Remembering Dr Stuart Saunders

29 March 2021 | Photo Supplied.

Messages of tribute and condolence have been received from across the country and the world in memory of former UCT vice-chancellor Dr Stuart Saunders, who passed away on 12 February 2021, after a short illness.

The messages that follow have been published as received. This page will be updated when more messages come through.

It is a very sad day for the University of Cape Town and especially for the medical school where he developed a large part of his work. I knew Professor Stuart Saunders since I was a doctoral student at medical school, from 1981 to 1986. I send my deepest sympathy to his family and to the university [community].

Maria Gärtner
Full professor of Pathology, University of Porto
Senior Researcher – IPATIMUP/i3S

Thanks for letting me know. Prof Saunders was a friend of my late grandfather.

Shoshanah Shear
Private occupational therapist and freelance writer

Prof Saunders was a caring and principled human being, as I witnessed during my years as a medical student (1965–1970), as well as during his tenure as vice-chancellor.

His passing is sad indeed. Rest in peace, dear prof.

Helga Puttick née Antonissen

It was with a sad heart that I learned of Dr Stuart Saunders’ death – thank you, Madam Vice-Chancellor for sending me your well written obituary.

I knew Dr Saunders quite well and have very fond memories of him taking me under his guidance during the early 1960s when I was one of a very few overseas students at UCT. Not only was he my house master at University House but also he extracted my appendix at some point.

I recall getting a stern dressing down from Stuart for not writing my parents often enough. During the summer break of 1962 they thought I had gone touring in Angola and, having no letters, asked after me via a telegram to Dr Saunders! 

Yes, South Africa has many minerals, but he was a very rare gem! He will be lovingly remembered.

Fred Sexsmith
Vancouver, Canada
UCT 1962

May God keep his soul in peace.

Tamirat Shawoel
UCT alumnus

Thank you for the very sad news. I have known Dr Saunders since my arrival in Driekoppen/Kopano in 1967.

My sympathy to his family.

Edward Coogan
UCT alumnus

My heart just sank. Condolences to the family and everyone.

Lerato Molobye
UCT alumnus

On behalf of the family of late UCT registrar Patrick McDonald, my brother and I would like to [convey] our condolences to the family on the passing of Dr Saunders recently. Our father worked closely with him on the administration of UCT, and always respected him as a colleague and leader.

Rest in peace, Stuart Saunders.

Alan McDonald and Lesley Satchel
UCT alumni

He was indeed a great man. His legacy lives on.

None Ramonate
UCT alumnus

I was saddened to receive the news of Prof Saunders’ passing. Please add my name to the list of many who I am sure will be offering condolences to his family.

John Crowhurst
UCT alumnus

I was employed as a secretary in the Staff Recruitment Office when Dr Saunders was the vice-chancellor. Whether bumping into him in the corridors at Bremner, or engaging him whilst dropping files in his office, I remember him always treating me with respect and care.

He had no sense of self-importance, which was something lacking in a lot of people in leadership positions in those days. I experienced him as a kind, gentle and humble man, with a fabulous smile.

Rest in peace, Dr Saunders.

Sandy Hill
HR Client Services, Human Resources
University of Cape Town

Stuart Saunders was my father, Len Abrahamse’s, great friend. He was chair of Council when Stuart was vice-chancellor and they became close. Stuart spoke at my dad’s funeral, and when my mum died several years later, Stuart and Anita were incredibly supportive. He was a great man and I feel privileged to have known him and Anita well. He was a man of integrity. A great person. I was very fond of him and Anita. May he go in peace.

Loraine Leonard (Lolly)

It is with deep sorrow that I learned of the passing of Emeritus Professor Stuart Saunders.

I have so many fond memories of this formidable man. Whenever we met at a university or faculty event, Stuart would pepper me with questions about the institute. In addition to being deeply interested in the research questions we were tackling, he always took time to ask how I was getting along: Was I coping with the workload? Was I receiving the support I needed? Was I being treated well? Was there anything he could do to help? He will be very sorely missed. MHDSRIP.

