Pat Tebbutt: 1924–2017

20 May 2017
Pat Tebbutt.
Pat Tebbutt.

26 January 1924 – 20 May 2017

Former judge Pat Tebbutt died on 20 May 2017 at the age of 93. His association with UCT and the law was a life-long one, a central strand running through an enormous range of activities and interests.

His recently published memoirs, A Life Spiced with Variety, catalogue the extraordinary number and type of vocations and passions which he was able to pursue in his long career after leaving UCT: among them naval service towards the end of World War II, newspaper journalist, sports broadcaster (rugby and cricket), legal practice as an advocate, service as an acting judge, a lateral professional journey into the business world (which included the completion of an MBA at Harvard at the age of 50), a return to legal practice, appointment as a judge, and eventually service as a judge of appeal in Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, after retirement from the bench in South Africa. He also chaired the commission of inquiry into the killings resulting from the AWB invasion of the Bophuthatswana homeland in early 1994.

Amid all these professional activities, Tebbutt was very active in charitable causes, delivered countless after-dinner speeches, played a central role in the unification of rugby in the Western Cape after 1994 and was president of the Rondebosch Golf Club for some years.

His association with UCT was, however, one of the most sustained and intense involvements. It began when he was a 16-year-old enrolled for a BA degree, which he obtained in 1942. His LLB followed in 1944. He was involved in later life with UCT Rugby and the UCT Foundation, and was President of Convocation from 1982 to 1996, during which period he travelled the length and breadth of this country, reviving healthy relationships with alumni.

Alumnus and former UCT Council member Owen Kinahan said, “I was much privileged to work closely with Pat for over 40 years. A natural raconteur and indefatigable fundraiser, he was the definition of ‘Hail fellow, well met.’ He was elected President of Convocation when I was UCT alumni officer from 1982–84. We traversed the country in what he called our ‘dog and pony show’, packing in 50 reunions in three years. He was tireless, a diplomat to his fingertips and had a cast-iron liver. He was a most worthy recipient of the President of Convocation’s medal. We first worked together for Smuts Hall’s 50th birthday in 1978. He had entered Men’s Res in 1940 and held it in great affection for the rest of his life. A decade ago he was awarded honorary life fellowship of Smuts Hall in recognition of his distinguished career, public good works and sustained contribution to Smuts Hall. Only last year he became patron of the Smuts Hall Alumni Association. His shadow is long.”

Tebbutt was also a patron of the UCT Rugby Football Club (UCT RFC). The UCT RFC management committee paid homage to their patron saying he was a great servant of the club and of rugby in the Western Cape. “Pat has been a source of inspiration and loyalty to our club for many decades and his warmth and wisdom touched everyone who met him.”

Former Vice-Chancellor, Dr Stuart Saunders, remembers Tebbutt as an enthusiastic supporter of UCT: “Pat was President of Convocation for years and actively sought to encourage alumni to support the university by attending meetings with them all over South Africa. No one was more loyal to or supportive of UCT than Pat.”

Professor Hugh Corder, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and former Dean of Law said that Tebbutt was a very keen and regular participant in UCT Law gatherings from 1999, always willing to give advice and to speak at important occasions.

“He had a great gift for amusing, intelligent and eloquent speeches, never stumbling over his words, witty and yet serious in his central message: ‘Do unto others as you would wish them to do for you.’ His presence lent both seriousness of purpose, mixed with well-chosen humour, to all such occasions – he was able to find common cause with people of all ages and diverse backgrounds.”

“We pay tribute to one of UCT’s best-known alumni, and we shall miss him at future reunions of alumni,” Corder said. “The university extends its sympathy to his wife, family and large circle of friends.”

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