A tribute to Ueli Gostelli

Ueli Gosteli Blog Pic Lrge2.jpeg

Many thanks to Dr. Lawrence Retief for penning this wonderful tribute to Ueli who departed on 14th October 2014. 

UELI GOSTELI also known as UGS or GOS.

Ueli was born on the East Rand on 13th November 1940, one of 4 sons to Eilsa and Walter Gosteli. He matriculated at St Johns High School, Johannesburg, in 1957 and then spent 1958 in Europe (mostly staying in Switzerland), learning to speak French, German and Italian.

In 1959 he enrolled at Oxford University to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics. His sojourn there was short-lived but he did leave a lasting impression amongst friends to whom he was known as “Gos” as well as an oil painting or two – possibly still hanging on the wall of the residence there.

From 1962, through a contact made at Oxford, while living in Paris and London he became extremely successful as European Director of an American travel organization, with 300 European based employees.  In 1968 he relocated to South Africa and went into business becoming a partner director in Pacific Oil Pty Ltd – wholesalers of motor oils and hardware.  However, 4 years later, in 1973 he resigned to focus on painting and travel and thus spent most of that year in South and Central America preparing paintings for a future exhibition in Johannesburg. Ueli’s appreciation of art probably links to his Dad who was an avid collector.

In 1974 Ueli opened, managed and coached at the first ever commercial squash centre in Randburg. He subsequently also opened squash centres in Hillbrow and Roodepoort. Ueli became the South African National Squash coach in 1980 and completed the publication of the official South African National Squash coaching manual in 1984. During this time he observed that what sports coaches mainly lack is the ability to effectively communicate their knowledge and lead and motivate their pupils. This prompted his interest in human behaviour, communication and leadership skills and he voraciously pursued studies in communication and life skills in South Africa, the UK and USA.

It was also during this time that he gave lessons to a particularly beautiful and talented young woman by name Cheryl (Ches) Ryder. One lesson lead to another, squash turned into friendship and love and they’ve been together ever since. Ueli also became the loving step father of Ches’s two children, Digby, then 7, now 42, and Samantha, then 5 now 40years old.

Also during that time Ueli started doing film translations for the SABC. He did translations from French, German, Italian, Dutch and even Spanish, into English for television. Amongst other shows he did the “Maya the Bee” series from German and “Don Quixote” from Spanish.

In 1984 Ueli also created “Gosteli and Associates”, a consulting practise offering services ranging from management consulting to provision of tailored education and training solutions including experiential learning, team building, leadership facilitation and interpersonal skills. This was delivered either independently or through a network of business associate , based on his many years of business and management experience, developed in several industries across two continents and in many fields of expertise.

Since then he has facilitated literally hundreds of teambuilding, leadership, executive coaching and corporate strategy sessions. ABSA, Aventis, Barclays, Bidvest, Consol Glass, De Beers, Elephants on Main, Eskom, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Jansen Cilag, NPA legal, Nedbank, RMB, Sanofi, Seef, Sun International, Telkom, Transnet, Unicef, Wits University Centre of Excellence……….these are just a few of the long list of companies that Ueli consulted to. This work also won him two national awards for corporate training films in collaboration with Wesbank.

In 1988 he also became a director and partner of Inter Lead (Pty) Ltd, a teambuilding and leadership company pioneering the black/white team interface in South African industry and commerce. In 1998 he left to focus on Gosteli and Associates.

Ueli was also an artist doing paintings and graphics and held three one man exhibitions over the years, the last being in March 2011.

Most of Ueli’s acquaintances, even those that have known him for a very long time, have been quite astounded at discovering the CV above and so it was for me. The realization then dawned on me that one of Ueli’s greatest attributes was his humble humility. It was always about me or whomever else he was assisting, guiding, teaching or just in the company of.  He just never felt the need to make others think he was important or good at something or better than them. This comes down to what LRH said was one of the most difficult things to do, allowing another to be. Granting beingness, total acceptance of others as is, Voetstoets! And so it was that most of us never knew about all these achievements in his lifetime.

So in his company you always seemed to feel that he was with you not against you. Yet he never compromised his own reality and could be trusted to give you an honest opinion or answer whether contrary to yours or not, but never in a way that made you feel stupid. Ches comments that she saw him as “A colourful, caring, gentle tender hearted philosopher”. “Not once in 35 years did I see him get angry!”

