In memory: Emeritus Associate Professor John Juritz

18 August 2008

Emeritus Associate Professor John Juritz of the Department of Physics died on Wednesday 2 July. Below is an excerpt from a tribute by Emeritus Professor Robin Cherry, former head of the department and former dean of the Faculty of Science.

At about eight o'clock on a morning in early March, just over 58 years ago, I walked up the hill from Rondebosch Main Road to attend my first day of lectures in the science faculty at UCT.

My immediate destination was the lecture room on the first floor of the old physics department, which I entered via the stairs leading to the elevated rear. Below me I saw a packed lecture room, with, at the bottom, a rather distinguished youngish man with a stylish beard, standing in front of the blackboard.

The first words I heard from him were close to: "For the benefit of those of you who were unable to arrive on time, I'll repeat my introductory remarks."

This he did, with references to sentences written in an immaculate hand on the board. Thus my first meeting with John Juritz.

Over the months that followed my class-mates and rapidly became enthralled by "Mr Juritz'', his enthusiasm for his subject, his clarity of presentation, his erudition and humour, his friendly response to questions and his marvellous lecture demonstrations.

The first lecture of the day was something we looked forward to ; a fun occasion, and effectively instructive to boot. We learned, by the usual undergraduate osmosis, that he was a "character'', a man of parts, as knowledgeable about matters musical as he was about physics.

We delighted in repeating unreliable but always amusing gossip about his enviable status as an eligible bachelor.

Over the next three years I was fortunate enough to have John as a lecturer for a substantial part of my physics education. The year 1952 was an exception, because he was away on sabbatical. We had been apprehensive when we learned that he would be away, but our apprehension was in fact unjustified.

In our third-year physics course, our lecturers were two other outstanding teachers, the legendary Professor R W James, the head of department, and Allan Cormack.

In retrospect one can only say that those of us who were undergraduates in the physics department at UCT from 1950 to 1952 were outrageously fortunate.

If I have dwelt at such length on my memories of John as an admired personality of my undergraduate years, it is because my own first impressions reflect so exactly the experience of thousands of students who have been fortunate enough to attend his lectures.

In the last fifty years the following has been a recurring story. I meet someone, either in South Africa or abroad, who learns of my connection with UCT physics. A frequent reaction is: "Oh, you must know John Juritz. I was in his class in 19-fifty or -sixty or -seventy or -eighty -something. What a fabulous lecturer he was!"

He was indeed.

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