Reunions held in 2006: Class of 1956

1 - 3 December 2006

By Joyce Kane-Berman

1956 class photo

Norris Baker, Israel Bruk, Jack Budow, Arthur Crossley, Jeanne du Plessis, Jan du Toit, Slabber du Toit, Mike Euston-Brown, John Fannin, Bobby George, Cliff Glaum, Francois Greeff, Aubrey Groll, Howard Harrison, Jacobus Hendenrych, Jack Jacobson, Eric Kahn, Joce Kane-Berman, Coenie Louw, Francois Mai, Atties Malan, Willem Marais, Isaac Marks, Hyman Pogrund, Dennis Pudifin, Hyman Rochman, Oloff Smyth, Jan Steytler, Ann Wesley, Michael Wynne

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

The class of '56 has held two previous, formal reunions - 25th and 40th and an informal 35th for local Capetonians only. This 50th event was undoubtedly the most successful and enjoyable of all. Held from 1-3 December, it followed the standard pattern established by that estimable, hard-working and efficient Medical Alumni Officer, Joan Tuff, to whom we are deeply grateful.

A few hardy enthusiasts enjoyed a pre-reunion tour of the UCT Historic Route, guided by Professor Howard Phillips of the History Department, on the afternoon of 30 November. This was memorable as most of the small group had spent 6 years at UCT without acquiring much knowledge of the origins of our alma mater. Professor Phillips gave us an informative and entertaining review of the history of the site and the university per se, contextualised in social and political events over the years.


1956 reunion
1956 reunion



1956 reunion
1956 reunion


The next day, we met at the top of the spiral staircase, outside the Dean's suite, for registration, coffee and time to peel away the patina of the years that in some instances made recognition of classmates a little difficult. The Dean, Professor Marion Jacobs, welcomed us warmly and apologised that she would not be able to attend the cocktail party later in the day. The tour of the Student Learning Centre, the IIDMM Building and the Library, followed by a visit to the new GSH Cardio-thoracic wards was interesting, particularly for those who had not been back to medical school or the hospital in the intervening years. Changes in medical education delivery and curriculum made some of us wonder whether the current crop of students would acquire the same Frankie Forman instilled clinical skills that many of us did - and for which several generations of UCT students have been internationally lauded. After a delicious finger lunch in the Tafelberg, we went up to the Transplant Museum in the old hospital, excellently restored to its first transplant state, where lengthy surgical reminiscences were indulged in. The afternoon ended with tea, hosted by Dr Japie du Toit, the Chief Executive Officer of GSH, in the new executive management suite, who talked about the impact of rationalising health services and the 2010 plans for further reductions in academic hospital funding and tertiary level beds. Although Dr du Toit was positive regarding the future, in later discussion many of us felt that overemphasis on primary and community based health care and medical education may prove to be detrimental in the future.

That evening we gathered again in the 'glasshouse' component of the IIDMM building for the Dean's cocktail party. The Deputy Dean, Professor David Dent, addressed us in Professor Jacob's unavoidable absence emphasising the significant changes that had taken place in the student profile, with more than 60% of the current undergraduate medical students being female and half being African.

The next morning we met in the old Jolly Lecture Theatre, which has been refurbished in keeping with its original style but with welcome padded seats instead of the hard wooden benches we endured as students. Hein Heydenrych expounded on his memories of medical practice and other entertaining experiences in the UK as a young doctor. Isaac Marks spoke on an innovative computer-aided therapy programme that he had developed, in conjunction with others, for treating common mental health problems. He demonstrated the effectiveness of this programme by showing how it could be used for treating anxiety. Hymie Pogrund spoke on Orthopaedics in the Bible - an absorbing exposition on biblical and Talmudic references to orthopaedic and other illnesses, some dating back five thousand and more years, with excellent illustrations. Norris Baker took us back to his 8 years as a general medical officer in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia as it was then) in the 60s, showing us superb photographs, which he had taken during that time of some bizarre manifestations of cysticercosis, hydatid cysts and leprosy. He also offered us some samples of Spanish Fly for those who wished to test its efficacy - as a hair restorer. There were no takers although some of the males present might have been tempted - for incipient baldness! After the tea break when our formal class photograph was taken, Mike Wynne presented a beautifully illustrated talk on the problems arising from the corporatisation of health care, based on his own experiences. The final fascinating paper, given by Francois Mai, was based on his recently published book titled "Beethoven's Terminal Illness and Death". He gave us copies of the translated autopsy report and asked us to diagnose the illness. Francois believes that hepatic cirrhosis, resulting from alcoholism was the primary cause of Beethoven's untimely death. For the last hour of the session each member of the class was given an opportunity to speak briefly on any topic they wished. There was some interesting debate and an apology offered to the Coloured and Indian classmates who had suffered insulting and hurtful discrimination as students.

