Reunion roundup

Reunions held in 2003: Class of 1963


A summary by John Steer


Aubry Abramson, Abe Allie, Rene Arendse, Esme Arenson, Richard Aron, Clive Botha, Mick Broughton, John Brownstone, Khandoo Deva, Fa brizio Casale, Cassiem D'arcy, Joe de Nobrega, Francis Diab, Rory Dower, Peter Etellin, Arthur Freeman, Lynne Heselson, Keith Gunston, Des Herron, Nasheba Jardine, Bhawan Jogei, Denise Juretic, Avis Kow, Wolfgang Losken, Arifie Manuel, Herzl Melmed, Hedwig Meyer, Ahmed Moosa, Donald Nuss, Gerry Pill ay, Cyril Press, Errol Racussen, Ashley Robins, Ernst Rösemann, Rob Rush, Stan Sandler, John Steer, Anthony Townsend, Jane van Jaarsveld (Bewsey), Cyril Weinkove, Emilie Wiggins, Barry Winning

(Click on the image to see a large version.)

Personally I've always been exceedingly wary of reunions and viewed this impending disinterring of the past with apprehension. Apart from the inevitable passage of time, the class had scattered to all corners of the globe and I somehow felt I'd be surprised if one would show genuine interest in their medical voyages. I've always delighted in Esme Arenson's comments a year or so back regarding the reunion when she said, in essence, "I was never very close to most of them anyway - in fact to very few - so what's the point meeting again?". Well, Esme and I, in particular, were happily proved scintillatingly wrong.

It was indeed a true delight to meet again with a host of mostly fond memories. They came from the UK, USA, Canada and one Australian.

The initial ice was broken at the Dean's office and, arriving late, the cacophony of sound even to anyone hearing impaired meant communication was a non-problem. There was a happy buzz as we registered, took second or third identification glances and were initially eternally grateful for significantly visible nametags. Jane van Jaarsveld's glamorous "new look" had me initially fooled.

We were then given background to the computer based new medical curriculum and how it was used by an exceedingly personable Laurie Kellaway, who gave the impression that in many ways the new medical student could be largely taught by "student group discussion and computer" with almost nary a medical lecturer. To one suspicious of computer domination - while accepting the distinct advantage it offered over trying to decipher a Kench lecture - no matter what the pundits say, being taught by "Clinical Masters" left a lasting impression. Something I suspect a computer will struggle to do. Dave Ginsburg, an academic in Canada, and one who's never been remotely intellectually disadvantaged, took up this point by mentioning that in his Medical School 15 full-timers initially had coped with the student education, lectures and all, but now with a full-time staff of 75 the latter felt they simply didn't have the time (or was it interest?) to get involved with lecturing! Yes, times have certainly changed. But I'd certainly miss the clinical wisdom and personality of Jannie, James, Frankie, Bill Schulze, Jack Heselson et al. There's no computer comparable to their wisdom. No matter what the programme.

Then a nostalgic trip to the library and it's somewhat unchanged upper bookshelves and on to the "new" Groote Schuur Hospital where those who hadn't got lost met Johan Brink, one of the delightful professors of cardiac surgery, who showed us around the newly refurbished Chris Barnard cardiac unit. Recall the days when we were exposed to these international medical giants. Lunch, exquisite, was provided by Rob Rush's daughter in-law's catering company.


On Friday evening the cocktail party was a great success and one delighted to have the former Dean, JP van Niekerk, open the reunion and give an overview of the new medical curriculum. He subtly encouraged us not to forget considering medical school in our fast approaching estate planning. Ashley had arranged for three of our original lecturers to be present. Bill Campbell taught us chemistry in 1958, ours being the first class that he lectured to at UCT - a daunting proposition, he said! But we couldn't have been that bad because he is still at UCT, 46 years later and, although officially retired, is actively involved in postgraduate research supervision. It was a delight to hear Cecil Craig (his presence I assure you remains undiminished) take us through the various phases of medical life and then Lynn Gillis making the very appropriate comment that on retiring you'd best be certain you had something which really absorbed you. His passion is now sculpting. He, as a psychiatrist, saw too many doctors who, having retired, done the exotic long promised tour with their spouses and finished all the house repairs, ended up being depressed and on antidepressants. Wise words Lynn.

Saturday morning at the luxurious Lung Institute was the required "academia" and we heard Wolf Losken, Rob Rush, Don Nuss, Stan Standler, Fabrizio Casale, Herzl Melmed, Clive Botha and the irrepressible Jose de Nobrega "entertaining" us with their experiences.

The evening dinner was at Hildebrand's on the Waterfront with a spectacular view over the harbour. Much hilarity. Amazing how many of the old groupings remained intact.

The highlight was undoubtedly Ashley playing excerpts from the speeches at our 1963 final year dinner. What fond memories to hear James, Jannie and then Frankie saying he didn't usually come to these dinners because they were no more than a repository of dirty jokes but this one had been a delightful exception. And then the star of the show, Ashley's incredible speech in which he took the mickey out of all the professors and then launched into a denunciation of the final year exams which were 6 weeks away. He concluded by adapting the Churchillian oration to our foes, the examiners: "We shall fight them in Jameson Hall; we shall fight in the wards and in the side-rooms; we shall fight in Somerset and at PMH. We shall never surrender ." And then the last line: "If this Medical School and its Hospital last for a thousand years men will still say, "This was our finest class". Winston would have been proud. This was one of Ashley's finest hours and he's justifiably proud and possessive of the CD of the speeches. It's going into the UCT archives. These are the only recordings made of Jannie, James and Frankie. But Ashley maybe you should reconsider and allow wider distribution.

A glorious Sunday lunch was provided by indomitable Jose de Nobrega at a wine farm owned by John Colley and Susan Wells. In an old Cape homestead largely restored by Jose, with dappled sunshine coming through the oaks and a lavish exquisite spread (courtesy of Jose who's now retired and living in an isolated cottage in the Bain's Kloof mountains) we had our final function. Again a social delight. As we took our farewells I recalled those very sage comments by the ever urbane Dave Dent at his class reunion the previous year when he talked about "promises to meet again", knowing full well that it was unlikely!

There are many high points but I think for me the most special was seeing John Brownstone now in his ninth decade but undiminished. I always wondered how he'd come to medicine and he told the story. He was a very successful tobacco farmer in Southern Rhodesia (I won't mention the chocolate business, John) when he said to his wife "I'm bored with just having a good bank balance. I want to do something meaningful with my life". "Like what?" she said. And he told the story of a Greek family doctor on one of the islands (John was born in Greece ) and the humane way in which he practised medicine: the help he'd given and the joy he'd created. John began medicine at 36. Then went on to the States to specialise first in psychiatry and after that in anaesthesia. What a life story! And when at the dinner the question as to when we'd meet again was discussed and the 50 th anniversary suggested, John in that inimitable way said, "Well then, I'll say goodbye now chaps."

If one has to look at our class and say which of us has scaled international heights, I think there can be no doubt that it's Don Nuss. His technique of restoring Pectus Excavatum is internationally accepted as a major advance in a debilitating syndrome. He's the only one of us to have spoken on the same platform as an American President and to have had his photo on the cover of a major medical magazine.

And finally to Ashley - without your enthusiastic input, and the remarkable organisational skills of Joan Tuff, this wonderful reunion would not have happened. More strength to your arm. Brace yourself for the next decade. You've already been reappointed.