"My name is Christopher. I have an addiction for UCT. I've been off the wagon since 1967," is how Associate Professor Christopher Gilmour began his toast to the university, which was met with much laughter at the Retirees Dinner on Thursday, 13 November, in the full-to-bursting Smuts Hall.
The professor – who has spent 42 years in the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics – then gave up the stage to Linda Harrower (27 years) from the Finance Department (27 years) and Professor Tom Bennett from the Department of Public Law (37 years) so they could toast their time at UCT too. The host of the night's dinner, Deputy Chair of Council Debbie Budlender had been lined up to propose a toast but she told the audience she'd decided instead that these three were better suited to the task considering their long, dedicated service.
Other notable retirees included Professor Tim Noakes, who has enjoyed 33 years at UCT, and the two longest-serving retirees, Brian Skinner from Properties and Services, who is retiring after 43 years, and Cyril Keating from the UCT Research Animal Facility, who has been with the university for 45 years.
In a heartfelt toast, Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price thanked the retirees for their amazing contribution to advancing knowledge in each of their niche areas and for contributing to helping UCT make a difference to society. "The first thing I'd like to say is: thank you. The second is: stay in touch. I know that this is a traumatic time and for some almost an existential crisis. Most of you will hopefully discover that this is just the start of the next chapter of your lives. Because as we all know, to be 65 today is to be the equivalent of perhaps what 45 was 20 to 30 years ago. Our retirees are young at heart, in spirit and in mind. Then my third message is: have fun!"
Price then called on Professor Ian Glenn from the Centre for Film and Media Studies, who is retiring after 41 years, to respond with a speech on behalf of the retirees. Glenn began by paying tribute to his peers and soon had the audience entertained with his sharp, witty commentary and literary allusions. "How do we do justice to 1754 years of service?" he asked. "There are the academics and then there are the people who make the university run. Academics go on leave and nobody really notices; you'd think we'd have realised we're not indispensable. But this evening we should be paying tribute to a huge range of people who've been crucial to the functioning of UCT. When Gavin Redfern from payroll goes on leave for a week or two, everyone is going to be screaming very loudly!"
He vividly recalled the first time he spied the university perched on the hill. "Forty-one years ago, driving from Durban in a Ford Cortina and seeing UCT on the hill gave me an enormous thrill – and it still does. I think this is because of the excitement of teaching. Umberto Eco said you have three minutes to make students fall in love with you. And, he says, this only happens when you can convey your absolute pleasure at being there – your love of teaching and students. Of course he said this in 1987; nowadays three minutes is sheer luxury. It's only 30 seconds now if you can get past the cellphones!"
He spoke of how meaningful work at UCT was – both for him and his colleagues. Referencing Salman Rushdie's Midnight Children, Professor Glenn said, "Many of us are apartheid's children: we're not the born-frees but the born-separated-and-guilty. To live a good or meaningful life in South Africa for much of the period – particularly for white South Africans – was a daily battle. But in that battle, working at UCT has given meaning back. UCT has been on the side of the angels – I think it has mattered.?
He ended his speech with the surety that UCT would "keep the faith, shake the debate on what kind of country we are and what future we deserve. And in doing this, it will deserve our ongoing support and, dare I say it, love. Thanks for the best job many of us could ever have wanted."
Story by Carla Calitz. Photo by Morgan Morris.
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