Siamon Gordon is a Glaxo Wellcome emeritus professor of cellular pathology at the University of Oxford, and a fellow of the Royal Society. He studied at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and interned at Groote Schuur Hospital. Emeritus Professor Gordon reflects on his time and experiences with Dr Stuart Saunders, the former vice-chancellor of UCT, who passed away on 12 February 2021, after a short illness.
After graduating MBChB in 1961, I spent the first six months of my internship at Groote Schuur Hospital working under Stuart. I can still hear the full-throated laugh that characterised his sensitive management of medical rounds.
After a year in London and a decade in New York training as a research immunologist, I was fortunate to take up a post at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology in Oxford. As a South African, I shepherded Stuart from time to time during his visits to Oxford to promote UCT connections with the Regius Professor of Medicine, chair of the Nuffield Fellowship scheme, and the Warden of Rhodes House, administering the Rhodes scholars from South Africa.
“My regular annual visits to Cape Town reinforced my admiration for his skills at resisting the political demands of the apartheid regime.”
Accompanying him on his round of interviews with successive dignitaries opened my eyes, as I observed this master diplomat in full fundraising pursuit. He immediately became “one of them”, fully at ease, teasing and cajoling, as if they shared a common background, education and values. I had to admire his skill at inducing them to part with valuable resources, all the time enjoying his triumphs with the slight raising of an eyebrow and a wink in my direction.
My regular annual visits to Cape Town reinforced my admiration for his skills at resisting the political demands of the apartheid regime. His published account of this experience should be required reading for all those who doubt the degree of transformation achieved in student access, housing and opportunities during his years as vice-chancellor of UCT.
But to me, he was always the consummate physician – down to earth, and ready to share a secret joke between ourselves.
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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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Specialist physician and former UCT vice-chancellor Dr Stuart Saunders has passed away. Saunders will be remembered for his servanthood, stewardship and support of the university over decades.15 Feb 2021 - >10 min read