Philip van der Watt: 1938-2016
Philip followed a route into academia different to most academics. At the age of four he was placed in an orphanage in Kimberley. He remained there until he was 11, when he was moved to Bloemfontein. After passing Standard 8, he had to leave school and went to work at the Post Office. It was while working in the PO that Philip completed his matric by correspondence followed by a National Diploma in Electrical Engineering at a Technikon. However, showing a strong mathematical ability, he decided to change direction by moving into a university setting where he could focus on Statistics and Mathematics. Through UNISA he obtained an MSc and a PhD under the eminent Professor Cas Crouse, who in those days was arguably one of the outstanding persons in his peer group of statisticians and later became rector of RAU.
Philip initially lectured at the Witwatersrand Technikon from 1962 to 1964 and subsequently joined UNISA in 1965, remaining there until 1970. In 1971 he was appointed as the first Professor of Statistics at Rhodes University, this at the early age of 33. It was also the first time he had been exposed to an English environment since his days at the orphanage. Being a small department he was by necessity forced to teach a wide spectrum of courses as well as building up, developing and establishing a flourishing Statistics department. He sacrificed his own exceptional talents and abilities to this end. He held this position of HOD of the Statistics Department until 1997. In 1979 he was also appointed as Dean of Commerce. In those days this office was a part-time position which he retained until 1999, a position lasting 20 years.
Philip had extensive teaching and consulting experience in Mathematical Statistics having taught at all undergraduate and postgraduate levels in both Mathematical Statistics and Applied Statistics. These courses included Operations Research, Distribution Theory, Multivariate Analysis and Quality Control. His research interests were in statistical estimation and inference.
Philip retired to Somerset West in 2001 and passed away on 24 December 2016 after an extended battle with cancer.
Philip’s contribution to the Rhodes Department of Statistics and to Rhodes University in general is remembered with great appreciation by his colleagues and students.
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