Speech made by Athol Leach at the farewell function for Prof.Christine Stilwell held on the 5th Dec 2013, at CALS


I’d like to start off by making three observations. When first looking at the guest I noticed 3 categories of people – colleagues, friends and ex-students of Chris’. Of course I must hasten to add that these categories are by no means mutually exclusive and in fact there is a fourth category into which I have the arguably dubious distinction of falling and this is not only being an ex student of Chris’ but a current one as well. I do have this uneasy feeling that Chris’ decision to finally retire from UKZN is somehow linked to my continued presence as a student…

The second observation is that Chris is retiring from the university and not from life – thus much of her life outside of the academic context, like being the mother of and raising two gorgeous and very successful sons, a marriage to a high profile lawyer and having only what could be considered a fascinating childhood – these rather can be the subject of her eulogy…

The third is not so much an observation but rather a thank you. On behalf of Information Studies and CALS I would like to thank you all for being here. I would like to mention someone who sadly missed this function by a few months and that is Joan Gallagher who was a good friend of Chris’ and who is no doubt keeping an eye on proceedings here while she continues to read the many books that she did not have the chance to do while working at the Provincial Library Services.

Chris first began at the then UN as a temporary part-time lecturer way way way back in 1978 in what was then the Department of Library Science. In 1986 she joined the staff on a permanent basis as a lecturer and became a senior lecturer in 1992. In 1999 came the associate professorship and in 2003 the full one (that is Chris was now a full professor of information studies).This broad outline thus reflects some 35 years of service to the institution (a term, incidentally, which I will be referring to later). To achieve these various milestones necessitated hard work of course, negotiating bureaucratic loops, fences and people and, as a result of the hard work, many accomplishments. It is to these accomplishments that I now want to turn. I must point out that time constraints mean that I cannot do justice to them all but I hope I have highlighted the significant:
62 peer-reviewed articles in international and local journals (and more in the pipeline)
A co-edited book and a directory which went into its 2nd edition (and one in progress)
19 chapters in books and conference proceedings
31 conference papers presented at local and international conferences
3 critical reviews
4 editorships of issues of journals
and 4 research reports one of which was for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
As they say, wait, there is more:
25 PhD students successfully supervised (setting something of a record in 2011 with 7 students graduating)
Ditto for 28 masters students many of whom graduated cum laude and the examination both as internal and external examiner of Doctoral and Masters dissertations too numerous to mention.
It is thus not surprising that Christine has been rated by the NRF, is the recipient of 3 UKZN research awards for supervision and publication, listed as a prolific researcher in the UKZN annual report of 2010 and rated as one of UKZNs top 30 researchers last year.
Finally, in terms of research and publications, Chris serves on the editorial boards of a number of local and international journals and has made a substantial contribution to developing journals in Africa.
Changing direction somewhat Chris did more than her fair share of administration and in fact emerged as both an excellent manager and leader. This is reflected in the three merit awards she was given in this regard, and more recently the superb work she has been doing, since 2011, as the Acting Director here at CALS. Perhaps also needless to say is that Chris has served on numerous committees with her contribution to the Higher Degrees Committee being a substantial one – one thinks, in particular, of the role she has played in developing the expertise of junior staff members.
Finally, in terms of Chris’ accomplishments, is the now, somewhat, as far as UKZN is concerned, neglected area of teaching. Chris was, and of course is, an excellent teacher. Her teaching philosophy, like all good philosophies, is a simple one and is underpinned by the belief that an effective exchange of ideas depends on the quality of the teaching environment created by the teacher interacting with students. There are a number of us here today who know, as students, what a rewarding experience being taught by Chris was (and is!) and this was further re-enforced by the inter-disciplinary approach she adopted in her teaching with lecturers from other disciplines very successfully participating in her modules. Chris, in her understated way, refers to the student evaluations she has received as “giving evidence of very steadily favourable evaluations at all levels”. Bearing testimony to this is the certificate of excellence she was awarded in 1996 for teaching and the facilitation of learning. I’d like to quote some students: One student said this of what was then the readership module: “I really, really, really, really enjoyed Readership in general. It makes up one’s mind.” A second student: “Christine is a dedicated and enthusiastic teacher. Her classes are always active in that students are constantly making contributions to the discussion and asking questions. It is not possible to be passive in her class because her interest and enthusiasm stimulates one to participation”. Another student: “Her qualities ensure that as a student you not only get educated and equipped to go on in your profession but you are motivated and stimulated to WANT to go on.” And finally, “Christine is one of the most dedicated people I know, not only in regard to teaching but to the ultimate goal of making libraries and information work relevant to the needs of the information-disadvantaged majority of South Africans”. This leads me on to the next point. Chris has always had a strong identification with the marginalised and it is no surprise that she is regarded as an authority in the area of public libraries, poverty and social inclusion. She has also emerged as an expert in information behaviour. Her what can only be described as innovative research into the thorny issue of the legal and information needs of sex workers in Pmb perhaps encapsulating this identification. Also in terms of teaching Chris has forged collaborative partnerships for UKZN with the UP and the UCT and has also lectured on the UPs flagship Master’s of Information Technology Programme.
I am not even going to mention her work in curriculum development suffice to say that she led the expansion of the PhD programme from some 6 candidates in 2003 to 18 by 2012 with many more seeking admission.

