Staffer a ray of sunshine

07 June 2004

Sue Kuyper from the ADU.

Sue Kuyper's e-mail address is and her colleagues in the Avian Demography Unit (ADU) agree that this sums her up perfectly.

Asked about her unique e-mail address, Kuyper explained: "When I started at UCT I had to provide a username. 'Sue' and 'Suek' were already taken but in my previous job I was always referred to as sunshine because they said I brought a ray of cheerfulness to the office.

"Being cheerful is just part of my personality. I believe life is for living and if you are miserable it is your own fault."

According to John Cooper, an ADU project administrator, Kuyper is a kingpin of the unit. "She knows us and all our foibles and she willingly and cheerfully helps beyond the call of duty - things like shopping for expeditions, arranging breakfasts, meeting the Robben Island ferry and aeroplanes at all hours and even feeding my cats while I'm away.

"Sue is excellent at welcoming new students and staff of all backgrounds to our unit and she is an 'empath' who helps with personal difficulties."

Kuyper, who is a librarian by training, worked as an editorial manager for a publishing company before joining UCT. She has been with the ADU for five years and as an executive assistant she manages its mélange of day-to-day activities, including the production of the unit's numerous publications, liaising with 18 postgraduate students and the organisation of social functions.

"I enjoy interacting with people and trying as hard as I can to solve their problems," Kuyper noted.

When she is not ensuring the smooth-running of the ADU, Kuyper can be found walking on the mountain or the beach or reading a biography.

"I love reading about how people succeed despite circumstances that are very difficult. It's something my father instilled in me from childhood. He had polio and struggled to walk, yet he always had the broadest smile and a 'just get on with it' attitude.

"I've tried to do the same in my life. No matter what comes along, rather than let it shake me or destroy me, I allow it to make me a fuller person."

An organised person by nature, Kuyper concedes that there is no magic formula when it comes to running her office.

"I simply prioritise and do things as efficiently as possible. Being a mother helps in that you are able to do many things at the same time."

And being a mother is a role that sometimes extends to the unit's postgraduate students.

Kuyper tells of a student who had struggled for eight years to complete his PhD. Brandishing her diary, she managed to get the student to commit to setting goals and timeframes in which to accomplish them, thereby allowing him to finish his studies.

"Sometimes the students just don't believe in themselves and are too afraid to take the last steps of the journey. It's always rewarding to see students complete their studies and staff that are happy."

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