Valerie Mizrahi
Director, Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine
University of Cape Town

I was appointed as a senior lecturer 1989 with a brief to create a jazz studies programme in the Faculty of Music (as it was then). Dr Saunders was VC at the time, and it was in no small part due to his support that such an initiative was approved in a faculty with a historic tradition in western classical music. Many universities around the world had regarded jazz as a less meritorious discipline at that time. Dr Saunders was knowledgeable in music and always a friend of the college, often attending our concerts over the years. I valued his encouragement and remember him with respect.

Dr Mike Campbell
Emeritus Associate Professor

I have known Professor Saunders since my days as a medical student, registrar, consultant and, more recently, as a friend. I was extremely proud to deliver the Inaugural Stuart Saunders Lecture in 2018, and we remained in contact both by mail and personally when my wife and I were in Cape Town.

He was a courageous man who played a magnificent role for UCT and the country in difficult times.

A wonderful man and huge contributions to UCT and the country. I will miss him.

Prof Bernard J Gersh Professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science in the United States

I was at Driekoppen (as it then was known) for three years in the late sixties. Stuart was a wonderful warden, managing highly rambunctious students with a great measure of empathy and understanding … as well as discretion!

I remember well when once he discovered only late in the piece that there was to be the annual party when all were invited and no questions asked, he debunked to his holiday home very promptly at about 21:00 … so as not to get in the way of the celebrations. And the party to celebrate the 25th anniversary was also one to remember.

We owe him so very much.

Robert Estcourt
UCT alumni
Chief operating officer, Brookvine, NSW Australia

Shortly after I was made head of the Department of Microbiology at UCT, I was walking back to my office after a graduation ceremony. Stuart and Anita joined me and he said, “The Leon Foundation has been funding the departments of Microbiology and Biochemistry for some years, enabling them to buy equipment. They have indicated that this will end soon, but I think that if you tell them about your research they might be willing to fund you.”

And that was the start of many years of funding that I received from the foundation, which also laid the foundation of the still ongoing Leon Postdoctoral Funds. What a man!

Emeritus Professor Jennifer Thomson
Department of Molecular & Cell Biology

I am so, so saddened to hear that Dr Saunders has passed away.

He was a wonderful VC. I have very fond memories of him, especially of him arranging for the Dean of Law to defend us in court after we had stolen flags and bunting on a public holiday after leaving the Driekoppen pub. The CID in 1981 were not fond of students and wanted to throw the key away.

We ended up facing him in his office, and were roundly chastised and fined R25 each – at the time that was 100 beers at the Pig and Whistle, so it was substantial.

Then a smile – wonderful man. God keep him and comfort his family.

Peter Ward
UCT alumnus

When I joined UCT in 1986, Stuart was the presence fighting the police force with such bravery.

I have had the privilege of working for Stuart for the last 12 years at the Claude Leon Foundation. He was one of our two academic trustees for the Claude Leon Postdoctoral Fellowships.

His kindness and patience with me as a non-academic was touching. I was so saddened at his passing. I thought he would be with us forever, so large was his personality.

I will always remember him with fondness and pride at having met and come to know this amazing man.

Gale Minnaar
Claude Leon Foundation

I will always remember Stuart Saunders as a great storyteller, an interlocutor of wit and wisdom, and a man with an eye for creativity and talent.

Before and during my tenure as Dean of Humanities (2004–2013) he was deeply interested in our work, and supported many faculty applications to the AW Mellon Foundation to sustain and develop various initiatives: staff development and transformation, postgraduate bursary funding, significant support for opera in the SA College of Music, curation and archives, creative writing, the environmental humanities, rhetoric studies, the seeding of a number of research chairs, the promotion of interdisciplinary enquiry and much more.

The home he made with his wife, Anita, was a place of beauty and grace, and the venue for many entertaining and stimulating dinners, opera recitals, and formal and informal professional engagements. My deepest condolences to Stuart’s family and friends.

