October 24th, 2005
By Peter Meeus.
Yesterday, we brought Charly to Putte.
I have had the privilege, the honour and the pleasure to work with Charly for almost five years.
We all know Charles Bornstein became a member of the Antwerp Diamond Bourse in 1968, where he had different positions on the Board later on. He became a member of the Board of the HRD in 1993, the umbrella organization of the Belgian diamond sector. Two years later he was elected as vice-president. From 1999 till 2004 he filled the chairmanship of the HRD.
At the beginning of 2004, Charly resigned as President. He was awarded the title of Honorary President by the Board of HRD for his loyalty and services to the HRD and the Antwerp diamond community. He also received the national distinction of Commander in the Order of the Crown.
Charly always had this twinkle in his eyes which you only see with people of great intelligence. This twinkle characterised him in many ways.
First of all, he was a man of wit, always seeing the funny side of situations. Although the diamond industry went through challenging times, we have laughed a lot. Charly was a true optimist and we had great fun when he joined me in my office with his big cigar, which was never ‘lit’ and which he always forgot when he left.
The twinkle also symbolised vision. It was Charly’s ambition to modernise HRD and to make it more representative. He reached out to producers and bankers and large market players.
Indian representatives were welcomed to the Board and at some stage even our Minister of Foreign Affairs had joined the ‘buitenwacht’ of our Board. I can truly witness that the Minister accepted the position … because Charly had asked him.
His twinkle went along with respect of the people who worked with him. As much as he was popular on the street, he was even more with the HRD staff.
Charly truly was a man of all seasons.
He could read everybody’s mind and he knew that in every relation – man/wife, employer/employee, client/provider – situations only last if there is mutual respect.
We disagreed on many things – such as the way too handle the ‘conflict diamond’ crisis – but he never tried to break your arm. Instead, he was a true conciliator and – unlike the speed of the diamond trade – he took literally hours to get people to agree in their differences. In the house Charly became known as ‘le President-conciliateur’, the man who brought people together.
Charly also was a very intelligent man. He saw the wind coming when all the others were still sitting on the beach. He knew that there would come an ‘African Awakening’, and that a new challenge lied ahead in South-Africa.
Since he was a man of integrity he did not want to combine his privileged relation with South Africa whilst staying HRD-president. So he declined to stay on longer although the HRD Board unanimously asked him in a private letter.
In the 15 years that I have spent on the Hoveniersstraat I have seen some remarkable people. But I never met – and probably will never meet again – a more human person than Charly.
I have a picture on my desk with governor Paulus and Charly, while Charly has his hand around my neck, the same way he walked on stage together with Bill Clinton at the Antwerp Diamond Conference.
It says it all: that’s who and how he really was … my mentor, my father and my brother.
He will be missed by many.
Peter Meeus is managing director of Antwerp's High Diamond Council (HRD) in Belgium.
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