Lives of the fellows

Andries Jacob Brink

b.29 August 1923 d.17 October 2012
MB BCh Wits(1946) MD Pretoria(1951) FRCP(1966) FACC(1969) Dr Sc Med Stellenbosch(1971) Hon DSc Natal(1976) Hon DSc Potchefstroom(1989)

Andries Brink will be remembered as a colossus of medicine in South Africa. He was born in Potchefstroom, in the then Union of South Africa, the youngest child of six siblings. His father, Andries Jacob Brink, raised in the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (the South African Republic), took part in commando operations in the Anglo-Boer War, was taken as a prisoner of war and was sent to the island of St Helena. His mother, Jacoba Petronella née Havenga, had been taken to a concentration camp for women and children during the Boer War; their suffering left an indelible impression on Andries Brink. He matriculated with a distinction at Jeppe Boys’ High School in Johannesburg and entered the University of the Witwatersrand medical school, qualifying with first class honours. He was awarded the David Lurie memorial prize for surgery in his final year. He gained his MD from the University of Pretoria in 1951.

He held junior posts in Pretoria and the University of Witwatersrand and, in 1951, was an honorary registrar at the Postgraduate Medical School in Hammersmith, London. The following year he was a fellow in paediatrics at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore. He returned to Pretoria, as a lecturer in the department of medicine. Thereafter, his academic career continued at the University of Stellenbosch. He was co-founder of the faculty of medicine at Stellenbosch and headed the department of internal medicine from its foundation in 1956 to 1971, when he was elected dean of the medical faculty, an appointment he held until 1983. Throughout his academic career he served as an internist and cardiologist at the Karl Bremer and Tygerberg teaching hospitals.

He was also head of the South African Medical Research Council and served on the South African Medical and Dental Council, the Science Advisory Council of the president of South Africa, and the council of the University of Stellenbosch.

He was founder of the research unit at Stellenbosch for the study of molecular and cellular cardiology. In 1970, in his capacity as head of the South African Medical Research Council, he organised a meeting of the International Society of Cardiology and the International Cardiology Federation at Tygerberg Hospital, at which leading researchers in the field of cardiomyopathies were invited to make presentations. The meeting served to bring to international attention achievements in research in South Africa and to highlight the pathology of heart disease in southern Africa, including so-called dilated cardiomyopathy and endomyocardial fibrosis. John Goodwin [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XI, p.226], Celia Oakley and Eckhardt Olsen attended from Hammersmith.

Brink was keen to address the significant problem of cardiomyopathies in African populations, and extended invitations to Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda to become involved in research. However, the governments of Nigeria and Kenya had severed diplomatic ties with South Africa and declined the invitation. Uganda was able to participate as the invitee still held a South African passport at the time, and was permitted to attend by the president Milton Obote.

Again, as president of the South African Medical Research Council, he chaired a symposium on cardiology in a topical environment, held at Durban in 1982, and organised as part of the ‘year of tropical cardiology’.

After many years of isolation and boycott of South Africa during the era of Apartheid, South Africa emerged from minority ruled government to universal franchise. In greeting the inevitable societal and political change, Andries Brink openly embraced the enormity of the transformation in South Africa. In earlier years he had been indirectly involved in the care of Nelson Mandela, at the time a political prisoner on Robben Island, who had presented with tuberculous pleural effusion and was being treated by Adriaan de Kock at Stellenbosch. Much later, Andries Brink welcomed the then president Nelson Mandela during a visit to Stellenbosch.

Perhaps Brink’s greatest contribution was his English/Afrikaans dictionary of medical terminology, written with co-authors in 1979 (Woordeboek van Afrikaanse geneeskundeterme, Nasou). He also co-authored a text book in Afrikaans on heart and lung diseases Hart en longsiektes, Nasou, 1973, which went into a second edition.

In 1990, in pursuit of his vision for Africa, Brink founded the Cardiovascular Journal of South Africa. He clearly identified with the Pan African Society of Cardiology (PASCAR) and ensured that the Cardiovascular Journal of South Africa, already an accredited international journal, became the official journal of PASCAR. He remained editor of the journal until his death. He enjoyed travelling and attended meetings of PASCAR in Nairobi, Abuja and Kampala, strengthening bonds between South Africa and the sub-Saharan nations in the north.

Andries Brink received numerous honours, including the Havenga prize for medicine awarded by the South African Academy of Arts and Science, and the South African Decoration for Meritorious Service, gold class, given by the then acting state president Marais Viljoen. He was also awarded gold medals by the medical faculty of the University of Stellenbosch, by the South African Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the South African Heart Association.

He formally retired from academia at the age of 70 and took up painting and exhibited some of his works. At the age of 80 he started making boutique wines and in 2007 won the Michelangelo gold medal for cabernet sauvignon. He called his vineyard ‘Galleon’, in Afrikaans ‘Galjoen’, named after the first Portuguese ship to sail along the shores of South Africa.

Known to be a person of conservative outlook, he was also genuinely warm-hearted and humorous. His contributions at meetings of PASCAR endeared him to colleagues with whom there had been no possibility of communication in the years prior to the transformation of South Africa. A former student, Stephen Hough, who succeeded him as head of the department of internal medicine at Stellenbosch, described him as ‘a phenomenal man who succeeded in being at the same time administrator, physician and excelling in all... (he was) an enormous role model (who) brought the University of Stellenbosch Medical School to its feet’. Brink’s favourite statement was carpe diem or ‘seize the day’.

Andries Brink died at his home in his sleep. He was survived by his wife Maria n´e Ruskovich, their two sons and two daughters, ten grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Paul Brink, his older son, is a professor in the department of internal medicine at the University of Stellenbosch. In his will, Brink requested the establishment of the Petronella Havenga Trust, named after his mother, in support of scholars with special needs.

Krishna Somers

[Cardiovascular Journal of South Africa – accessed 30 November 2013; University of Stellenbosch Tygerland November 2012, p.70 In Memoriam – accessed 30 November 2013; Stellenbosch Writers – accessed 30 November 2013]

(Volume XII, page web)

<< Back to List