Reunions held in 2008: Class of 1958

5 - 7 December 2008

By Jillian Key

1958 class photo

Ken Arnsten, Peter Baker, Dudley Davidson, Hein De Haan, Norman Dodd, Michael du Preez, Frank Fiser, Graham Fisher, Philip Freedman, Nic Homeyr, Ivan Immerman, Dick Ivey, Ada Kessler, Jillian Key (Cox), Ivan Kirk, Mick Leary, Tony Lekas, Ian Levin, Thatshanamoorthy Pather, David Paton, Marleen Rezin (Baker), Colin Saunders, Herb Schapera, Gina Shochat, Eric Stromsoe, Paulus Swart, John Terblanche, Christine Urszenyi, John Viljoen, Fiona Currie (Woods)

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

Greetings received

Oved Ben Arie, Bennie Geffen, George Butler, Angus Hofmeyr, Robert Jaffe, Brian Kennelly, Eric Lawton, Robin MacDonald, Kenny Margolis, Steve Meihuizen, Lan Meyers, Dave Melcher, Dave Orman, Edgar Raine, Meg Robertson, Alan Segal, Milton Simanowitz, George Soutter, Ivan Strausz, Thys Strydom, George Sweeney, John van Eeden, Jimmy Voortman, Vossie Vosloo


Marcia Aires, Barbara Domerghi, Don Gardiner, Billy Goldblatt, Ramsay Karelse, Dekker Keuler, Kathy Leon, John Moodie, Marc Motteux, Leonard Nainkin, Valerie Noli- Marais, Minnie Pokroy, Quentin (John) Scott, Jeff Stone, Israel Todres, Alwyn van Niekerk, Hendrik van Zyl, Jimmy Voortman - shortly after the reunion we received the sad news that Jimmy had died. On behalf of fellow classmates, our sincere condolences are extended to his wife and family.

Untraced classmates

William Beukman, Mohamed Bhyat, Simone Girardin, Carlyle Grayson Lionel Levin, Johan Meyer, Helena van Wyk

Our memorable 50th anniversary reunion has come and gone but wasn't it fun and such a triumphant celebration of our six years together all those years ago? The superb arrangements, thanks to the fantastic organisation and unstinting effort and hard work of Joan Tuff of the Alumni Office, John and Anne Terblanche and Mike and Angela du Preez could not be bettered. We all had a wonderful time.

We arrived at the Barnard Fuller Building on the Medical School Campus on Friday morning, December 5th with a keen sense of excitement and anticipation as we greeted colleagues many of us had not seen since our last reunion in 1998 or even longer ago. Name tags were a great and often necessary help in identifying fellow classmates. The photograph on each name tag was taken from our original class photo!

On display were a number of George Soutter's superb art works, generously donated by him for sale. He requested that the proceeds of the sales should be used to buy champagne for our reunion gala dinner. The art was quickly snapped up by eager buyers. George, who lives in Australia, has achieved fame for his art and in recognition for the outstanding quality of his work in the field of Paediatrics, was made a Member of the Order of Australia.

Following refreshments and a briefing from John Terblanche regarding the day's activities, we were taken on a tour by David Dent, Emeritus Professor of Surgery, to visit some of the old and new buildings on campus and later to Groote Schuur Hospital. Our first port of call was the New Learning Centre Building which is situated south of the original Anatomy Block, the latter being where we spent so many hours in our second year. The outside facade of this gracious old Anatomy Building remains the same but the interior has changed beyond all recognition. Between the Anatomy Block and the old Pathology Block is the new and ultra modern "glass drum" IIDMM Building – the Institute of Infectious Diseases and Molecular Medicine, which has cleverly connected the old Pathology Block to the old Anatomy Block.

In the new Student Learning Centre, we were given a short talk on the new Medical School curriculum by Dr Melanie Alperstein. This uses the Supported Problem Based Learning method (SPBL). This is a totally different concept of teaching from the one we knew at Medical School. The concept was greeted with enthusiasm and interest by the majority and scepticism by a conservative minority.

In the Pathology Building it was great to see the old Upper Pathology Lecture Theatre, now renamed the Jolly Lecture Theatre. The only significant change to the lecture theatre we remember is the addition of red seat cushions which we certainly did not have in our day. The graffiti remains on the desktops and the old hanging lights have been restored. Sitting on the cushioned seats memories came flooding back and brought forth many amusing anecdotes that occurred half a century ago. Gina Shochat reminded us that Tony Lekas was the only one of us to challenge Prof James Louw. When chastised for missing a lecture in order to get his driving license, Tony was asked by the Prof what kind of doctor would he be if he missed class, Tony replied, "What kind of doctor would I be if I can't drive". For once James was speechless.

