By Ferdie Schneider, CEO of Sta Konsult
Homage was recently paid to Prof EM Stack (Lilla) at a ceremony held at the University of Pretoria (UP).
The event was attended by some of the people whose lives she strongly affected, and to celebrate her long journey as a brilliant academic and contributor to the SA tax landscape.
Born in Johannesburg in 1941, Prof Lilla proved to be an active, caring and lively woman who enjoyed walking, bird watching, reading, art exhibitions and classical music
She quickly displayed an astute ability to communicate effectively and motivate people through strong leadership, establishing and maintaining solid relationships, while demonstrating excellence, enthusiasm, dedication to duty, and an uncompromising code of personal and work ethics.
She matriculated as top pupil at Germiston Girls' High in 1958. Her father, however, could not afford to send her to university and she only enrolled for a degree at Unisa in 1971 at age 32, while working a full day and looking after her young daughter. She started her days at 3am to study and this extended to weekends.
Her hard work paid off and she obtained a BCompt in 1978, a BCompt (Hons) in 1979, and passed the final qualifying exam of the Public Accountants' and Auditors' Board in 1979.
Unisa awarded Lilla a number of merit bursaries and she also won the Pretoria Regional Association of Chartered Accountants' prize as best Accounting 3 student in Unisa's Pretoria region She completed her MCompt in 1986 and a DCompt in 1990. She completed her articles at Peat, Marwick and Mitchell, was admitted as a CA in 1980 and appointed as first woman manager in the firm in SA
Lilla joined Unisa in 1982 as lecturer and leader of the taxation course. When she left Unisa in 1998, she had occupied the roles of professor in taxation, executive director and registrar (finance and operations), Exco member of the faculty, and member of the senate.
At age 57, she went on early retirement, left Unisa and joined Rhodes University. Though aspiring towards a more relaxed lifestyle, she soon became head of department of accounting at Rhodes, and also served on the faculty board, the senate and various other committees.
She introduced the master's degree in taxation (coursework and thesis) at Rhodes, and 50 candidates graduated between 2004 and 2018. She successfully supervised 12 doctoral candidates (five Rhodes candidates) and four master's candidates prior to joining Rhodes University.
Five doctoral graduates and one master's degree graduate studying under her tutelage won the Saipa/EY/Norton Rose prize for the best tax theses in SA
She was also appointed as professor at the University of Fort Hare and extraordinary professor at the University of Pretoria, to supervise doctoral candidates.
In the past three years alone, she graduated 25 master's and doctoral students in taxation while working fulltime at Rhodes.
Lilla gave life to, and wrote, the introduction to Tax Stories in the SA Business Review. She wrote: "Tax Stories is a collection of journal articles researched and written by academics at most South African universities. Tax Stories involved a fascinating journey into the past — the geographical, historical and legal settings in which landmark cases in South African tax law were decided."
The authors "met" interesting characters and the research revealed many of their idiosyncrasies. Lilla wove such a tale of intrigue in the introduction that readers couldn't wait to read the articles.
She also co-authored with several different academics three of the nine accredited articles.
Lilla was named one of the top 30 researchers at Rhodes University for four consecutive years (2014-2017) and was named the Rhodes Faculty Researcher of the Year in 2017.
She wrote a research methodology and design module targeted at postgraduate accounting and taxation students, which is also prescribed reading at Unisa. She co-authored a number of textbooks, many of which were prescribed by various universities, as well as articles in a number of publications. She also presented various seminars and papers.
Lilla served, and still serves, as external examiner at all major accredited universities in SA
She also served on the finance minister's advisory board for financial services and regulation and was appointed a member of the Special Consumer Court.
Lilla constantly challenges herself to do things over and above what is required, such as writing textbooks, studying and writing on research, and training and supervising fellow academics at other universities. In 2017 she said: "This is my last year under contract and I have been at retirement age since 2006. I do have other plans, though. I have been invited to assist with supervision in the tax department at Unisa, and Oxford University Press has asked me to collaborate on developing e-learning materials on research in tax.
"There is also the book that I would love to write to guide young entrepreneurs in matters of business and finance, from starting a spaza shop to registering a company."
The "last year under contract" has not yet arrived for Lilla!
We respect and appreciate all the valuable skills and knowledge Lilla has imparted to several generations. Her exceptional qualities have inspired colleagues and students in so many ways.
Ralph Waldo Emerson defined success as: "To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived."
Prof Lilia. We salute you!