Bittersweet moment as Chemistry Department bids veteran staff goodbye

Phillipa Middleton, seated, middle, with MUT staff from the two departments

The almost two decades she spent at the University were full of bliss, productivity and love. For her colleagues in the Department of Chemistry, she was a pleasure to interact and work with.

This was a dominant topic in a farewell meeting as staff bade goodbye to Philippa Middleton, who joined MUT in 2004 from a neighbouring institution. From the time she joined MUT, she became a reference for staff. Many confessed to having benefited from her vast knowledge of the subject, and life in general.

Dr Lindelani Qwabe, Senior Lecturer in the department, said Middleton was his “partner in crime”. They would swap lectures when necessary. Dr Njabulo Gumede recalled how Middleton assisted him with printing. The Head of Department, Dr Michael Shapi, struggled for words as he tried to tell everyone how life was with Middleton. Dr Shapi said he was expecting Middleton to leave in December.

The impact of Middleton upon staff and students was shown by the number of staff members who used to be her students. Middleton said what was most pleasing for her was that her subject was then going to be taught by her former student, who was “doing better than me”. What became clear in the meeting was that she was a glue to the whole department, a fact that was noticed by the Head of a neighbouring Department of Chemical engineering, Njabulo Zulu, who was invited to this ‘secret meeting’.

During her response to what colleagues said about her, Middleton reminded them of the quality time they had together as colleagues and friends. They discussed academic issues, as well as family and social issues. Middleton reminded staff that their children, who were very young when they met, were now in their final years of study at higher education institutions. Dr Thobeka Makhathini, another Lecturer in the department, said she was going to miss times when Middleton who would come to her and tell her about specials at one of the big chain stores they visited sometimes.

Thabani Mkhize, another Lecturer in the department, who has a child that Middleton is very familiar with, said Middleton’s footsteps were different from others’, and that she was a very organised individual. Mkhize said he moderated Middleton’s papers well before the deadline.