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Paying tribute to a visionary

Date Released: Fri, 1 April 2011 15:20 +0200

The Centre for Social Development (CSD) celebrates its 30th birthday this year and kicked off their programme with a jazz concert on Drostdy Lawns and a Celebratory Service in the Cathedral. 

Established in 1981 by the visionary Dr Thelma Henderson as a self-funding institute affiliated to Rhodes University, the Centre has been home to a host of educational and socio-economic development programmes, as well as facilitating the community engagement function of the University for many years.

The Celebratory Service in the Cathedral of St Michael and St George paid special tribute to Thelma Henderson as founder and director of the organisation for 19 years. Her activities, however, were not limited to the CSD – she established numerous other projects and centres, including the St Mary’s Development and Care Centre. A row of sunny yellow T-shirts worn by about 20 elderly members of the Ethembeni Old Age Centre paid testimony to her influence also in this sphere, and there were many nods of agreement when the speakers paid tribute to “Ma H’s” indomitable spirit and her tireless work for the disadvantaged communities.

About 100 people gathered in the Cathedral for a service that was led by Dean Andrew Hunter and included stirring performances by the DSG and St Andrews choirs, as well as messages from a range of old friends and colleagues. Among those present at the Service were the Henderson daughters, Margie Keeton and Angie Marriner, both of whom have returned to live in Grahamstown and are continuing the tradition of being a great resource for the area.

Dean Hunter quoted from a short history compiled by Prof Michael Wisson of Dr Henderson’s early days, when she first came to town as the wife of the Vice-Chancellor, Dr Derek Henderson. She turned her formidable talents for organising and fundraising to GADRA Education initially, and then the CSD was born. Ms Diana Hornby, currently Director of Community Engagement at Rhodes and the person who followed Thelma Henderson as Director of the CSD, spoke about the qualities that distinguished “Ma H” as someone who not only cared deeply, but was also frighteningly efficient in raising funds for, establishing and running community projects that addressed the problem. In addition to this, she always made time for her family and fulfilled with ease her duties as wife of the Vice-Chancellor.

Mr Roger Domingo, head of the St Mary’s Centre, described her as “my mentor”, while Mr Brian Fargher, head of GADRA Education and a long-standing friend, said he was both “hugely impressed and somewhat intimidated” when he first met her. Known for her meticulous and impressive record-keeping, Fargher said, ”Thelma had two weapons in her war on poverty: her diary and her black exercise book.”

Ms Sue Smailes read out a message on behalf of the Vice-Chancellor Dr Saleem Badat, and quoted statistics that underscored the staggering number of projects and people that Thelma Henderson assisted during her working life in Grahamstown. It is evident that she left an indelible mark on a great many people’s lives and in many communities, and in the words of Mr Fargher, there can be no greater tribute than to uphold her legacy and continue doing the work.

Ms Vera Adams, who took over from Ms Cathy Gush as Director of the CSD in October 2010, said the CSD is still going strong in its 30th year, and building on the solid foundations laid for early childhood and community development work in Grahamstown, the surrounding rural areas and the Province. “In fact, the challenge is to meet the rapidly increasing demand for early childhood development training with our current infrastructure and staff resources.”

By Cathy Gush