PROFESSOR DESMOND T. COLE

A personal tribute

 

Emeritus Professor Desmond Thorn Cole passed away on May 25th 2018 aged 95 Years. I only knew Des during his senior years, but I am grateful for that. I had corresponded with him, mostly by fax, for several years before our first physical encounter in 2005, but from then until now our meetings have been at least annual, and usually the highlight of my year. I had the honour to have visited and travelled with Des and his beloved wife Naureen on many occasions, and I hold them both dear and in very high esteem. Just like thousands of others around the globe, it was Professor Cole who inspired my passion for the genus Lithops. That a complete botanical amateur like me went on to develop a sincere friendship with Des is tribute to his patience, accommodating nature and faultless hospitality. In his long and accomplished life Des spent time in the military, became Professor of Bantu Languages at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and was an authority on all things African. He loved nature, was an accomplished ornithologist and most famously of course, inspired the world with his work (undertaken jointly with Naureen) about the plant genus Lithops. Des was, is, my Lithops mentor, and all of my southern African experiences, contacts and adventures have stemmed directly or indirectly from him. He had a very large impact on my life and all of it was positive. He did not suffer fools gladly but always for genuine reason and never had a hidden agenda. His mind was sharp well into his advanced years, and I was taken aback on several occasions by the way he instantly spotted the typo errors I am so prone to make. I learnt gradually to respect the answers he did not give as much as those he did, for he somehow knew when I was capable of working things out for myself, the mark of a good teacher. I witnessed his abilities with African and Bantu languages first hand on several occasions, and it was astonishing to see. Even at our last meeting in February 2018 he showed incredible bravery and stoicism in the face of ongoing health issues. Not only had he calmly endured various medical treatments through the years, but he had also managed to be totally at ease with the inevitable. He told me “I have everything I need”, and with Naureen by his side indeed he had. The Des Cole I knew was an icon of knowledge, wisdom, decency, common sense and humility. The world is a sadder place for his passing, but so long as people look at Lithops, Professor Cole will be remembered. He was and will continue to be “Mr. Lithops”. Rest In Peace Des.

Naureen, Des & their 4X4 “Bokkie”, just north of Windhoek, Namibia in 2007.