At a moving memorial service held on campus late last week, the late Professor Gary Marsden was hailed as a visionary who understood that the interests of people should inform the development of new technology.
Marsden, a doyen of UCT's Department of Computer Science since joining as a senior lecturer in 1999, passed away after a suspected heart attack on 27 December 2013 while on holiday with his family.
UCT Vice-Chancellor, Dr Max Price, was among those that paid their respects.
"Gary was an inspiration to all of us," said Price. "He had an infectious energy, a love of life; he inspired us all, especially by the way he applied his trade with passion and innovation. He was indeed an extraordinary educator. Time and again he was honoured for his innovative and diverse teaching methods and for his inspiring learning methodology. He was praised for his outcome-based approach which encouraged students, from first year, to think like computer scientists and to solve problems."
Dean of the Faculty of Science, Professor Anton Le Roux, described Marsden as a "true scholar and academic, and an international leader in his field of expertise. He was a stalwart of the faculty, always willing to contribute when asked, no matter the size or the importance of the task."
Associate Professor Sonia Berman, head of the Department of Computer Sciences, said: "What a wonderful colleague. He has such a wonderful sense of humour, and a very unique one.
"Of course Gary's success in every aspect of teaching is legendary, from making posters for schoolchildren, right through to teaching experts at international workshops. For many years he had the perfect extra job - he was appointed Student Advisor - and who better to help young people with their problems?"
Berman relayed a message from Dr Susan Dray, president of Dray and Associates Inc.: "[Marsden] influenced the development of a profession by focusing on creating technology with people rather than just for them. He was instrumental in creating a new important area, applying these ideas to projects for economic and social empowerment.
"Love was the root of all Gary did. When he spoke truth to power, stood up to justice and integrity and helped students and colleagues, he did so because he was, to his very core, a man who loved humanity and bridled at injustice."
Indeed, Marsden's craving for social justice was a motif in many of the tributes.
Said Dr Marion Walton, senior lecturer in the Centre for Film and Media Studies who did her PhD under Marsden's supervision: "He was really serious about designs that challenged inequality. Let's remember our technologies are designed in the north for wealthy northern consumers, made in China from Africa's blood minerals; they're designed for the profit of corporations.
"Gary didn't like this. He worked to change it by talking to ordinary people about what it is that they want to do with technologies."
One of Marsden's students, doctoral candidate Thomas Reitmaier, spoke about his gratitude to his mentor and recalled Marsden's use of "minion" as an affectionate term to describe his postgraduate students.
"Gary valued people above all else. Gary has always been our greatest advocate and fan, our champion and hero. Not in the classical sense of the word hero, but by inspiring us to find our own ways without imposing, by opening doors for us and introducing us to his many colleagues and collaborators from across many disciplines."
Marsden is survived by his wife, Gil, and their children, Holly and Jake. Mrs Marsden thanked her husband's colleagues for their warm words.
"I sort of feel that I'm speaking on behalf of Gary to say that he was so appreciative of everything that UCT offered to him, first of all, a professional home, and then freedom to pursue his research and his teaching passions. So, thank you. Thank you for the opportunities and the encouragement that UCT has given him as an institution over the past 15 years.
"He was truly proud to be part of this university. I want to thank the department [of Computer Science] for believing in Gary from the word go, for trusting him, and for supporting some of his crazier endeavours - I'm sure you must have just shaken your heads at various stages, but also providing him with the environment to practise, to make mistakes, and to grow as a teacher, a researcher and as a mentor.
"Thank you for inspiring Gary, for challenging him, for giving him outlets and opportunities and encouraging him to push the boundaries and test new ideas.
"I really appreciate those who've travelled far and wide to be here today. Thank you to those who've spoken. It's just been so wonderful for me and for us as family to hear all these things."
Marsden's accolades reflected his reputation and convictions. In 2012, Marsden was one of only five academics in South Africa to receive a National Excellence in Teaching and Learning Award from the Council on Higher Education and the Higher Education Learning and Teaching Association of Southern Africa. He also won the 2007 ACM SIGCHI Social Responsiveness Award for his research in using mobile technology in the developing world.
Story: Yusuf Omar. Image: Raymond Botha.
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