Digby recently wrote the following about Ueli on FB:

When I was seven years old my Mom said I want you to meet someone. That someone was Ugs. I looked up at this Giant of a man and he showed me how he pulls his thumb off……I was absolutely amazed and couldn’t quite figure out how he does it. The following week he took me to see “Buck Rogers” at the Top Star Drive-In in Joburg. It was a school night so getting home after 9pm was super late and now I thought he was super cool. We would have long chats on all subjects on our way to the squash centre in Roodepoort on Saturdays. Ugs managed the squash  centre and I was his side kick under manager. Having endless access to the Isotonic Game behind the counter I drank a lot of it. He learnt to play squash at St John’s under Roger Jarvis (1955 SA Champion).  Ugs started coaching me squash and I learnt all about the top players and the tactics that made them champions. We would always end each coaching session with a best of three match. He made me work and ran me round the court like a rabid dog. I loved my squash lessons with Ugs. He taught me so much about the game and about how to overcome my opponent by moving them off the T and out of position. His coaching style was always one of fun and this has always helped me when dealing with people throughout my life. He became National Squash coach and designed the National coaching course for squash coaches.

 My maths was appalling and Ugs spent many hours going through Algebra and Trig problems with me. He read a lot to my sister and I and he even wrote his own kids stories. He would take the family to Gelateria in Rosebank on Sundays for the best ice cream in the world. Ugs also had a love for the ballet and he would take the family to all the big Ballet productions at the Civic and State theatre.

  I came home from school one day and in the living room there were big TV lights and movie cameras. Ken Gampu was there(from Shaka Zulu) as well as other well-known local talent. I asked Ugs what was going on…He said he’s making a training movie for a company. He was also doing a lot of translating .He translated the Maya the Bee series from German into English and Don Quixote from Spanish. I thought he could just translate from German but he said that the Spanish he could pick up by studying the Spanish/English dictionary. It was cool to hang at the SABC with Ugs and watch the old Bond movies …Dr No etc. Besides being able to translate French, German, Italian, Dutch and Spanish movies and books he also made training movies and started venturing more into communication and interpersonal skills. Ugs never announced what he had accomplished, you always just found out via the grape vine or in passing. Only years after meeting him did I find out that he attended Oxford University to study politics, Philosophy and economics.

We had a competition at home once between my Mom, Ugs and I on who had traveled to the most countries . I topped out at 23, My Mom was higher and Ugs was 46 countries !! He basically travelled from the time he matriculated for a ten year period.



Guy Norton wrote:


Gos was truly a giant among men, through his intelligence, serenity and his gravitas.

I knew Gos for just over fifty years – it should have been fifty-five as we went up to Oxford the same year, but his stay there was sadly short-lived, and I did not meet him there. In fifty years I never knew him lose his temper or get angry.

My first introduction to him was when I was sharing a house at Oxford and on the wall was a modern painting. I asked what it was and was told that it was by Gos, Christopher MacLehose having shared rooms with Gos during Gos’s brief sojourn at Oxford.

But I did meet him five years later and offered him the job of running in London tours bringing three thousand Americans to Europe a year. Being 100% Swiss, Gos ran the whole show with tremendous capability and accuracy. He had sixty tour directors working for him. One of them, Anthony Lacey, wrote to me yesterday “Please say to Ches that all the tour directors Gos so patiently and expertly briefed remember him with great admiration and pleasure.”

Four years later I left the travel business and took Gos with me to South Africa and he and I ran a business in Johannesburg for four years until Gos decided to leave and become a squash professional, a role he filled with great success. (He even taught me!).

Gos then applied his many intellectual and artistic talents to painting, translating and running outward-bound courses to try to break down the barriers between blacks and whites in South Africa. My wife and I spent a fabulous week with Gos and Ches in the Okavango eighteen years ago and they came and stayed with me in France eight years ago, when Gos was virtually the same man that I had met for the first time forty-two years before.

Guy Norton.


In my opinion, Ueli’s humility resulted in many of the Scientology community never realizing what an incredible source of sanity we had in our midst.

In my case, I met him around 1994 and quickly formed a friendship which became my stable datum for many aspects of my life. We spent many social hours together but many more hours debating, dissecting and discussing the many frustrating mysteries of beings and bodies that I encounter every day as a medical doctor.

During all those times he never ever told me what to think, he never evaluated, he simply guided me to look at data and references and to conclude whatever was true for me. And what an incredible source of information he was!

The few Scientologists that really got to know him soon realized that he was probably one of the most expert LRH reference points on the planet. He never stopped studying LRH materials and thus had studied all the materials a number of times over – which is probably why he started doubting the new releases quite early on. The final straw was the Ideal Org strategy which he point blank refused to follow from the start. He wrote up and referenced his reasons for this to Robert Bokelman a few years ago, to no avail.

For myself, Ueli Gosteli was the wisest person I know, he was my mentor, my go to man, my great friend and I miss him very much. I can only imagine what the loss of Ueli/Ugs must feel like to Ches, Digby, Samantha, Dave and Liam. Our thoughts also go out to Reudi, Ueli’s surviving brother in Canada and his family – Gerda, Kim, Brenda and Darren, and here in Johannesburg, Ueli’s sister-in-law Marion, wife of Sepp who passed away last year, and her daughter Ueli’s niece Cindy.

