UKZN Remembers Pioneer of Community Obstetrics
University staff and students recently gathered at a memorial service at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine to bid a final farewell to beloved academic and pioneer of community Obstetrics, Professor Sam Ross (83), who passed away peacefully following a prolonged illness.
Ross, who lived a life filled with service to humanity, was born and raised in England. He moved to Nigeria where he worked at a mission hospital for 12 years before transferring to Ethiopia serving for seven years as Associate Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at a Medical School in Addis Ababa.
Ross joined the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the former University of Natal in 1975 and became well-known for his work in Community Obstetrics in South Africa.
Ross developed protocols for the management of pregnant women at community health centres, and provided support for midwives in Umlazi, KwaMashu and in KwaDabeka Poly Clinics. In addition, he was responsible for starting a programme for Advanced Midwifery Training in Durban, which later spread to other parts of South Africa.
He co-authored Obstetrics, Family Planning and Paediatrics (University of Natal Press,1986) and published a number of papers on nutrition during pregnancy, point of care in the management of sexually transmitted infections during pregnancy and other papers related to community obstetrics.
The value he added to the world around him extended well beyond his academic achievements into the community where his legacy lives on in the establishment of projects that have brought improvement to the lives of many. These include helping to establish the KwaMashu Christian Care Society, which operates as an early childhood centre and old age home for the frail and chronically sick in the community.
Ross’s family home was open to a number of Black students while they studied at university during the 1980s. His actions defied the Group Areas Act of the day which restricted Black people from living in areas set aside for whites. In addition, he actively supported the Student Christian Movement in the Alan Taylor Residence, where he regularly enjoyed fellowship with Medical students, providing them with spiritual support, guardianship and mentorship. Some of the then Medical students he offered support to included UKZN Chancellor, Dr Zweli Mkhize, and former Chair of the SA Medical Association, Dr Zolile Mlisane.
Dr Amon Nkambule, one of Ross’s students who lodged with him in the late 1980s, describes Ross as being a very humble person who by his own example taught his students how to give, be humble and forgive others. Nkambule held a close relationship with Ross up until his last days. ‘Professor Ross was like a father to us (students), - he always remembered our birthdays, he would take us to church and he attended my wedding. I am deeply saddened by his death.’
Ross will be missed by his former students who have fond memories of his teachings. Some went on to become core staff members at UKZN including the immediate past Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, and Acting Head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Dr Motshedisi Sebitloane.
Makgoba says Ross introduced community obstetrics into their (Medical School) studies in 1975/76, ‘He was a very religious, gentle and soft spoken person.’
Sebitloane said many people benefited from Ross’s work, ‘He took specialist skill to primary healthcare and equipped midwives.’
Ross retired from the University of Natal in the early 1990s and joined CHESS (Centre for Health and Social Studies), an organisation which among other things focused on strengthening the health systems in midwifery and women’s health all over SA.
He was well known for his deep Christian beliefs and his passion for gardening. His love and concern for humanity saw him lead a life that has touched and impacted on those around him, including his children, who have all taken after their father’s interest in healthcare.
Ross is survived by his wife, Morag, his four children and eight grandchildren.
His son, Dr Andrew Ross, a Lecturer in Family Medicine at UKZN, said of his father: ‘We loved him deeply and always appreciated his support and encouragement.’