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SAMJ: South African Medical Journal

On-line version ISSN 2078-5135
Print version ISSN 0256-9574

SAMJ, S. Afr. med. j. vol.102 n.3 Cape Town Mar. 2012




Hans de V Heese




In 1970, 'Boet' Heese succeeded Findlay Ford as second Professor of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University of Cape Town. During his stewardship, which ended in 1989, the Department grew to be one of the largest and most productive in the Faculty of Medicine. How was this achieved?

Boet was an adventurer and before his professorship he established the first intensive care unit for newborn babies in the country. It was one of a handful in the world, at a time when the word neonatology did not exist.

When problems were encountered he would say 'If it is in the books it can be done', but on this occasion the books had not yet been written. So he set about rectifying the omission and in the ensuing decade his protégés carried the word to all corners of the earth.

He constantly used his imagination and claimed that he got his bright ideas while meditating in the bath. These he would impart to his junior staff and challenge them to come up with answers. He stressed the importance of keeping their eyes and ears open for clues to discoveries, no matter how tenuous they may be.

Not all of his ideas were successful. On the contrary, some were spectacular failures. He fancied himself as an inventor, and the Heese Mark 1 and 2 infant respirators literally went up in smoke, fortunately before they were used on babies! His response to setbacks of this nature was to quote the headmaster of his old school: 'Every step backwards is an opportunity for greater achievement'.

In an earlier tribute, Professor Matt Haus wrote: 'He was a brave decision-maker'. How true! But not all decisions were popular. To quote Matt again: 'What he did, he did unequivocally for his Department and not for himself '. I would add 'You might dislike him but you could not disrespect him'.

Boet had an ability to befriend those with whom he worked - administrators, nursing staff, technicians, cleaners. They in turn would always go the extra mile to oblige him. Then too, his innumerable motivations for staff, equipment or research funds were so detailed and convincing that they were rarely declined.

He was not afraid of death and two weeks after his dear wife Margaret had died he quietly departed this earth.

Jake, Sue, Ashleigh and Abbey, we thank you for sharing your father and grandfather with us. We are all the richer for this honour.


Vincent Harrison

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