‘It was a privilege to know him’

24 February 2021 | Story Margaret Elsworth. Photo University of Cape Town. Read time 4 min.
Alumna Margaret Elsworth (seated front left), who graduated in 1953 alongside Dr Stuart Saunders (standing far right), pictured at a class reunion in Observatory in 2011.
Alumna Margaret Elsworth (seated front left), who graduated in 1953 alongside Dr Stuart Saunders (standing far right), pictured at a class reunion in Observatory in 2011.

University of Cape Town (UCT) alumna Margaret Elsworth, who graduated in the same class as Dr Stuart Saunders, shares her memories of the university’s former vice-chancellor, who passed away after a short illness on 12 February.

Stuart and I were in the same class, graduating in 1953. There are few of us left – in fact I do not know of any besides myself. 

Stuart was brilliant and young. He was the inspirational student for Professor Frankie Forman, the finest physician I have ever known. He was approachable, kind and had a good sense of humour. His first wife, Noreen, worked with me at the African Scholars’ Fund for many years, right up until she died.

He was, through Noreen, a wonderful advisory help for the African Scholars’ Fund – because we were buddies too! We consulted Stuart often, most memorably in 1976 when I brought him in to host a meeting of “the comrades” from our local townships (illegal at the time but condoned by the police in the interests of peace) in order that they could express their grave concerns – a special day which stopped further violence and initiated understanding.

A historic statement was arrived at on that day, which Noreen and I took to Brigadier LP Neethling straight away, and his response was immediate: “Thank God. Now I know what all this is about!” Quite typically, when there are protests, nobody really seems to know what the matter is, and the police have to keep order without knowing why … and that is what happened in 1976.

Stuart and I did not see much of each other because we were both busy people, but when we did meet it was always with a “Hurrah!”

He was masterly. UCT was so fortunate to have him as a principal. It was a privilege to know him.

I don’t know if there are any others of our class year still alive, but if they are, none of them shall forget him. 

Dear Stuart. God bless you in the hereafter.

Margaret Elsworth

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Dr Stuart Saunders


The University of Cape Town (UCT) hosted an online memorial service for former Vice-Chancellor Dr Stuart Saunders on 24 February. Dr Saunders was a dedicated servant, steward and supporter of UCT. He passed away on Friday morning, 12 February 2021.

Stuart John Saunders was born in Cape Town, South Africa, on 28th August 1931. After graduating MBChB with honours in 1953 at the University of Cape Town, he did post-graduate research at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School at Hammersmith in London and at Harvard University. He received the degree of Doctor of Medicine in 1965 (University of Cape Town). He began his administrative career as the University of Cape Town’s Head of the Department of Medicine (1971-1980) and was co-founder of the university’s Liver Clinic & Liver Research Unit (a field in which he wrote some two hundred articles and co-authored a study that has become a classical reference). He was Vice-Chancellor from January 1981 to August 1996.

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