Reunion roundup

Reunions held in 2012: Class of 1987 reunion

14 - 16 December 2012

By: Steve Cornell


Gary Alie, Mike Badminton, Colleen Bamford, Bruce Benson, Rosemary Brink, Allison Bruce, Spencer Burke, Grah am Cohen, Leslie Cohen, Mike Collins, Steve Cornell, Roland Croxford, Tom Dicker, John Douglass, Osman Ebrahim, Carmel Ellison, Graham Fieggen, Iain Fraser, Leon Geffen, Mark Godley, David Green, Keith Hosking, Richard Leigh, Ian Lewis, Frank Lutrin, Detlef Meinert, Lee Miller, Kiran Misra, David Newman, Andrew Nicol, Eugenio Panieri, Sue Parkes, Larraine Prisman, David Purchase, Jonathan Rachman, Jeetesh Ranchod, Liam Ratcliffe, Catherina Rodwell, Birgit Schlegel, Angus Snelling, Mark Soldin, Michael Solomons, Peter Steward, Iqbal Survé, Ezzat van der Ross, Elizabeth van Wyk, Billy Warrilow, Tessa Williamson, Matthew Wood.

Ably organised by Joan Tuff from the Alumni Office, with some help from Graham Fieggen, Steve Cornell, Mike Solomon and Eugene Panieri.

This was a much awaited and anticipated event, possibly due to some of us having something to do with the previous year's reunion, which was a great success, so we knew what to look forward to. It started on the Friday with lunch in the old MAC Club followed by a tour of the hospital museum led by Eugene. Ironic for me was to be standing next to Frank Lutrin admiring the heart transplant team, only to realise that this is the same work that Frank does on a regular basis. It was very interesting to be taken around med school as well, and shown all the amazing learning spaces and places and resources that the med students have.

Later we returned to the MAC Club for the cocktail party. The bar was open, it was sweltering hot and during the proceedings we smelled smoke. A fire engine arrived and some people ran around in the quad. We never found out what was burning - hopefully not too serious. There were snacks and chats, and incredulous shouts of ?is that you?' as we all struggled to seek out the hopeful student of yesteryear from under the layers of family responsibility, adipose in some cases, hair colour changes and many hours of life experiences written on our distinguished brows. It was great fun, and very intimidating. I am sure that many felt as I did, ?has my life been as fulfilling as his or her's has' and questions like that. Or ?do I look as old as so and so does'? Or ?jeez they have done so well, what's wrong with me?' All standard reunion feelings and sentiments, versions of which I heard a few times over the weekend.

People had come from all over - remote South Africa and overseas - and the effort was much appreciated. Curiously, many locals did not come. I'm not sure why, but I know I had nervous feelings about attending and I am sure others did too.

Soon the shyness melted away, and there was much raucous chat and teasing, much like the old days. Marian Jacobs, the retiring Dean, gave a bit of input into UCT and Medical School in the 21st century and in the new South Africa and it was very heartening to hear that we are in the top 50 medical schools in the world.

The evening was really an ice-breaker - the ice was pretty thin and broke easily - and soon the years had melted away and there was much hilarity, probably partly fuelled by the bar, which soon was a ?bar with no beer' - they literally ran out. It was really nice to witness the enthusiasm with which we greeted each other and embraced the old classmate and the new grown up person, across a 25 year gap. We were standing in the place where so long ago, George, Solly and JP and others looked down benevolently on us, their protégés, as we celebrated graduating and prepared for our separate journeys to destinations all over the world. There was definitely a sense of being part of something special, and it was great to be there to experience it.

The next morning we re-grouped bright and early for what was for many a highlight of the weekend - the academic meeting. Steve Cornell chaired the first session, and introduced each speaker by reading the predictions from the old year book, about where we would all be in 10 years. It was quite poignant to realise how far we had all come in our lives.

Some of our classmates had kindly taken the trouble to present a short take on the work that they have done. The audience was spellbound, and as the talks went on, some with ?power point presentations' nogal, I became aware that not only was this a special weekend with so many of us being together, but we actually belong, wait for it, to an august body of professionals. Our group/class has done some fine stuff. We had Mike Badminton charting his career as a pathologist from Cape Town to Cardiff, where he now happily practices. Then we had, as he used to be known, the ?class boffin' Ian Fraser, talking about his work, and it was good. Richard Leigh, debonair then and definitely still now, on about asthma advances, and the class was still awake and keen, lots of chirping but in an awed and appreciative way. Johnny Rachman was great, clearly a serious scientist but definitely still in touch with the people, a raconteur of note, and on the brink of some major pharmacological breakthroughs. Liam Ratcliffe was up next, explaining how to be both a major venture capitalist, a family man, and a runner, all in one life, and clearly doing a good job of it. Leon Geffen rounded off the first session and terrified us all with ageing stats, and made us all determined to have a jolly good time immediately as our life spans are running out. I don't think geriatrics is a very cheerful topic, but it was fascinating.

