Start main page content

Prof. Steele leaves a rich legacy

- Wits University

Few South Africans have contributed as much to the general financial health of higher education in this country as Professor Steele.

Professors Margaret and Jerrold Steele

The University learnt with great sadness of the passing of Professor Jerrold (Jerry) Turner Steele, who passed away on Friday, 16 June 2017. Steele played a prominent role at Wits and was deeply admired for his extensive knowledge of financial management in higher education.

A chartered accountant, Steele joined the University in 1956 as a Senior Lecturer in the School of Accountancy (SoA) and continued in this role until 1967.  In January 1968 he changed tack and became the deputy director in the University’s Computer Centre (now CNS) before assuming the position of Director (1971-1978). In January 1976 he was appointed in parallel to the Department of Applied Mathematics and to the Chair of Applied Information Processing. On 1 October 1976 the title of Professor was bestowed upon him in his joint capacities.

Steele shaped learning in the profession both through his leadership at Wits and his insightful contributions to the innovations pursued by the Education Committee of the Public Accountants’ and Auditors’ Board (now Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors). During his service to the board, Steele introduced the concept of “academic articles”, a practice adopted by universities which endures today and benefits the academy and students.

At the time of his retirement, Steele had served two terms as the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Finance and Administration). Previous roles include head of the SoA, Dean of the Faculty of Commerce, and Senate representative to Council. His visionary leadership led to the implementation of key projects such as Wits’ first executive information system and a precursor to the current Business Intelligence System.

After his retirement from Wits, Steele’s expertise was quickly drawn upon outside the University. He began working part-time in the national Department of Education, where he was central to the development of new statutory reporting requirements for public higher education institutions.

In recognition of his substantial contribution to the sector, Professor Steele was awarded an honorary doctorate in Law in 2009.

“Few South Africans have contributed as much to the general financial health of higher education in this country,” reads the citation.

Outside the University, Steele was an enthusiastic sportsman.

“Jerry took a keen interest in sport. He was a brilliant all-rounder, an aggressive batsman and a fast bowler. He was selected for the Schools Nuffield XI to play against the winners of the seniors inter-provincial tournament, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in Salisbury (now Harare). His bowling brought him a hat-trick.

At Wits he captained the Wits Staff XI and played social cricket. He was also a keen squash player. Although he was known to be competitive, he always played by the rules and within the spirit of the game. This was a quality which he brought to his work for the university and for which he was justly admired,” remembers Noel Garson from the Wits History Department.

He is survived by his wife Professor Margaret Steele, former head of the SoA (1987 – 1995) and their three children, who are all Wits graduates.

The University extends its heartfelt condolences to his family, friends, colleagues and all who knew him.

The flag is flying at half-mast in his honour.