Emeritus Professor Paula Ensor
School of Education, UCT

Stuart Saunders was a wise and lovely man with the special attribute of caring – caring for the well-being of his students during the dark days of apartheid, caring for his patients and for his friends, always. After Kate’s detention in 1984, he reached out to David and Marie to provide support. From there began a friendship that endured throughout all these years. We mourn him.

Marie Philip and Kate Philip

Stuart was a wonderful inspiring person, and he played a huge role in my career. He was responsible for getting me to UCT from Rhodes and as a result my research career flourished. I was very fortunate when he appointed me as a deputy vice-chancellor. It was a wonderful and special privilege to work closely with him for eight years from 1988 to 1996. These were difficult times in SA and Stuart played a very important role in leading UCT and the SA university system in general. I know that he played an important role in my being appointed as vice-chancellor of Rhodes. I was very privileged that he came to my inauguration as VC at the end of August 1996 – which incidentally was his last day as VC of UCT. While I was at Rhodes, it was a great privilege to honour Stuart by awarding him an honorary degree. I also enjoyed working with him from 2006 on the Leon Foundation university projects. Charlotte and I were very fortunate to have Stuart as a friend.

David and Charlotte Woods

I was saddened to learn of the death on 12 February of Professor Saunders. I first met Stuart at Christian Brothers’ College at Greenpoint. We have been friends ever since. After not seeing each other for years, we were able to take off from where we left off. We were fellow students and indeed partners when it came to dissecting “Blossom” and “Hannibal” (not their true names – who knew anyway what their true names were?) and in doing the famous unknowns in chemistry. I introduced Stuart to his first wife, Noreen, the mother of his two children. She suffered from depression, unknown to me.  As someone who had a great influence on my life I salute Stuart for all he has achieved – and that “all” was much in many directions.

Godfrey van R Radloff

To Jane and John

It was a privilege working for your dad for many years as his personal secretary. He had an enormous amount of integrity and fairness. He also had a wonderful sense of humour. It is entirely appropriate to say he was a “mensch”. My family and I regarded him as friend and we will miss him.

Maggie Sukel

Stuart Saunders – A Clinician’s Eulogy

A fond farewell to a king clinician
His secret – examine with precision.
Very rarely for a diagnosis stumped.
He then not to a conclusion jumped.
Rather to read this an opportunity.
And to re- examine with accuracy.
Errors, he taught, were oft due to omission.
Only rarely due to that of commission.
His knowledge vast and encyclopaedic.
As a teacher, verily fantastic.
Many benefitted from his wise pearls.
To match, have to travel to a few worlds.
We wish him well on his heavenly sojourn.
Our love and respect he indeed did earn.

Yakoob Vallie

My deepest sympathies to Dr Saunders’ family and friends, and to his extensive network of academic colleagues. I completed my undergraduate and graduate degree programmes at UCT, starting in 1987, during the terrible years of the state of emergency, and remember Dr Saunders clearly from graduations and university activities. He led the university during tumultuous times and was responsible for some very important academic developments that helped integrate UCT into a world network of universities after the cultural boycott ended.

My sympathies,
Fiona Ross

I wish Prof Saunders’ family long life and many condolences.

I was very sad to hear the news of Prof Saunders’ passing.

He was extremely generous with his time to teach, to consult, to always talk to patients with a twinkle in his eye; always shared a laugh; and always, and sincerely asked how people were.

A very sad loss for all.

Rest in peace Prof, with the knowledge that you touched and inculcated many wonderful attributes in us.

Be well
Marc Blockman

Stuart Saunders will be remembered as one of the giants in terms of his contributions to medical science and to UCT. But to me personally I will remember him for his wisdom, compassion and understanding. As a young academic I stole roses from his garden for my girlfriend; as a more advanced academic and head of department I was subject to his wise council in difficult times. His astounding ability to know people as individuals made him more than a VC: he became a friend, not just a colleague. I salute you Stuart: your legacy lives on in the many human beings whose lives you have influenced, and who carry forward your humanitarian values.