To end, some words from the man himself, extracted from some of his annual Christmas newsletters. Ueli chuckled and laughed a lot and you are encouraged to do the same and to listen for him still chuckling every so often:


“This yearning to be super fit, shared by Digby who is in training for his third Cape Epic 8-day mountain bike race, and Samantha who is torturing herself in preparation for the CrossFit tournament next year, seems to be a family failing Ches and I were also victims of in the far distant past when we would spend hours each day on the squash court. Nowadays I am more prone to siestas.”

“I keep a list of all the books I read, but I should also keep a list of the films we see, because often they are the ones that make the greater impression, and then we do not remember their names.

But District 9 we do remember. Did you see it? F#$%% bliksem! Wikus, so correct, in his civil service white shirt, pens in breast pocket, clipboard in hand, interviewing this huge horrendous alien in the squatter camp outside Johannesburg, admonishing him in the most South African of accents, “Don’t you wave your f%^%$ tentacles at me, man!”

We are proud that the director’s film fundi dad is a close friend of ours, and that we knew the director when he was knee high to a prawn. South African cinema is getting there. We have other young friends who are budding filmmakers…

And now Invictus.  Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman have done a marvellous job in portraying Nelson Mandela, as Richard Attenborough and Ben Kingsley did for Mahatma Gandhi. I had tears running down my cheeks for much of the movie (so what’s new, says Ches, you cry in most of the movies we see).”

An American critic writes that “It is hard to think of a filmmaker who so cleanly embodies a single human impulse in the way that Mr. Eastwood personifies the urge to get even. But Invictus is about the opposite of revenge – it is about reconciliation and forgiveness”.

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”.

Sitting one day discussing which writers sell and which do not, and why, Denis (Beckett) asked, “What’s with Shakespeare anyway? His comedies are mostly not funny, his plots are obscure, he’s difficult to understand… why’s he regarded as being so great? Why do they still keep making movies of his plays?”

I got out my old school edition of Hamlet, virtually every line underlined, some in black, some in blue, some in red, according to a code I had then, the margins filled with tiny earnest notes, written with a real steel nib, in real ink, black or blue, also underlined, in blue or in red, and I re-read it. And it is good, damn.

Then I read a couple of the comedies, All’s Well That Ends Well, and As You Like It, and they weren’t very funny and the plots were obscure… and they were difficult to read.

But I had never read them before, those two, and there’s the rub. It’s poetry, and poetry you have to get to know. How many poems did you really like the first time you read them? With poetry it’s not in the meaning of the words, it’s in the rhythm of the words, and the sound of the words, and the play of the words.

Finally, a word of real wisdom from Will Durant, in his classic account of the great philosophers: “Philosophers should be graded according to their capacity for laughter”.

And this excerpt from a lecture by L Ron Hubbard: “Probably the only high level crime is the death of laughter – to kill laughter. I don’t mean mockery laughter. I mean just the death of fun. That’s a big crime. That’s big. If somebody makes it so that it isn’t fun anymore, that is an incursion against freedom.

So may we laugh, and hope, and flourish and prosper in this year to come.


A final thought: “The hardest task one can have is to continue to love his fellows despite all reasons he should not. A primary trap is to succumb to invitations to hate. To love in spite of all is the secret of greatness. And may very well be the greatest secret in this universe.” – L Ron Hubbard.



This has been a year of change. The loss of loved ones and also the loss of a group of good friends for a silly reason which will be quite forgotten in a year or two.

And new strong friendships forged.

The joy of grandchildren.


Farewell Ueli. I know you are in a place where you are working even harder to fulfill the hopes and dreams of a better game for all, with lots of fun and laughter included. We shall meet again.

Dr Lawrence Retief



7 thoughts on “A tribute to Ueli Gostelli

  1. Thanks Lawrence – a great tribute for a really special person. I worked closely with Ueli for a number of years on the Southern African Arts Festival Committee – he was an avid supporter of the annual festival for many years. Just as you said, he was always interested in the person he was communicating with – it was never about himself. I had no idea how varied and wide his talents and interests were – what a wonderful, humble and caring soul. I’ll miss him.

  2. Beautiful tribute, Lawrence. And you are right – I certainly did not know Ueli’s CV. Can’t say it surprises me though. There was always something very special about him. The world needs more people like him.

  3. What an astounding and admirable individual. Creating so much of so much value, with such little fuss.
    I didn’t know him, and until recently didn’t even know of him, but am gladdened and encouraged by the story of his deeds and also by his wise and humble words.
    Thank you for a very fine tribute to a great man.

  4. I echo all the sentiments expressed here. What an inspiring life. And a humble example of just how much can be accomplished, through being genuinely interested in making the most of opportunities to reach out to people and life itself. RIP, Ueli.

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