Publisher, Entrepreneur, Town Councillor & Mayor
Updated: 14 October 2009
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David Rees was born at Mynyddyslwyn (Wales) in February 1857, was educated at Llanelly and worked for the Great Western Railway.
He came to the Colony in 1881 and was employed by the Cape Government Railways, at first in Cape Town and then Port Elizabeth.
In 1885 he moved to East London and established himself as a cartage contractor to the railways. From 1894 until 1903 he was proprietor of the East London Dispatch.
He was also a member of the Beach Hotel Company, served for a time as chairman of the East London Harbour Board and was president of the Agricultural Society. He was a Free Mason and became a Past Master of the Buffalo Lodge.
Rees took a prominent part in the administration of the War Distress Funds during the Great War, for which he was decorated with the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).
He also served as chairman of the Hospital Board and School Board, and was deeply involved in sport, being at various times president of the East London Club Football Association, the Cricket Union, the Amateur Athletic and Cycling Union, and the East London Rifle Club.
Despite all these activities, he was also a widely travelled man, journeying frequently to England and also to Australia and Russia. So great was his prominence in East London affairs that the dredger Kate was named in honour of his wife.
He joined the Town Council in February 1888 as councillor for Ward 2. He was re-elected in February 1891 and was unanimously elected Mayor but resigned both his seat and the mayoralty in August that year because of his inability to return from England before an absence of three months was up. His letter arrived too late, however, and his seat had to be declared vacant.
He re-entered the Council in February 1892 and was immediately re-elected Mayor and had the distinction of being the first Mayor to wear the official robes of office when they arrived from England in August 1892.
He was re-elected to Council in February 1893, 1896 and 1898 but resigned his seat prior to another journey to England on business. On his return, he rejoined the Council in February 1899 but resigned for personal reasons in July that year.
Rees had the distinction of serving as Mayor for longer than anyone else during the pre-war years. Indeed, he held the office from 1890 until 1896, apart from a break of six months from August 1891 to February 1892. He was elected again in 1899.
His mayoralty was also distinguished by some of the greatest advances in the history of the municipality, with major street construction, the establishment of electric lighting and the tramways, as well as the building of the Town Hall.
He also pioneered a Bill through Parliament to give East London a major dam on the Buffalo River but his efforts in that instance were frustrated through the townspeople's fear of pollution which caused the plans to be shelved for a further 23 years.
Rees died on 26 December 1926, at the age of 69, and was buried at East London.
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