Reunion roundup

Reunions held in 2009: Class of 1959 50th reunion

4 - 6 December 2009

By: JP van Niekerk


George Adams, Paul Barnard, Leon Brooks, David Clain, Ernette Du Toit, Cyril Epstein, Ray Foster, Martin Gordon, June Hagen, Leonard Handler, Tertuis Hansmann, Leonore Janse van Rensburg, Myra Joffe, Roc Kaschula, Mary Knowling, Margaret Lord, Marina Muller, Basil Munro, Khairunnisa Parker, Joe Polliack, Lesley Rainier-Pope, Wilhelm Rosenstrauch, Roger Strover, David Tavian, Jack Thorne, Peter Tonkin, CP van der Merwe, JP van Niekerk

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

Our qualifications are still OK! It seems odd that after all this time and most of us having retired, that the quality of the present graduates from the UCT medical school is still important. Why? - Because the quality of their degrees continues to reflect on ours! If the present graduates are good we can bask a little in their reflected glory - as they may be able to in ours. The fact that we were recipients of a great educational experience at UCT has provided part of the historical foundation for the present. It was therefore reassuring that a clear message during our celebrations is that we can continue to be proud of our UCT background and qualifications.

At 74 members the class of 59 was one of the smallest UCT medical classes post WW2. The demographics of the medical students have changed markedly since our time. Comparisons with the class of 2009 (in brackets) include: Men 81% (35%), Women 19% (65%), 'White' 82% (33%), 'Black' 18% (67%). The attendance at the 50th class reunion recorded that 11 of our group have died (not counting two who died as students). The attendance of 28 was therefore just under 50% of the surviving members. Of the 14 women in our class, 9 attended the reunion; including a sprightly Mary Knowling aged 85 years - the oldest member of our class. At the time of the reunion none of our women members had died though subsequently Marit Ek sadly died of surgical complications exacerbated by her post polio syndrome. Several more of the class would have attended had it not been for often last minute personal health or other issues that prevented them from attending. But from many of them too we received good wishes and fascinating reports of varied experiences and viewpoints.

Celebration events

The format of the celebrations largely followed the well tried model. On the preceding day several volunteers braved the offer of a walk in the mountains with JP or/and a sail on Table Bay on CP's yacht. At registration it often took time to recognise each other again despite each wearing a copy of a photograph of ourselves taken from our graduation photograph as a reminder. An introduction to the new teaching programme by Professor Graham Louw, visiting to the heart transplant museum and an evening cocktail reception graciously hosted by the Dean, Professor Marian Jacobs, wrapped up the first day. The 'academic programme' with brief 'lectures' by several of the class provided interesting insights and many nostalgic reminders of our student days: Recollections of UCT after 50 Years - Leon Brooks; Some Adventures in Far Away Places - Roc Kaschula; All at Sea - CP van der Merwe; Reflections of a June Bride - Lenny Rome (presented by Len Handler); Changes in (Neuro) Radiology over Fifty Years - Len Handler; Gastric Juices - David Clain; Reflections of a Has Dean - JP van Niekerk; A New Paradigm of Medicine - Ray Foster (resumé by JP van Niekerk); Per Ardua Ad Astra (Through your Labours you can Reach the Stars) - Rashid Domingo (Rashid started medical studies with us, but switched to science and later made good in his own medical industry business in the UK, was invited to join us and speak about his experiences). The dinner at medical residence added further stories from many other members of the class. A relaxed braai with excellent food, wine (and company) at the van der Merwes home wrapped up the planned programme.

Compared with our several other reunions the consensus was that the 50th was certainly the most memorable. Perhaps it was the knowledge that the surviving members are all in the departure lounge? Perhaps we no longer had anything to prove? But many remarked on the fact that in this short time we learned more about each other's backgrounds than we often were aware of whilst students. And then also the bonus of hearing about varied careers and experiences.


The following extracts from correspondence convey the spirit expressed by all who attended:

"What fun it was seeing the old crew again. Am so pleased that I came from across the ocean. Being together again after all these years made 59 seem like yesterday". Myra Joffe

"Now safely back in freezing, snowy New York, we can soberly reflect on our recent visit to the sunny, beautiful Cape. Above all we will remember the highly successful 50th reunion which while earnestly anticipated, far exceeded our expectations". David Clain

"For me, it was a wonderful weekend! Wonderful to recognise and remember so many faces (with some help from the useful tags) and names. I think we had an exceptional class and there was genuine pleasure seeing old friends, recalling not forgotten incidents, laughing at our embarrassing moments and minor triumphs and remembering our colleagues no longer with us". June Hagen

"Seeing the new buildings at Medical School was an eye-opening experience, listening to the new curriculum being explained and the discussions thereafter, absorbing the variety of "academic" topics and the Dean's welcoming speech. The photographic session and the gala dinner as well as the braai were full of fun. The company all round was equally enjoyable." Khairunnisa Parker

"What really amazed me was connecting with classmates with whom I had not really been great friends during our student days". Lesley Ranier Pope

"The feature of this reunion was the camaraderie of the participants - more so than previous reunions of the 1959 class". George Adams

"Returned to London 11th easy journey back, tired but happy greatly enjoyed reunion, strange how time disappears". Margaret Lord

"Francie and I had a memorable time. This is the first class reunion I have been to and feel it was worth the effort and cost to get to Cape Town from South Dakota". Ray Foster

"Most retained their characteristics. David is still his serious self; Tavish was his usual self, delightfull! Marina is still giggling. It was sad some aged faster than others". Paul Barnard

"Thank heavens that I was persuaded to attend! The whole event was quite magnificent". Roger Strover

"If, in my terminal days, I am asked to list a few of the most memorable events of my life (with the natural exception of family occasions), then this 50th anniversary celebration is going to be there, right at the top". Joe Polliak


Everyone was complimentary about the superb organisation that was so capably managed by Joan Tuff - a most sincere thanks to her on behalf of those that attended but also for many others who were kept in the loop by her communication!

The 'organising committee' (CP van der Merwe, Ernette du Toit, Len Handler and JP van Niekerk) had great fun in the planning sessions with Joan and with many contacts that were renewed. Many attending felt that we should aim to have another reunion in 5 years time and further volunteers have already offered to assist with this - thus please book December 2014!