In memoriam Uncle Philip

Committed, passionate, challenging, cantankerous, cheeky and provocative; larger than life; a sparkling and often mischievous wit; a mathematical genius, charming and brilliant.   These are some of the words describing my uncle with his own title being the “Nutty Professor”

His activities and pursuits were vast – mountaineer, skier, pianist, choral singer, rally  driver, photographer, sailor, teacher, climate change sceptic, aspiring politician, socialite, golfer, classical music lover, raconteur and author of vast numbers of academic papers and thousands of articles.

Where did this all begin?

He started off life in Sheffield in 1936, and then as the war picked up, moved to the Peak District where he roamed the hills and woods and played in the streams of Derbyshire – an idyllic childhood despite the rigors and hardships of war.

The Lloyd family being at this stage my mother Delia aged 1, Tony aged 4 and Philip aged 10 moved to South Africa in 1946 to escape the rigors of post-war Britain.  Despite being young for his year he excelled academically at his first school, Wet-pups where he acquired the nick name Taffy, and as was described by Ivor Jardine to me over the weekend no one could understand a word he said, So thick was his accent when he first arrived.

While at Wet Pups he and his brother Tony were sent off to the Hermanus Scout camp by the Reverent Lasbrey which began a lifelong association and probably stimulated his love for big mountains, sailing and the outdoors.   In typical Philip – style with no warning he one day announced to my cousin Justin and I when we reached 11 that we should get our sleeping bags and some clothes and unceremoniously dropped us off at Camp for 2 full weeks.  I have been tremendously grateful to my uncle for what has become a big part of my life – and you will be regaled afterwards by campers singing some of Taffy’s favourite songs.

He was awarded the organ scholarship and moved across to Bishops in 1949 and my cousin will relate how he then proceeded to lose his organ scholarship.   He continued to flourish academically at Bishops and at a recent talk spoke about the role of science and how one needs to learn the language of science, being mathematics.  He clearly mastered this language and has been described by some as a mathematical genius which clearly gave him a tremendously strong foundation for his future career at UCT where he received a Doctorate in Chemical Engineering developing a uranium extraction process which I believe is still in use today.

He clearly revelled in life at UCT, becoming an active member of the mountain and ski-club and there was a story of him single-handedly carrying the 50kg fly-wheel of the new ski-lIft up to the top of Waaihoek (Although one of Philip’s rather endearing traits was never to let the facts get in the way of a good story) so who knows!  In between all this he also seemed to find the time to get involved in student politics, becoming vice-chair of the SRC, and probably stimulated his future interest in politics where he unsuccessfully stood for a Joburg constituency some years later – and I am sure his great friend Sheila Camerer can tell us more about this afterwards.

During this time he became involved in supporting the UCT ballet company where he fell in love with Wendy Woolf, a beautiful professional ballerina.  Following a proposal of marriage to her, he decided on a slightly unusual bachelor’s party, which consisted of him and James Pinkerton becoming the first South Africans to complete the 3500km Monte Carlo rally.    On returning he and Wendy moved to Johannesburg where, for the next 30 years he worked in the engineering field initially for the Atomic energy board, who sent him to MIT for a year or so and then on to the Chamber of mines where he was involved in amongst others, developing the plan to re-work the mine dumps and moving them out of the reef, opening up major tracts of land for redevelopment.   He also told me a few weeks ago that one of his most exciting projects was leading the team conceptualising a revolutionary underground processing plant that would save having to bring all the ore to the surface thereby generating considerable savings.

Over this time he and Wendy had three children, Rhys, Shura and Justin. The marriage ended when Wendy left Philip to move to Italy to set up a dance school.   This must have been an exceptionally tough period for the children and Philip who some time later married Angela Reid, who brought her two children into an enlarged family.

I remember as a young boy and then teenager visiting grand homes in Saxonwold and then Houghton where Philip and Angela kept beautiful homes where they led very social lives.  Philip at this stage had become head of research at the chamber of mines and subsequently moved into various roles at Murray & Roberts, Batemans and as an academic at WITS.  I was in a meeting with a petrochemical engineer last week who was taught by Philip in his early days who said he had an unusual but wonderful teaching technique.  Every 30 minutes or so, Philip would shake up a flagging class by throwing in a general knowledge question such as naming the 8 big river systems of the world or some trivia completely unrelated to the subject at hand.

He returned eventually to Cape Town in 1999 where he and Angela settled down to a very elegant life, where he became fully involved in many aspects of society and joined UCT’s energy research centre and then on to CPUT as well as continuing to consult to the petrochemical industry.   There will be many here who know him from the Owl Club, the Symphony Choir, the Mountain Club and camp circles, where in true Philip style, he often ended up chairing the societies or organizations he was involved in.

He and Angela led a busy but happy life for many years, doing a lot of traveling particularly to Angela’s beloved Italy as well as exploring places of deep historical interest around the Mediterranean and Middle-East.   During this time, Philip continued generating a vast output, writing weekly for engineering news, continued his lecturing and traveling schedule and keeping up his consultancy work in Russia and China amongst others.  Talking to Martin Creamer this week, from Engineering News, Martin spoke of Philips huge contribution to the engineering world and to the public discourse generally.

His huge work ethic which went with his deep scorn of television – he would never allow one in his house – came at a cost.  He was exceptionally focused and this focus appears to have fostered an impatience that would erupt as a temper – which I was certainly at the receiving end of a few times!  This irascibility made him difficult to live with and perhaps contributed to Angela’s decision to leave Philip some two years ago to live on her own in St James.

This was shattering to Philip who until the end still could not fathom the reasons for Angela’s departure after 42 years of marriage. While he did not outwardly show it, it saddened him greatly and left him very lonely.  His meeting of Jill, who lived in the same block of flats, was a godsend and the two of them struck up a great friendship with them ultimately buying a house together and Jill nursing him through his last few challenging months as his body failed him.  To you Jill, I know the family is enormously grateful for all you have done for Philip over the past two years.

Such was his spirit that he was still writing, working and giving lectures until a few weeks ago, looking forward to getting back to his park runs (or ambles?) which he had so enjoyed in his last 10 years or so.

Philip seemed to have done it all and always had great stories about sailing in the wildest storms, skiing and climbing in impossible conditions, the fascinating characters he had come to know and generally about living life to the full.  In my regular visits over the past years we would have wonderful discussions about the big issues facing society such as the origins and dynamics of climate change, population growth, advances in science, various challenging projects he worked on and arguments and reasons for contentious topics such as the emergence of civilized society.

I was enormously fond of him – and could not have wished for a more stimulating and challenging Uncle.  He was a true Renaissance man, a polymath, Winner of numerous awards, including the most outstanding young South African in 1976.  President and chair of numerous societies and bodies.  A member of the International Panel on Climate Change and many others.

He will be greatly missed by his family and the many and diverse lives that he touched here in Cape Town and across the scientific and academic community both in South Africa and internationally.

Nigel Gwynne-Evans