Graham Lindsay Drury Ross: 1924–2015

02 December 2015
Dr Graham Ross
Dr Graham Ross

18 July 1924 – 2 December 2015

Dr Graham Ross, doyen of South African road engineers and transportation historians, passed away in December after a short illness.

He was born in Cape Town and attended Christian Brothers’ College, Green Point. Within a few days of matriculating in 1942, he volunteered for active service and was posted to the navy. After the war he enrolled at the University of Cape Town and then joined the Cape Provincial Roads Department on graduating in 1948. His first job was to help put the finishing touches to Du Toitskloof Pass, which was the beginning of his long love affair with the routes through the Cape mountains.

He really earned his spurs while serving as acting district engineer at Oudtshoorn, when he was tasked with finding a feasible new route for the Huis River Pass through the very tricky geology of the local mountain range.

He decamped in 1963 with his wife and young sons to attend Northwestern University in Illinois, where he obtained an MSc and formal skills in the emerging discipline of transportation engineering, and on his return was appointed a geometric design engineer. He produced a geometric design manual for South African conditions which has become the bible of local road designers. In 1967 Graham was recruited by Ninham Shand to establish and head up the Roads and Transportation Department in his firm, and within a year he was offered a partnership, which turned into a directorship when the firm became a company.

When he finally retired in 1993, Graham and his wife, Eileen, caravanned many thousands of miles around the country, documenting information on the mountain passes of the Cape. His notes, which were initially published as a series of articles in the SAICE magazine, became a marvellous database, Mountain Passes, Roads & Transportation in the Cape: a Guide to Research, which itself was later to become the well-known book Romance of the Cape Mountain Passes.

He was for a number of years the national president and later honorary life fellow of the South African Road Federation. Graham also received accolades and honours from several other professional bodies, including SAICE (honorary fellow), ASCE (life fellow), ITE (Institute of Transportation Engineers) (life fellow) and he was proudly a life associate member of the Sigma Xi Society. He was also very gratified to be a member of the Royal Geographical Society.

A very high-ranking dinghy sailor, despite his relatively light weight, Graham was in the front rank of Western Cape (and indeed South African) competitors at various times.

His research documents and extensive collection of transportation and historical references are housed in the Jagger Library at UCT.

Graham’s magnum opus concludes with a quote he found on a bridge across the Keiskamma River in the Eastern Cape:

The tree shall grow, the brook shall glide
The hill shall stand, the bridge shall bide
The builders like the fading ray
Of summer’s sunset pass away

But Graham’s inspiring example and legacy of knowledge will not pass away for many a year.

Farewell old padmaker, you travelled a long and splendid road.

By Tony Murray with contributions from Tony Abrahamson, Brian Alexander, Colin Carter, Steve Fanner, Peter Thomson, Mike Shand and Brenda Sudano.

Originally printed in the SAICE magazine, Civil Engineering.

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