No longer do students have to walk up the hill, in all weather, from Medical School to GSH. Now the route is under cover all the way as the Pathology Block is connected via a tunnel to the basement of the new wing of the hospital.

We stopped for a short visit to the library that is now an eight storey building with access to computerised research facilities for all students. In our day it was only three storeys high and computers did not exist. Whilst in the library Erik Stromsoe confessed that it was his first ever visit to the library!

Our next stop was to the very impressive Chris Barnard Cardio-Thoracic Surgery Unit, where we were shown around by Professor Johan Brink. We were impressed by the art, decor and the fabulous offices of the senior staff. The unit has 28 beds with the maximum number of beds in any ward limited to six. This is now the standard number of beds in any ward throughout the new Groote Schuur Hospital. We also visited the 120 bed UCT Private Academic hospital which is situated within the State Hospital. This unit gives the GSH specialists access to limited private practice. The hospital tour ended with a delicious finger lunch served in the Tafelberg Room in the hospital.

We reassembled at 6pm for a delightful cocktail party in the IIDMM Building where we were given a welcoming address by the Dean of Medical School, Professor Marian Jacobs. She spoke very positively about the new curriculum and with enthusiasm about the future of our medical school.

The following day, Saturday December 6th, we met at 9h00 in the Wolfson Pavilion in the IIDMM Building for the Academic Meeting which was a "tour de force".

Academic Programme

  1. Dr. James Barry – Michael du Preez
  2. Street Art in Rural SW Australia – Graham Fisher
  3. Events Influencing the course of History – Ivan Immerman
  4. Contrasts in Paediatric Practice – Mick Leary
  5. ASS – Acquired Stupidity Syndrome – David Paton
  6. Memorable Days in the Life of a Bush Doctor – Colin Saunders
  7. Allostasis – Herb Schapera
  8. Adventures in Psychiatry – Tony Lekas

Mike du Preez, who has long been fascinated by the life of the enigmatic Dr James Barry, was aware of huge gaps in the story of "his" life. This led Mike on an exhaustive search for the true facts about the early life of this extraordinary "man." After years of intensive and meticulous detective work Mike established conclusively that James Barry started life as a Miss Margaret Bulkely. He gave us a riveting account of his research which has attracted widespread interest. Mike has been invited to present a paper on James Barry's early years at the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in London in 2009.

Graham Fisher lives in Bunbury, south of Perth in SW Australia. He told us that 1% of the State budget for construction projects is allocated for art works. This has led to a delightful number of sculptures both traditional and quirky, which he illustrated with slides. These now adorn the streets and parks in Perth, Bunbury and many other Western Australian towns. There is even a large area set aside in Bunbury for discarded gnomes called Gnomesville. The park is under the loving voluntary care of community members. Vandalism is discouraged by a menacing sign which reads "If you harm our gnomes we breaka da bones". Such an exhibit wouldn't last five minutes in South Africa.

Ivan Immerman gave us a fascinating walk through history as he recounted medical events that influenced the course of history. Amongst his numerous examples was the significant role played by Rasputin in the lives of the Russian royal family, especially in relation to their haemophiliac son.

Mick Leary, who spent most of his working life at the Red Cross Children's Hospital in Cape Town, now works at the Children's Hospital in Bristol. He contrasted the overwhelming burden of infectious disease and diseases of poverty in South Africa with the first world situation in the UK where such cases are an extreme rarity.

David Paton gave us a most amusing account of ASS – Acquired Stupidity Syndrome which is now so prevalent amongst governments and bureaucracies in the world. David gave us some hilarious examples of bureaucratic idiocy which included the felling of a Monkey Puzzle Tree in the south of England because the "city fathers" believed that the tree needles might injure children! He told us that one city in the UK demanded that a troupe of visiting trapeze artists wear crash helmets at all times during their act!

Colin Saunders held us enthralled as he reminisced on his memorable days in his life as a bush doctor. For most of us the addition of the word terrifying would be apt. Colin lived and worked on the vast Hulett Sugar estates in Triangle in Zimbabwe. In recognition of the incredible contribution Colin made in improving the health care and living conditions of the huge work force on the estate, the hospital that Colin and his co-workers were instrumental in building has been named after him – The Colin Saunders Hospital. Colin has also played a pivotal role in wildlife conservation in Zimbabwe.

Herb Schapera, who lives in Cincinnati in the USA, spoke on a condition called Allostasis. Homeostasis is a state of equilibrium. Allostasis is the exact opposite and implies a state when the body is no longer in equilibrium. Herb gave several examples of this state and emphasised the devastating consequences caused by stress and an unhealthy lifestyle. Herb's trim figure certainly gave credence to the benefits of weight loss, good diet and exercise.

