Dr Adam West described his father's endurance in the face of Parkinson's disease as "by far the most impressive thing I ever saw him do".
West paid a touching tribute to his father, Emeritus Professor Martin West, at Saturday's memorial service at UCT, attended by a wide range of members of the UCT community.
Speaking of the effects of the disease on his father, West said: "Despite its debilitating effects that robbed him of seeing his grandchildren grow up, and them of better knowing this wonderful man, he never complained. In fact, it was characteristic of him to always ask how we were managing. This was true up to the last days of his life."
He described his father as "a devoted servant of UCT", who in his professional capacity touched many lives.
"But we also remember him as the beloved head of our family. He was a profoundly gentle and considerate man, with a wicked sense of humour and an enormous appetite for life. Despite the demands of his career, he was a constant presence in our lives – never losing his sense of humour and perspective. Accepting, understanding, supporting and loving of us all.
"We miss him greatly and remember his sense of humour, courage and love with enormous pride," he concluded.
One West one bullet
Professor Hugh Corder, who delivered the eulogy, relied on West's unfinished memoir, One West, One Bullet, for pithy quotes and anecdotes that gave insight into his character.
The memoir derives its name from a student march in the mid-1990s. Students were unhappy about living conditions at residences and were waving placards with variations on the PAC slogan "One settler. One bullet", like "One student. One tap". Upon West's appearance a student started a chant "One West. One bullet", which was taken up by the rest of the marchers and which greatly amused the then DVC for student affairs.
Corder's eulogy was an attempt to discern what made West "such a great man: in the words of so many, such a mensch".
In speaking of his life-long commitment to UCT, Corder explained: "There is no doubt that he loved the place, with all its faults and quirkiness, or maybe because of such characteristics." He also believed the former deputy principal succeeded as a leader at the institution because of a "deep and refined understanding of the academic condition".
To illustrate this point, Corder quoted from the memoir in which West described academic staff as "a group of people loosely aligned against the university's parking policy".
Corder listed the university library, the USHEPiA programme and the transformation of the graduation ceremonies as among the areas that owe "their institutional vigour to his managerial patronage ... We will miss Martin enormously, the loss tempered by what remains of him in the fabric and daily practices of this university".
'A man for a moment in time'
Jerome September, an SRC president in the late 1990s who currently works at UCT's International Academic Programmes Office, in his tribute described West as a "formidable opponent".
"He was a man for a moment in time. A moment in our country's journey (and particularly UCT's journey) where engagement, discussion and debate were critical ... where steering the path meant a presence that was gentle, yet firm. He was the right man to lead UCT's transition from the confrontational apartheid style of engagement with student leadership to one of co-operation ... He understood his role very well. He embraced his role. He lived his role. He was the man for that moment in time."
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Story by Abigail Calata. Photo by Michael Hammond.
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