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It's a family affair

- Wits Alumni Relations

December graduation highlights one household’s connection with Wits for four generations.

Prof Anne Fitchett (L) and her daughter Prof Jennifer Fitchett (R) witnessed Jennifer’s younger sister Dr Meg Fitchett (Centre) graduate with her MMed in emergency medicine. Photos by Snippet Video

Graduation stories are often family stories. On 14 December 2023, the final day of the 2023 graduation season, three members of one family fortuitously participated in the graduation procession.

Prof Anne Fitchett (BArch 1981, MSc Building 2002, PhD 2009) and her daughter Prof Jennifer Fitchett (BSc Hons 2012, MSc 2013, PhD 2015) witnessed Jennifer’s younger sister Dr Margaret (Meg) Fitchett (MBBCh 2014) graduate with her MMed in emergency medicine. 

Anne has been an associate professor in the School of Civil and Mining Engineering, and concurrently served as the assistant dean for undergraduates in the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment since 2004, while Jennifer is professor in the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies.

The special association between the family and Wits was further marked at the occasion by four generations of the Whyte-Williams-Fitchett families now having graduated from all five of the university’s faculties.

Early links

In the early 1930s, Anne’s grandfather William George Whyte (1905-1986) worked for the architectural firm Emley and Williamson who designed the William Cullen Library along with Cowin, Powers and Ellis. The design of the building was inspired by the Petit Trianon in the gardens of Versailles and was opened by Prince George, Duke of Kent, on 12 March 1934.

William’s daughter, Evelyn, studied architecture in the late 1940s, and met her husband, Harold Williams (Dip Town Planning 1969) at Wits. Harold was project architect for SA Breweries, Partner at Powell, Whyte and Partners Architectural Firm, as well as town planner and architect at the Johannesburg City Council.David Fitchett 

In the 1960s, he graduated with a diploma from Wits in Town and Regional Planning, one of the first cohort of students in the programme. Evelyn and Harold had three children, David (BCom 1978, LLB 1982), Anne and Elizabeth (BA FA 1982).

David worked in the banking sector and practised as an advocate of the Johannesburg Bar. 

Elizabeth followed her fine art degree with a stained-glass apprenticeship in the UK. She taught art for many years at Curzon Combined School in Buckinghamshire, UK and adult education classes for the Buckinghamshire Council. She then set up a very successful stained-glass restoration and design business called Blue Zulu Stained Glass.Elizabeth Fitchett 

Growing up on campus

Meanwhile, in the year that Anne graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture in 1981, she met Rowallan Hugh Fitchett (PhD Arch 1997) who was completing his master’s degree at Wits which he upgraded to a PhD. He had completed his Bachelor of Architecture at UCT in 1978, after which he worked briefly with Gallagher & Aspoas Architects. He started lecturing at Wits in 1981 and married Anne in 1986. The couple had two children, Jennifer and Meg.Rowallan Fitchett

Anne started her own consultancy in 1987, focusing on community projects, including for the Lenasia Tamil Association, and lectured part-time in history of architecture at Wits during this time.

As the afternoon light descended on the library lawns, the trio longed to capture the moment with the John Moffat building as backdrop. A pair of Egyptian geese and their five ducklings waded in the pool, which Jennifer was keen to capture.

She recalled that her first memories were made on the Wits campus. “We spent a lot of time in this building,” said Jennifer. “My mom didn’t have maternity leave and I arrived here with her when I was 10 days old. She gave a triple lecture that day.”

Similarly, Meg recalled: “We spent afternoons playing around here – doing homework around her desk.”Fitchett family

Anne was appointed as a lecturer in architecture in 1993, and in 2008 accepted a position as a senior lecturer in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering after completing her master’s in construction economics and management as well as PhD in civil engineering. She was promoted to associate professor in 2018. Although she officially retires at the end of 2023, she will remain in contact as Honorary Associate Professor.

She said she is happy to bid farewell to late nights of completing administrative duties of exam timetables and focus more on heritage design and environmental preservation.

“I love Wits,” said Anne. “It’s been such a supportive and nurturing environment for my learning, teaching, as well and for my girls.”

Thriving at Wits

Jennifer excelled at Wits, graduating with distinction and completing her PhD in geography with a split-site component at University College London and Wits. She was employed as a postdoctoral fellow at the Wits Evolutionary Studies Institute, funded by the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence for Palaeosciences in 2016. In 2017 she accepted a lectureship in Physical Geography in the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies at Wits, and was promoted to senior lecturer in 2018. She was promoted to associate professor in 2019 and full professor in March 2023 and gaver her inaugural lecture in July 2023.

Meg, meanwhile, went on to complete her medical degree in 2014 with distinction and did her internship at Groote Schuur Hospital, followed by community service at Vanguard Community Health Clinic in Cape Town in 2017. She completed her final month as registrar and associate lecturer in the Division of Emergency Medicine at Wits. Her thesis in emergency medicine was titled “Adequacy of availability of antidotes for common and critical drug poisonings and doctors’ perspectives thereof: a study in teaching hospitals in the Southern Gauteng City-Region”. As one who is accustomed to working unusual hours, Meg looks forward to a quiet celebration with the family at home before taking up a permanent position as emergency physician at Far East Rand Hospital in January 2024.

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