Though he never rose to international acclaim — indeed there have been more illustrious Rhodesians in his sport - it is for his recognition as the epitome of a Rhodesian sportsman and gentleman that I have chosen to honour Basil Kearns among the famous personalities in these pages.
Polo was his passion from the time he first represented Bindura as a schoolboy to the time his life was tragically ended in April 1979, three weeks after being hit in the head by a bullet in an ambush.
The forty-one-year-old Mtepatepa (Bindura District) farmer's vehicle was ambushed as he travelled towards Salisbury to carry out duties as a Shona interpreter in the 1979 elections. Renowned for his fighting spirit and courage even as he lay critically wounded in his hospital bed, many of his friends believed that if any man could pull through, it would be he. But the odds were too great, and Rhodesia lost another top sportsman in the war.
Born at Bulawayo, Basil Kearns was educated at Michaelhouse in Natal and then at Gwebi Agricultural College near Salisbury. Though he was adroit at several sports - he played hockey for Natal Schools - his first love was always polo and he rose through the Bindura ranks to captain the district.
He went on to become an established member of the national Rhodesian side first in 1952 and finally in the triumphant Benson and Hedges series against South Africa in 1978. After a bad accident in 1972 he was out of polo for a long spell, but he fought back from the bottom, first with Rhodesia B and eventually reclaiming his full national number four position.
In 1966, he was the highest handicapped player (a six) in the country and featured in perhaps the most stirring Test yet played against the Springboks. This was at the Salisbury Sports Club North Avenue field when Kearns was at number two in a 21 -goal Rhodesian side made up of Gary Hensman (5). David Meikle (5) and Chris Kearns (5).
They faced a formidable South African 23-goal team of Ian de Gersigny Robin Wilson, Craig Brown and Buddy Chaplin. Twice Basil Kearns had to summon all his experience to equalise for Rhodesia at 2-2 then at 6-6. The score were locked at 7-7 with the Springboks pressing in the final few minutes when Rhodesian captain David Meikle picked up the ball near his own goal line and. in a belly-to-the-ground solo run, smacked through the winner to a standing ovation from the crowd of 1 500.
Kearns went on to captain Rhodesia in later internationals and his career included matches against Argentina, Peru, Uruguay and New Zealand, while he also played polo in Kenya and England, where he became friendly with the Duke of Edinburgh and actually unseated him in a match. When playing in England he was presented with the 'best polo pony of the season' cup by the Queen.
When he captained Rhodesia at the 1964 South African Games, he got the name 'Hawkeye' Kearns as he showed such a fantastic eye for the ball.
But his prowess as a player was but a small part of Basil Kearn's's make-up. He was a generous sportsman in the true sense. In spite of the great distances he had to travel, he was for many years the driving force behind the Salisbury Sports Club polo section. He could be seen there at every meeting — encouraging new and young players, lending horses and giving instruction where needed. He gave unobtrusive financial assistance when such help would promote the game and at every away tournament he transported horses for the club.
He assisted his club with a tractor, rollers, fertiliser and labour and was always to be seen wearing his club colours at all tournaments. His own turnout and that of his horses, was always impeccable. A life member of Salisbury Sports Club, he was captain of their polo team for several years and was also chief national umpire for the three years preceding his death.
An ambassador of the highest order for his country, he played polo with a zest that was a pleasure to watch.
His string of ponies was always well schooled and meticulously turned out, as one would expect of a first class horseman and horse master. And when there was work to be done in the sport he was always the first to offer.
Basil Kearns was one of the many outstanding polo personalities produced by Rhodesia — a nation with a heritage in the sport dating back to 1895 in Bulawayo and 1896 in Salisbury.
The Rhodesia Polo Association was formed in 1947 with Mr. W. D'Arcy Cathcart as the first president.
Notable players before the fifties included Mr. Cathcart, Jack Browning, Dr. Hurworth, Dr. Byron-Moore, H. H. Henwood, Colonel Haslam, Major Jimmy Nicolls, Stuart Browning, F. J. C. Truter, Colin Hensman, Joe McArthur, 'Goff Morris, Neil McLeod, Ralph Townsend, Hugh Wheeler, Willie White, the Parham brothers, 'White' and 'Black' and John Kemple of Chakari, who had a ground on his farm. Sir Godfrey Huggins was also a keen player.
The outstanding players from the 1950s onward have been Rodney Morris (who captained Rhodesia from 1949-60), Junior Steyl, Bob Draper, and, in the last two decades, Rory and Gary Hensman, Pat Aitcheson, Patrick and Michael Kemple, David Meikle and George Ziemann.
Tom Kearns, Basil's father, played polo for several years and represented Rhodesia on one occasion.