Hamba kahle, old friend.

George Branch

On behalf of all the residents of University House when Dr Saunders was deputy warden and the old Driekoppen residents when Dr Saunders was the warden, we send our sincere condolences to Dr Saunders’ son, John, and daughter, Jane, and their families. Dr Saunders is remembered with much respect by all the residents across the years of his wardenship. And by us too.

Jeremy and Jeanette Wood

Dr Stuart Saunders was one of South Africa’s outstanding vice-chancellors. He provided strong leadership during a tumultuous time in South Africa’s history, dealing with the political challenges while ensuring that UCT continued to build its academic stature and impact. In his role as the A W Mellon Foundation representative in South Africa he championed transformation and academic excellence providing support for many young talented scholars, the humanities and the arts. I shall miss his razor-sharp insight, wise advice and visionary thinking.

Farewell, Stuart.

Professor Cheryl de la Rey
Vice-chancellor, University of Canterbury, New Zealand
Former vice-chancellor, University of Pretoria and former deputy vice-chancellor, University of Cape Town

My sincere condolences to John, Jane and their families. I worked for Stuart in the early 1990s and remain deeply indebted to him for all I learnt from him during that time and in subsequent years as he continued to provide mentorship when I became an academic. Stuart was an ethical, reflective leader, committed to social justice. His work ethic was legendary and yet he always set time aside to connect to his colleagues on a personal level, to listen to their views, to relate light-hearted, often self-ironic, anecdotes and to intervene when needed. He was a brilliant, generous, kind man and I shall miss him a great deal.

Best wishes
Rochelle Kapp

To the man who served as a gateway for all African students to access UCT. We owe our success to you, Tata, and we will always be indebted to you for that.

To the Saunders family, thank you so much for affording the African child an opportunity to meet this gentle giant. I am who I am because of Prof Stuart Saunders’ selfless efforts.

Rest in power, Tata. We thank God for your life.

Lala ngoxolo Qhawe!

Kind regards
Babalwa Nqiwa

As a clinical years’ medical student at UCT and an intern and registrar in medicine at Groote Schuur Hospital, I came to know Prof Saunders well. Prior to this, when he became warden of Driekoppen Residence in 1967, I was chairman of the house committee, so we met often. He and his first wife, Noreen, were very hospitable to the subwardens and house committee members, and he introduced us to Damon Runyon: appropriately with the short story titled Blood pressure. Runyon has been a constant bedside-table companion ever since. Prof Saunders’ watchword was service: what an example he set in his fine innings.

Doc Caldwell  

I have known Stuart since our days as registrars at Groote Schuur Hospital in the 1950s. We were friends though our paths diverged, me emigrating to Canada and he stayed in South Africa to carve out a great career and make a wonderful contribution to medical education. I knew Stuart as a man of solid integrity and wisdom and a very good friend. Although opportunities of meeting over the years came seldom, I will miss him sadly and offer my condolences to his family.

Isaac Sakinofsky
MD,Acad DPM(Lond),FRCPC,FRCPsych(UK) Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry & Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto; Formerly Head, High Risk Consultation Clinic, Centre for Addiction & Mental Health (CAMH), Toronto

I had the privilege of working under Dr Stuart Saunders for many years. A fine man. Brave, honest and deeply committed to changing the lives of all South Africans. A man of principle layered with great integrity. Condolences to the family. I shall miss him.

Milton Shain

It was with great sadness that we heard of the death of Dr Saunders. Tricia remembers him with great affection and always thinks of him when hearing Peer Gynt! What struck us when seeing his age is that he was really not much older than us students! Our condolences to his wife and family. He was a great man indeed.

Tony and Tricia Border

During my UCT undergraduate and post graduate studies in the 60s and early 70s I always looked forward to Prof Saunders’ lectures and tutorials, as did hundreds of other students. He was a great human being and a major asset to UCT. South Africa will miss this great son of the land. May your soul rest in peace.

