Professor Tom Moultrie was a member of the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 1989/90. He is now a professor of demography in the Centre for Actuarial Research (CARe) at UCT.
I first got to know Dr Saunders in 1989/90, when I was a member of the SRC at UCT. It was a time of some ferment, with regular protests on campus, especially on the grass banks overlooking (what was then) De Waal Drive. He had a habit of arriving at protests and interceding between the police and students with a loudhailer, wearing a long khaki Columbo-style overcoat. Sometime before my arrival, he had arranged for double white lines with the text “UCT” to be painted across every access road as it entered UCT property. He was adamant that the police were not to cross those lines, no matter what the student provocation. One wonders how the protests from 2015 to 2017 would have played out had those lines been respected – particularly outside Tugwell.
He must have found us all rather tiring and trying, but never once showed it.
“Dr Saunders oversaw a long series of Mellon Foundation grants to three South African universities.”
I had gone to study in the United Kingdom in the late 1990s, after Dr Saunders had retired from UCT. As I was nearing the end of my doctoral studies, I was looking for a way to return to South Africa and to enter academia. By that time, he had forged a close friendship with Bill Bowen (Princeton president until 1988, and then chair of the Andrew W Mellon Foundation). The Mellon Foundation was looking for projects in South Africa that would assist our fledgling democracy, and with Carolyn Makinson (project officer at the Mellon Foundation) it was decided that it was necessary to build capacity in the field of demography – until then, horribly tainted in South Africa by apartheid.
Dr Saunders oversaw a long series of Mellon Foundation grants to three South African universities (UCT, the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of KwaZulu-Natal), beginning in 2001 to build training programmes in demography, of which my postdoctoral appointment at UCT from 2002 to 2005 was one aspect. Had it not been for that grant, it is not clear that I would have been able to return to UCT.
“His evident love and deep concern for the university prevailed until the end.”
Dr Saunders remained involved with the Mellon Foundation until around a decade ago, and during that time I often had the chance to meet and talk with him. I last saw him about a year ago (pre-COVID!) at a small dinner (his second wife, Anita, having died a few months earlier). He was in great form then – lucid, witty and with the raconteur’s easy ability to tell stories and anecdotes, always with a slightly self-deprecating bent. His evident love and deep concern for the university prevailed until the end.
Dr Saunders was a titan of South African academic leadership in the 1980s and 1990s. With good grace, charm, humour and compassion, he was able to lead the institution through difficult and turbulent times. From others, especially two interns who worked under him in the 1960s, I have heard nothing other than the highest regard for his abilities as a physician, as a mentor, as a colleague. He will be remembered most for his kindness, his generosity of spirit, his compassion and for the omnipresent mischievous twinkle in his eye.
Tom Moultrie, PhD
Professor of Demography
Centre for Actuarial Research (CARe), UCT
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