Remembering Henri van Bentum: words from the August 13th memorial gathering, by Grace Van den Brink - Past President, The Union Club of B.C.

Grace Van den Brink

For those of you that don't know me, I'm Grace Van den Brink, and I came to know Henri and Natasha both as fellow Union Club members and snooker players.

First of all, I would like to offer my continued condolences to Natasha, to family and Henri's wide, wide circle of friends, fellow artists and thinkers as we gather on his birthdate of August 13.

Henri was a talented man and he lived such a long and interesting life. Few of us will ever achieve some of all he accomplished.

In his obituary Henri was described as "valiant, steadfast, compassionate". I would like to add the word: Gentleman. No matter what, he never failed, at the very least, to give a wave or a nod or share a few words when our paths crossed in the Club. His and Natasha's support during my presidency here at the Club was always welcome and I felt he was my talisman whenever I would see him.

I first met Henri in the Billiards Room when I started to learn how to play snooker. I must say that his stance and shooting style, appeared to my uninitiated eyes, to be somewhat unusual. And yet, he played the game and played it well with enthusiasm, good humour and sportsmanship. 

In 2015, Henri played in the spring snooker tournament here at the Club. As you can imagine, there is a bit of a tale behind his win. 

For many weeks before the tournament, Henri and Natasha were cat-sitting in Arizona for P.J. Heyliger, one of Henri’s former students and illustrator of his children’s books. Surprisingly, there was not a billiards table to be found within 50 miles – something that Henri and Natasha missed as they would play 4 to 5 times a week here at the Club.

They flew home on January 16 and the tournament was scheduled for the next day. Now, Natasha said they were flabbergasted when Henri won. Not only had he not practised in almost six weeks, but he was getting over a long day of travelling and was on his feet for seven hours – all this while 85 years young.

Henri van Bentum with trophy

Henri’s impact went beyond the Billiards Room. Shortly after becoming a member in 2005, his “From Landscape to Innerscape” retrospective exhibition covering 45 years was featured at the Club, and the Club appreciated his donating his children’s books a few years later.

Henri, you are missed and yet your spirit, creativity, teachings live on as does your love for Natasha. Thank you.

Grace Van den Brink, Past President, The Union Club of British Columbia

You are invited to visit  "Remembering Henri van Bentum", a new landing page

featuring several existing, and legacy projects. 

Remembering Henri van Bentum - message from Raymond Doucette, former Vancouver neighbour

Our former neighbour, Raymond Doucette, during his lengthy stay in Lalibela

Here is a message from our friend and former neighbour back in the days when we lived in Vancouver.  Raymond is a humble but intrepid traveller and wanderer. Henri and Raymond had a regular correspondence from afar.  Henri and I were always fascinated by Raymond's accounts of his travels, in particular the lengthy time he spent in Lalibela, Ethiopia, where he assisted in the creation and funding of a job-creating Lodge for local people.  Natasha

"My solitary bachelor life ended in 1996, after the new neighbours, Henri and Natasha van Bentum, moved in across the hall.

They explained they were just house-sitting for six months – actually, they described it as “fish-sitting” -- since one of their main tasks was to look after a huge aquarium that occupied about one fifth of the living room space.

They were a bohemian, friendly pair. The six month fish-sitting assignment ended up lasting five years, since the owners decided not to return (they'd moved to northern BC, and rented the apartment to the van Bentum’s).

Before long, the three of us visited each other regularly, with Henri and Natasha always inviting me to their place for supper;  it was larger than my bachelor studio.

Their place was full of Guatemalan, Indonesian and Indian textiles, plus of course Henri’s paintings, and artefacts from their global wanderings.

I discovered Henri’s cooking was just one of his talents. And which I avidly anticipated.

Before meeting the van Bentum's, I’d never heard a single sea-going yarn. Nor knew anyone like Henri. Or his repartée. And I was soon hooked, intent on experiencing his lively European humour.

And his earnest, and vivid accounts of their travels, adventures, and fascinating sojourns.

The three of us had similar travel bents – appreciating above all, out of the way, unspoilt places. Which was possible in those days.

My memories are also of Henri's profound discipline, his careful, and steadfast fastidiousness --- yet free.  As was his art, his integrity.

I came over to Victoria in August 2020 for his 90th birthday and brought him a portable solar light from Ethiopia. He was thrilled and showed everyone, saying “Imagine, the light gathered here comes all the way from Lalibela!

Henri took me under his wing. And as an equal. For which I am totally grateful. 

I have appreciated the support, and attention he generously provided. And particularly for a time when I most needed it. I've wished I had let him know.

Postscript:  For those who don’t know it, Henri’s blog is an endless source of fascination. It’s still there on the Internet, and will remain as part of his legacy.

You are invited to visit  "Remembering Henri van Bentum", a new landing page

featuring several existing, and legacy projects.