Francois ended the meeting with a poem written by a friend of his, Michael Perry, especially for the occasion. This is a shortened version.

The time has come in this address
To contemplate what we profess,
To look into the looking glass
And see a student - green as grass

Deep love of learning is the key
At all steps to maturity
And what we lacked in common sense
Was made up by experience

Skill is in using what's been learned
From lecture hours and pages turned
To cure a living entity -
The man, not just the malady.

'As twig is bent so grows the tree'.
This could apply to such as we.
And fruit matured upon the vine,
Makes later - and much greater - wine

Now others enter at the gate
With worldly wants which will not wait.
They make up this year's freshman class
Of eager students - green as grass

We'd gladly proffer what's hard-learned;
Such sapience is only earned
By those who stay with what's begun
And then endure - as we have done!

That evening at Alphen Hotel, in perfect weather, we enjoyed our pre-dinner drinks on the terrace overlooking the swimming pool and then moved into the historic Agterkamer for the Gala buffet dinner. We enjoyed the meal and an interesting talk by our after-dinner speaker, Professor Tony Murray - Head of Ophthalmology at UCT/GSH - on developments in his discipline and the eye problems his aging audience could expect in the future. He reassured us that modern therapy could deal fairly effectively with many of these. Francois Mai compered the evening with his usual grace and told some amusing 'Newfie' jokes - the Canadian equivalent of van der Merwe.

Sunday was disappointingly wet and windy but, undaunted, we climbed en masse into a Jammie Shuttle bus at Medical School and set off for the Strandkombuis in Yzerfontein. This venue, fortunately under canvas, is located on the beach and serves a marvellous sea food meal with bread freshly baked in the open air bakoond, and a variety of traditional preserves. We gorged on fish soup, mussels, prawns, calamari, braaied fish with all the trimmings and finished off with koeksisters and coffee (tasting as if stirred with a burnt stick). Some brave souls ventured out onto the beach in a howling north-west gale but the majority were content to stay inside the tent. The general verdict was that this expedition and meal had undoubtedly been the cherry-on-top of a most successful reunion.

There were 98 students who graduated in '56 with 11 women and 6 Coloured or Indian students. Of these, 32 attended all or some of the 50th reunion events, 42% having travelled from other countries across the world. Arthur Crossley had overcome great difficulties in getting to the reunion from Zimbabwe and all his classmates were particularly pleased that he was able to attend. We were impressed that 15 members of the class had achieved professorial status. Sadly, 33 of our classmates have died and 11 are 'lost' ie did not respond and nobody knew if they were dead or alive. The most outstanding impression of this gathering was the enormous pleasure we all gained from simply talking to one another and rediscovering the extraordinary bond that seems to distinguish medical graduates. Earnest debate after a few glasses of wine failed to identify the reasons for this but we were convinced of its validity!

Thanks are due to many people who contributed to the success of this event. Joan Tuff, of course, was superb - ably supported by medical school personnel, caterers, the staff of Alphen Hotel and the Strandkombuis. Francois Mai, Izzy Bruk, Mike Euston-Brown and Bobby George helped to trace and contact classmates, urging them to attend the reunion. The organising group - Atties Malan, Jack Jacobson, Bobby George, Mike Euston-Brown and Joce Kane-Berman achieved a great deal via e-mail and are most grateful to all the members of the Class of '56 for making the journey back to Medical School. Their enthusiastic participation ensured the success of our reunion.