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Title:
Willem Abraham van Niekerk, M.B. Ch.B. (Univ Pretoria), MRCOG (London), FCOG (CMSA), M.D. (Univ Pretoria), FRCOG (London), F.I.A.C.  June 29, 1937–August 8, 2009
Authors:  Professor Peter A. B. Wranz
  Willem (Willie) Abraham van Niekerk was born in Pretoria on June 29, 1937, and spent most of his carefree time in his youth on the beloved family farm Poortjie, in the Theunissen district in the Free State Province, South Africa. After matriculating at the Afrikaans Hoër Seunskool in Pretoria he proceeded to study medicine at the University of Pretoria, where he graduated with the M.B. Ch.B. degree in 1959. After a spell as a Research Fellow at the Roswell Park Memorial Cancer Institute, Buffalo, New York, in 1960 he returned to South Africa, where he accepted a post of Registrar in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at his alma mater. He obtained the MRCOG qualification in London in 1965 and was invited to become a Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (FRCOG) in 1971, having attained the qualification FCOG (CMSA) in 1969. An appointment as Senior Lecturer (1966–1969) also at his alma mater followed; he obtained the M.D. degree in 1969 and accepted the Professorship and Head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Stellenbosch University in 1970. Professor van Niekerk remained in this position until 1982, when a career change resulted in his becoming the Administrator General of South West Africa/Namibia in 1983 and he had to forego the honor of becoming the President of the International Academy of Cytology. He became the Minister of National Health and Population Development in the Cabinet of the Republic of South Africa in 1985, a position that he held until 1989, when he was appointed Chairman of the President’s Council by South African State President F. W. de Klerk. He retired from this position in 1993 and entered private practice as gynecologist in suburban Cape Town. He practiced until 2004, when he retired permanently. I was privileged to meet and work with this affable, extremely competent and intellectual giant from 1965 when serving as a Registrar at the University of Pretoria; the moment we met for the first time is indelibly imprinted in my memory when he helped me complete a difficult gynecologic operation and in doing so made it look so easy. We all awaited the “homecoming” of Willie van Niekerk as he had been an outstanding Registrar (winning prizes) and was returning from England having already authored 8 articles in his beloved field of cytopathology. His protean interests were reflected in the fields of cytology, cytogenetics, general gynecology and obstetrics, and gynecologic pathology, which resulted in a total of 27 publications in journals, chapters in 7 books and becoming the world authority on true hermaphroditism. His Ph.D. thesis was published by Harper & Row in New York in the early ‘70s and is regarded as the authoritative work on the subject to this day. With the amalgamation of the American Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Gynecological Society in 1981, he was 1 of only 5 non-Americans on whom Honorary Membership was bestowed. From 1969 to 1981 he presented papers at 26 international congresses, including those of the International Academy of Cytology, International Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and other professional bodies of which he was either a member or in a leadership position. As Head of the Department at Stellenbosch University he was an inspiring, well-loved leader who did all in his power to bring out the best in his personnel, always inspiring and urging one on to a higher standard of excellence in both academia and patient care. On a personal side he played a leading role in supporting his favorite sport, fly fishing in South Africa and further afield and in various community and cultural affairs. Over the years he served as Patron of the Cape Piscatorial Society, the Federation of South African Fly Fishing and the Boland Rugby Club and as an Honorary Member of the Natal Fly Fishing Club and the Barkley-East Trout Fishing Society. In 1978 he served as the inaugural Chairman of the School Committee of the Panorama Primary School in suburban Cape Town, attended by his son Johannes at the time. Also unforgettable are the memories of private functions that he and his gracious wife Magriet hosted at their home, which overlooked Cape Town and Table Mountain, for visiting dignitaries and personnel. Classical music played unobtrusively in the background, and the atmosphere was always relaxed and convivial, and one was sorry that such most pleasant evenings had to come to an end. To do justice to this outstanding and dearly beloved man in 1,000 words is impossible—one could write a book on all that he achieved in his lifetime of dedication, love for his family, love for his profession and for his fellow human beings. Dearly beloved friend, teacher, tutor and mentor: Ave atque vale. Professor Peter A. B. Wranz Cytopathology Unit, Stellenbosch University A Previous HOD Anatomical Pathology September 25, 2009
Keywords:  Willem Abraham van Niekerk, cytology, in memoriam
   
   
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