The second session was chaired by Graham Fieggen, who was wearing two hats for the whole weekend, as he was also attending a neuroscience conference. This started off with hilarious input by Ian Lewis (Storm) on depictions of psychiatrists in the movies. They are mostly evil, surprisingly enough. Then Allison Bruce on the running club for her aged patients that she runs in Amsterdam, with great pictures. Os Ebrahim is not Minister of Health in the Seychelles as he was predicted to be, but does sterling HIV work in the north, and told us about it. Eugene Panieri gave an input on very fancy laparoscopic surgery, and definitely gave me one of those 'how can these people all be so clever? moments. Iqbal Survé has been a very successful entrepreneur and is now a philanthropist and business leader, and it was fascinating to get an insight into how power and money work. He was very open and honest about it and has really had an incredible life journey, and it was amazing to hear about it. The surprise act, not billed and a late incomer from the neuroscience conference, was Matthew Wood. He is now the Prof of Neuroscience at Oxford and I think talked about possible breakthroughs in the treatment of muscular disorders, I say ?think', as it was so far above my head that it could have been Russian, but boy was I proud to be associated with him and all the others who presented. Some of our colleagues are very smart, and it felt good to be with them. Some people said how impressed they were with the input, but how inadequate it made them feel.

A light lunch was served at the venue. Then home to put on the finery, and back to Smuts Hall dining room for the Big Event - The Gala Dinner. The hall looked amazing, and so did we all. By now no ice remained to be broken, and there were smiles all around.

We started with a class photo, aka our old graduation picture. Much amiable shuffling, some bellies held in momentarily, good humoured joshing and cat calling, but so fond, really very warm and nice. The pic is available for all to see, what a bunch. When did Dave Newman change from being a small guy to a huge person, is that Rose Brink, but she lives in Canada - she came all the way for this, as did many others.

So, we had a ?roving mike' - and it literally was a ?roving Mike Solomons' who wandered around between courses and persuaded people to share their stories. Mike is so jolly and so persuasive that it is difficult to say no to him. We had some great inputs, Gary Allie about travelling the world for years with his whole family, what a story - went to many continents. His wife still seems to like him. Billy Warrilow about his life in the UK, although Billy was so bronzed and healthy looking that it was difficult to believe that he really lives there. Larger than life, and looking and sounding well and happy. Sue Parkes on her life as rural GP in Addo, and some hair raising emergencies she has dealt with. Dave Green on his experiences as a rural MO, he is still a raconteur of note and great fun. Ezzat van der Ross pulled off a great stunt. Graham Fieggen has for many years held a grudge against Steve Cornell for lumping him with some redundant 6th year ties, which were not great sellers. Graham is clearly a major hoarder, as he produced 25 ties from his coat tails, and proceeded to try to sell them. He was useless, as only neurosurgery professors can be. So Ezzat took over, and dragooned and teased the patient crowd into buying the remaining ties at exorbitant prices. Graham had the old receipt, R220 or so for all of them. On the night, Ezzat extracted R2550 from the crowd, which all went to ?Buckets of Love?, a Christmas charity which, at about R140 each, gave about 17 poor families some comfort over Christmas, and was a lovely spin-off from us having a great time.

One of the peak moments of the night was Frank Lutrin's speech. Clearly inspired by his colleagues that morning, he shared with us how he had discovered and invented most things. I saw some puzzled looks on faces of people who don't know him and what an amazing researcher and scientist he is, before they realized 'oh, irony', and joined with the rest of us in literally laughing ourselves sick. Frank is a brilliant and very droll comic, and if he gave up heart surgery could easily, like Riaad Moosa, have a career as a stand-up comic.

Many others spoke, and others couldn't, there just wasn't time for everyone, but the talking will not stop for ages after this, as people re-connected and picked up where we left off so long ago. There was a very sober moment, when the names of the classmates who have died in the last 25 years were read out. It was a very hushed and thoughtful crowd who listened to the roll of 6 names, remembered them, and I am sure felt loving thoughts about them. Finally, after many hugs and much good food, thoughts of ?how did we lose touch' and much determination to not do so again, we all went home.

The next morning, a few brave souls went to Kirstenbosch early to have a guided walk. This was apparently much enjoyed, and they all came back looking ruddy and happy. The picnic hampers were delivered and we found a shady spot to relax, say goodbye and talk in a more relaxed way about families, lives, hopes and friendships. It was a very nice picnic, everyone got into the spirit and, after a few hours of sunning ourselves, eating and saying good bye, we all headed back to Canada, England, Australia, the Netherlands and various parts of South Africa.

As we headed out, there was a brilliant little vignette. I was walking with Leslie Cohen and Larraine Prisman, married to each other. Leslie a family GP and home husband, and Larraine a paediatrician, when we saw a young woman trip and drop her new baby, clunk, on it's head. Awful moment. Next thing Leslie and Larraine were on the scene offering help, and behind them I saw the eminent Prof of Neurosurgery rushing to give a hand - for those of you who don't know, that's Prof Fieggen. They couldn't have had the accident at a better moment, in terms of the help on hand.

As we left, it was said by many, let's not wait 25 more years to gather again. Thanks to all who came, and cheers to all who couldn't, you were not forgotten, remember if you don't pitch we can all gossip about you.

See you all soon.