memories and love we shared of Tony Pillay. Today we come to honour a man who touched the lives of many with his kindness, his wisdom and his unwavering love. As we reflect on in his journey through life, let us celebrate his legacy. The impact he made on each of us and the mark he left on the world. My father was not just a father but a guiding light, pillar of strength and a source of continuous love and support. As a child I would often ask myself, when would this come to an end, it never did. His gentle nature and compassionate soul endeared him to all who had the privilege of knowing him. He approached life with unmatched optimism and resilience. Facing every challenge with courage and grace. Whether it was through his obsessive laughter, his endless words of wisdom or selfless acts of kindness.

My father had a remarkable ability to uplift those around him and instil hope. He possessed a rare blend of humility and strength, never seeking recognition for his deeds, but rather finding fulfilment in the joy and happiness of others. As a man my father embodied the virtues of honour, integrity and humility. He lived his life with purpose and principle, never wavering from his moral compass or compromising his values for the sake of experience. His words were always tempered with kindness. His actions guided by empathy and his presence marked by a quite strength that inspired respect and admiration in all who knew him. As his son, I bore witness to my father’s extraordinary courage and the resilience in the midst of his paraplegic disability.

The world may have seen it as a challenge, but he transformed it into a testament, fortitude and determination. His disability was not a hindrance but rather a catalyst for him to showcase the true strength of the human spirit. Despite the physical limitation he faced, he approached life with optimism and conquered all obstacles in his path. His attitude towards this challenge was a lesson of perseverance and resilience. Reminding me daily the true measure of a person. Life is not on a physical ability, but in the depth of their spirit and resilience of their soul. Though this example he taught me an invaluable lesson that adversity does not define us rather it is how we chose to confront and overcome it, that shapes our character.

As a father he was an epitome of division and sacrifice. His love for his family knew no bounds and he dedicated himself wholeheartedly to naturing, guiding and supporting his children every step of the way. He led by example, instilling in me the values of integrity, compassion and resilience that would shape my character and mould me into the individual I am today. His presence was a source of strength and stability, a comforting reassurance in times of uncertainty and a beacon of hope in moments of darkness. My father approached fatherhood with unwavering dedication, cherishing every moment spent with his children and leaving indelible marks on our hearts that we will endure for eternity.

As we bid farewell to my father, Tony Pillay, we mourn his passing, we celebrate the remarkable life he lived. His legacy of love, kindness and unwavering strength will continue to resonate with each of us. Guiding our steps and inspiring us to live with purpose. As we carry forth the lesson he imparted, the memories we shared, let us honour his legacy by living our lives with the same courage, compassion and grace that defined his journey.’

Law Society of South Africa Human Resources Manager, Nkhensane Nthane, comforting Tony’s widow Tarsicia Feldman. Photo taken by: Bonile Bam.


Tony the husband

Tony’s widow Tarsicia Feldman.

Tony’s wife Tarsicia said she met Tony in November 1993 while they both worked for an insurance broker. In February 1994, Tarsicia said that they had a car accident outside Howick, driving from Durban to Johannesburg. ‘While traveling in the extreme right lane, a car cut in front of us and Tony swerved to avoid it.’ She said that they were transferred to a government hospital in Pietermaritzburg. ‘We were treated there. I was subsequently discharged from the hospital and Tony was transferred to the Mediclinic in Pietermaritzburg, where he underwent the surgery on his spine but by then the damage was already done,’ Tarsicia said.

She added that Tony was bedbound for six weeks at Pietermaritzburg so that his spine could heal and was later transferred to a hospital in Randburg in order to start his rehabilitation. ‘Keep in mind that in 1994 people with disability only existed in the fringes of society. There were no ramps on the pavement to allow wheelchair access. Very few buildings were wheelchair friendly.’ She shared that Tony stayed on the sixth floor of a building with a lift. However, if the lift was broken, he would either be stuck outside his building, or stuck inside his flat on the sixth floor.

Tarsicia said while at hospital he was trained how to transfer from his chair to bed and vice versa, however, she pointed out that Tony never received any kind of trauma counselling or any other form of counselling and he hated his occupational therapy because it required him to do arts and crafts. Tarsicia said after much arguing and bullying on her part they figured out how he could transfer from his car to his chair, as well as other places like the bathtub. ‘We never discussed a plan of action. We winged it and hoped for the best,’ She added.

Tarsicia pointed out that as soon as Tony was comfortable to move around, he returned to work. Tarsicia in her speech painted a picture of how strong and determined Tony was as two months after he returned to work, he was driving himself to work every day and he was back to life in his new normal. Tony and Tarsicia were married in March 1995 and moved into their home where he passed away. In 1999, through invitro fertilisation (IVF) they were blessed with Adrienne who Tarsicia says shared her father’s easy-going, laid-back attitude, but with a work ethic of note. In 2001, through IVF they were blessed with triplets, Hannah, who like Tony, is protective and has compassion, especially for the underdog. Simeon who shares his father’s business mind and generosity, and Joshua who shares the quick wit, playfulness and intelligence that Tony had.

Tarsicia shared a side of Tony as the hands-on dad who made bottles, dressed the kids, prepared and packed lunch, as well as being the school driver. She pointed out that Tony was very protective of his role of doing school drop offs and picking up the kids every day from school. She said that even though Tony was a clumsy cooker, she was not shy to admit that he made a mean roast potato. She pointed out that Tony accused her of being stubborn, but like her she said he was equally stubborn. ‘I haven’t yet figured out who was worse,’ Tarsicia said.

Tarsicia also releveled that Tony was a man who spent on a budget, and should she overspend, she would be met by one angry man who would go to his study and take it out on his work. Tony enjoyed three things: Coffee, good biltong and a good skinder, and he often found himself in the company of women because he liked good skinder.

Tony’s funeral took place on Friday, 14 June at Catholic Church of St John’s North Riding and he was laid to rest at the Fourways Memorial Park.

Tony Pillay’s family at his memorial service.
Photo taken by: Bonile Bam.

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.

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