So, what we have here (and I mean this in the most positive sense!) is an institution leaving an institution and what this means I think is that what we are left with is less of an institution. What you are taking with you Chris is not going to be easily replaced, if ever. I asked colleagues in the programme what they thought they would most miss about you. Here are some of the things they said:
Her example and being an inspiration in her dedication and commitment to her work.
Her vast experience and knowledge especially her knowledge of higher degree matters.
Being able to go and chat when needed, her encouragement, her good advice, and her friendship.
Her professional mentorship and guidance for new staff
Her above all leading by example, she is and will always be a role model for new and existing staff.
Her dedication and hard work ensuring the programme is not only stable but things get done efficiently and effectively.
Darlene was also included in this impromptu survey of mine and of all the staff in Information Studies she has known Christine the longest. This is what Darlene said (and I quote):
I first started working with Christine in February 1980 – the programme at that time being “Library Science”. One of my first recollections of Christine is her popping into the office one day while she was still part-time, with gorgeous little Johnny on her hip. How time has flown!
From that day forward, little has changed. Christine continues to be that same steadfast, hard working and able soul that she has always been. I have always admired and been inspired by her leadership, thoroughness and attention to detail. Nothing leaves Christine’s hands either half or undone. Over the past two and a half years I have borne witness to her turning CALS around at every level. It has been greatly inspiring. Although Colleen, Wiseman and I are sad to see her go we are most grateful and proud to have been able to work so closely with her over the time that we have. Our farewell wish to her is that her most cherished dreams become reality for the rest of her life.

One of the qualities demanded of an academic is the ability to think on one’s feet. Other qualities allied to this are ones which academics are not always noted for and that is the ability to be both practical and pragmatic. Chris needless to say has all three and I would like to cite an example to illustrate this. This example may be known to some of you here and in fact it does actually involve one of you. Apologies Sally but I am sure you will agree that it is an excellent example well-illustrating these qualities of Christine. (and thanks to Jenny for reminding me of this) A local publisher was about to visit the Programme and Christine wanted to take the opportunity to introduce him to Sally Howes who was then a student in the Programme and who was interested in a job in publishing.This was in effect a job interview.
The problem was that Sally was wearing jeans and a T shirt with the latter having a very graphic image and slogan – probably the ECC but no doubt, for that time, something very political. Not wanting Sally to prejudice her job opportunity by terrifying the publisher, Christine took control of the situation and, displaying all the above qualities, promptly swapped her own shirt (a beautiful silk cream one – much more appropriate for an interview) with that of Sally’s. According to Jenny, Sally, being a liberated woman, wasn’t wearing a bra (although this, I imagine would hardly have prejudiced her chances). Anyway, thanks to Christine, Sally got the job with the publisher and went from strength to strength. I am sure there are many more similar tales to tell.

I am also sure that you have all come across expressions which go along the lines of old such and such never die they just such and such as in Old golfers never die, they just lose their balls. (This of course doesn’t apply to you Chris because you don’t play golf) There are, however, two expressions which are perhaps quite apt for your situation (and thank you Carol B for suggesting them). I am adapting the wording slightly though referring to the fact that you Christine, are first and foremost, a librarian. The first is
Librarians never retire, they just get renewed and the second is
Librarians never retire they just get moved to another location.
Clearly you are relocating and I would imagine, going to be renewed as well. Whether you are actually retiring is less clear – certainly from the physical institution but not from the work itself. I’m not sure if all of you know but Chris has been appointed a Professor Emeritus of the University, meaning I am delighted to say, that she will continue to represent the Programme and we as a Programme, will continue to reap the benefit of all Christine still has to offer and here I am thinking quite bloody mindedly of her research contribution and more specifically the financial spinoff which, amongst other things, helps ensure that we can still hold functions such as this one.

By the way, there is a third expression which of course, has absolutely no applicability to you whatsoever Chris, Old librarians never die, they just lose their references. I would think that one could say the same about academics.

Finally, in conclusion I am sure you have all heard of Roahl Dhals Big Friendly Giant or BFG. I would like to twist the letters around a little and by so doing refer to Christine as the GFB. Yes, the Girl From Bizana, that remote rural village in the Transkei who has made, and is still making, good. Chris you have left an indelible impression on the Programme, the University and the Profession and, most importantly, I am sure, on each and every one of us gathered here today. Thank you. And, on behalf of us all, all the very best to you and Barbara in your move to and life in Onrus. We wish you well.