Kind regards
Govind Harie

Richard and I were both honoured and privileged to have been mentored by this exceptional teacher. He will be sorely missed.

Our deepest sympathies to his family.

Drs Brenda MBChb 1976 and Richard Kerbel MBChB 1975

Dear Jane

I hope that you still remember me, Nazeema Ahmed, clinical psychologist during research from years ago at the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health. I have been longing to connect with you but have struggled to find your email address.

Jane, my sincere condolences to you and your family on the loss of your dad. I have been thinking much about you over the last while and wish you ease during this time. May the memories of your dad warm your heart. I know that you are living his legacy just in the person that you are. My dad has such fond memories of your dad, as he supported him as a young black medical student in the heart of the apartheid years.

I would so love to connect with you. Please feel free to contact me.

Sending love to you
Nazeema Ahmed

My heartfelt condolences on the passing away of Dr Saunders. As UCT VC in 1993, he accorded me the Overseas Student Scholarship that enabled me to carry out my PhD studies at UCT, graduating in 1998 with a PhD in Electrical Engineering. May his soul rest in peace.

Prof Innocent Ewean Davidson
HoD Electrical Power Engineering
Durban University of Technology

I was one of those students who was accepted to UCT, but failed to secure the necessary permit to do so. For two years the despised regime refused me entry.

Rest in the peace you so deserve. Thank you for choosing to stand with me in that difficult part of the road.

Feriel Pietersen Ricks

I was privileged to be a medical student, registrar in Ward D1, and fellow in the UCT Liver Clinic during Stuart’s time as Professor of Medicine. He taught me much in science and medicine, but more importantly, he showed me how to be a mensch. I owe him much, including his staunch support and encouragement in my career after leaving UCT.

Jacques Rossouw
Class of 1966

I supervised Stuart’s good friend Robert Segal and met him now and then at dinner parties at Robert and Nan’s place. He was always simply ‘Stuart’: engaging, interested in everyone, full of insight and humour and never, never ever one to trade on his many accomplishments. He was a rare presence. I am sorry for your loss and wish you courage.

Bernhard Weiss

I well remember the first time I spoke to Dr Stuart Saunders as a fourth-year medical student in a crowded Saturday morning tutorial that was attended by most of the clinical students – who were not hungover from the night before!

Stuart was instructing us on forced vital capacity and its decline in patients with chronic obstructive Bronchopulmonary disease (the name given to this condition is possibly different now). Stuart needed a lit match to demonstrate that as the FEV1 declined the patient could not extinguish the lit match even when placed very close to their mouth. Eager to impress, I volunteered my box of “Lion” matches. When he returned the matches to me he asked me sotto voce whether I smoked cigarettes. When I replied that I did he simply asked – quietly so that only I heard – whether I wanted to become another patient like the one on whom he had just demonstrated the decline in FEV1. That admonition shook me so much that I decided there and then to stop smoking!

Thank you, Stuart, for providing that important lesson as well as so many others that are too long to document. Your teachings of medicine and life were much appreciated.

Mervyn Maze
Class of 1970

A bright light has gone out with Stuart’s passing. We would like to express our sympathy and condolences to his family and all who knew him. Stuart was an inspired and inspiring leader. He was a magnanimous, forward-looking and truly decent person in every sense of the word. Stuart and Anita for decades and more recently Stuart on his own were the truest most generous family friends. They were always there for Bruce, Ariane, Matthew and me in times of joy and sadness, to celebrate joyous events and to support and comfort us when in need. Stuart will always be remembered and live on in our hearts. We celebrate the life of a rare human being and friend.

With love,
Mari, Ariane and Matthew Arnott

I met Dr Stuart Saunders when I was a medical student, and he a senior registrar in the Brock firm.

Even though our interactions were limited, I was struck by his acuity as a physician, his caring attitude and his warm bedside manner. He made a strong impression on my young mind, shaping the way I viewed the practice of medicine, and changing the way I perceived the world.

I will always remember Dr Saunders.