Tony Lekas, the last speaker of the day, spoke charmingly of his adventures in Psychiatry. As a student Tony was dismayed by the horrendous living conditions endured by inmates at the Valkenberg Psychiatric Hospital in Cape Town. Tony was determined to make a difference and chose Psychiatry as a career. In his quiet and unassuming way he told us of the breakthrough in the treatment of serious psychiatric illness with the advent of the Bezodiazapines and Tranquillisers. He rejoiced that patients who had previously been incarcerated in straitjackets and given little treatment apart from electroconvulsive therapy could, with new drug treatment, be discharged and often return to productive working lives. Tony is still in active practice and plays a significant role in psychiatric care in the Western Cape.

The day culminated with a celebration gala dinner in the new Graça Machel residence situated on middle campus. The cavernous dining hall had been transformed with palms and flowers by Angela du Preez, Anne Terblanche and exceptionally talented caterer, Jessica Lyon. On arrival we enjoyed "George Soutter's" champagne and then classmates assembled for a reunion photo before we took our places at the beautifully decorated tables.

John Viljoen, as master of ceremonies, thanked all those concerned with the reunion arrangements and in particular Joan Tuff, who was presented with a bouquet of flowers and one of George Soutter's art works in gratitude for all her hard work.

After grace and a minute's silence in memory of colleagues who are no longer with us we were invited to serve ourselves from the outstanding feast set out on the buffet table. John Terblanche introduced the guest speaker, Emeritus Professor Stuart Saunders, who spoke of the extraordinary advances and developments at our medical school in the past 50 years. Stuart said that the UCT Medical School is still at the cutting edge of medical science and technology worldwide and that the new curriculum, despite the view of a few sceptics, is producing graduates of whom we can be very proud.

Following dessert, Jill Key was asked to set the ball rolling by recounting some amusing anecdotes of her own, which was followed by contributions from other class mates. The funniest of all was without doubt John Viljoen's story of his encounter with Chris Barnard on a flight to Venezuela. John, in his department of Anaesthetics in Cleveland, had taken under his wing a Venezuelan military doctor who was working in the department. In gratitude for his help John was invited, as a VIP guest of the government in Venezuela to visit their country. On boarding the plane, John noticed that Dr Chris Barnard was on the flight and greeted him, as he passed him down the aisle. But he was rudely ignored. When the plane landed in Caracas all passengers were asked to remain seated until a VIP on the plane had disembarked. Chris Barnard rose importantly from his seat but to his utter astonishment John was ushered off the plane with a further announcement that the VIP in question was Dr John VilJohn! John once again greeted Dr. Barnard before leaving the plane to a red carpet reception. John told us that the expression on Chris Barnard's face was one that he will never forget.

Finally Mike du Preez rounded off a fabulous evening with an outstanding valedictory address. To quote "Few would dispute that the year of '58 was a vintage year. A great year even" and later in his address – "The exceptional qualities of our teachers and the sheer excellence of our medical education has been reflected in the number of our year who have occupied chairs or who have otherwise distinguished themselves in academia and practice – all over the world – or, indeed in fields unrelated to medicine. George Soutter, A.M., the only one of our number, I believe with a National Honour, and Thys Strydom, both in the field of the arts. Colin Saunders, veteran of a vast amount of hands-on medical practice in what has now become Zimbabwe, but also in the field of Nature Conservation. Colin has the distinction, the only one of us as far as I am aware, of having had a hospital named after him" ... "And Edgar Raine ascended into the dizzying discipline of higher Mathematics, to enable him to create his custom built sundials."

Mike ended his address with these words - "And so, after tomorrow just as we did ten years ago in 1998 and twenty years ago in 1988, we will again disband and go our separate ways. We trust that we will see most of you again tomorrow at Kirstenbosch. But then it will be perhaps another decade before some of us might be able to think of getting together yet again. By then we will have moved from these youthful seventies into our mature eighties. And who knows what lies in store ... ten years down the line – to quote the ABBA song."

The last day of our reunion, Sunday December 7th, was a cloudless, windless, hot Cape day with the temperature at a blistering 41 degrees Celsius and it felt like it! A few hardy souls met at Kirstenbosch for a guided tour of the garden. It is always a delight and a privilege to visit Kirstenbosch and this time, in spite of the intense heat, the visit was worthwhile. Later the walkers met, those who didn't join the guided tour, at the restaurant in Kirstenbosch, for a buffet lunch. But sadly all good things come to an end and after lunch we wistfully bade each other goodbye and hope and pray that we will meet again in ten years time if not sooner.

In conclusion, I know that I was the luckiest girl in the world to be in such a fantastic medical class. We had superb teachers and a training that was world class. I know that my fellow classmates share my conviction. Our class reunion exemplified the wonderful camaraderie that always existed in the class of '58 and the bonds of friendship that we all forged then, endure to this day. We are all very blessed.