Prof Emeritus John Duncan

It is with sadness that we inform the Rhodes Community of the death of Professor Emeritus John Duncan, former Dean of Research, founding head of the department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Biotechnology, and one of the pioneers of Biotechnology at Rhodes University.


Prof Duncan FRSSAf passed away on Monday 20th June 2016 in East London.


John Richard Duncan was appointed to Rhodes University in 1984, as an Associate Professor and the first Head of the new Department of Biochemistry (then housed within the Department of Chemistry).  He was appointed to the Chair of Biochemistry in 1999, and served as Head of the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology from 1990 to 1999.  Prof Duncan then served as Dean of Research from 2000 to 2008, and as Acting Vice-Principal or Principal of Rhodes University for short periods during this time.


As a prolific researcher, and a much loved teacher and mentor, Prof Duncan graduated 24 PhD and 28 MSc students during his academic career. He published more than 100 research papers in international peer reviewed journals, was awarded a B1 rating by the National Research Foundation, and the Vice-Chancellor’s Senior Distinguished Research Medal at Rhodes University.  While he undoubtedly made a major contribution to the discipline of Biochemistry, Prof Duncan’s most significant contribution at Rhodes University was arguably in the development of the emerging field of Biotechnology.  Together with Prof Peter Rose, Prof Duncan developed the first Postgraduate Biotechnology curriculum within the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, that later grew to a separate academic discipline, and eventually a separate scholarly entity at the university (the Biotechnology Innovation Centre).  Prof Duncan was particularly known for his research into the development of sustainable biological treatment processes for the remediation of heavy metal acid mine drainage, a field in which he holds four patents. He was awarded the Gold Medal of the South African Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa.


After his formal retirement in 2008, Prof Duncan continued to serve the university sector and the national science system as a researcher and consultant in higher education.   He notably became the thought leader of a joint Kresge Foundation, Inyathelo and Higher Education South Africa initiative to explore third stream income for South African Universities, authoring in 2009 what is still widely referred to as the Duncan Report.  He continued to make other national contributions such as chairing an ASSAf Peer Review Panel for Scholarly Journals.


He is survived by his wife Rhona, his children Kelly and Marc and their respective spouses Dave and Jen, and his four grandchildren Nicole, Chris, Carter and Caden. We express our heartfelt condolences to them, and all who will miss him.


John will be fondly remembered for his generosity to his colleagues and students, his congeniality and grace, especially in tough situations, his readiness to see the humourous angle in most things, his passion for the game of rugby, and the huge contribution he made to the intellectual life of Rhodes University.


A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday 25 June 2016 at 11 am at Christ Church, Speke Street, Grahamstown.


Last Modified: Mon, 08 Aug 2016 15:04:38 SAST