Mahendra Ranchod
Palo Alto, California

Thank you, UCT, for a remarkable memorial celebration service for Dr Stuart Saunders! A very dear family friend and colleague of my dad. Uncle Stuart, as we kids called him, growing up with our families together enjoying in particular long summer holidays at Yzerfontein. We have so many fond memories and one in particular of the two friends / fathers and professors catching crayfish while smoking pipes, always deep in conversation, in a little dingy bobbing in the bay!

Rest in peace, Uncle Stuart! You were very loved. We send lots of love to John, Jane and their families at this sad time.

Michele Terblanche, Dave, Frank, Alice, Tom and our extended family in NZ and USA

Dr Stuart Saunders was a visionary. He was open minded and keen to explore opportunities which could enable inequities in higher education in Africa to be overcome through a range of means and modalities. In his role at the Andrew Mellon Foundation, he was ahead of others in recognising the possibilities of educational technologies to support teaching and learning in research-intensive residential universities. He was encouraging, incisive and asked difficult questions. He insisted that the successes that were gained through projects he had supported should have wider impact and encouraged us in what is now the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT) to build communities across Africa. The programme Mellon funded under his leadership supported educational technology professionals and academics to gain postgraduate qualifications at UCT seeing 63 graduates from 12 different countries: Uganda, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Kenya, Zambia, Namibia, Ghana, Lesotho, Cameroon, Mozambique and Swaziland. Thanks to his foresight, those universities were prepared for the unexpected pivot online necessitated by COVID-19. He played a central role laying the foundations for the work CILT does today. His legacy lives on.

Professor Laura Czerniewicz
Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT)

Prof Saunders has had, and still has, an impact on my medical practice. Commiserations at the loss of a great teacher. His memory will live on and his teachings will influence the lives of others into the future.

Kind Regards

Dr Marlene Johnson

Dearest Stuart

You were a wonderful inspiration to UCT students across the generations and across the world.

Thank you for your wise leadership and your long-term commitment to knowledge generation, despite the tremendous challenges of higher education in South Africa.

Hamba kahle, Stuart.

We will miss you.

Laurine Platzky

Yes, I had an opportunity once to meet Dr Saunders. I was at UCT to do my master’s during the early 1980s. My work was based on computer modelling, and late one afternoon I was walking back from the computer building when I saw him walking the other way along the sidewalk. I knew right away who he was, but we just looked at and acknowledged each other as we passed.

I’ve always regretted not having the guts to stop, and to stop him, to say something like “Dr Saunders, I presume?” to introduce myself as one of the foreign students attending at the time. It was the only opportunity I ever got.

I’m sorry to hear of his passing. He was an important figure in the university’s life, and he led through what I understand were some especially difficult and fraught times after I was there. My condolences to his family and all who miss him.

Guy Roberts
BASc (British Columbia, 1982), MSc (Eng) (Cape Town, 1984)

During the 1960s Stuart Saunders was the warden of Kopano residence (then named Driekoppen) and also acted as a GP for its students.

I went to him to show him a big lump on one of my lymphatic glands. He examined it and got me an appointment the very next day with the revered Professor Jannie Louw. They said, “We can whip it out.” They got me an operating theatre appointment within 48 hours at Groote Schuur Hospital. I was clearly very fortunate and privileged.

So, I became one of the few persons to be cured of lymphoma during the 1960s, because it had been diagnosed at an unusually very early stage.

This is how I literally owe my life to Stuart Saunders.

Keith Gottschalk
UCT alumni
Retired senior lecturer and head of Political Studies Department, UWC

Thank you, Dr Stuart Saunders, for your wise, steady, principled and visionary leadership of the University of Cape Town at the most tumultuous time in the history of our country. I was truly privileged to serve under your vice-chancellorship at UCT from 1992 t0 2003. You were a larger than life figure. Thank you for your warmth, kindness and generosity of spirit. Your gentleness and calmness at all times inspired me. May your beautiful soul rest in eternal peace.

Go well, great leader!

Sizwe Mabizela
Vice-Chancellor: Rhodes University

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