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Donation to SASPP by Prof John Mildenhall

Prof John Mildenhall’s association with the SASPP goes back 45 years to 1967 when he presented a paper at the January meeting held at the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg.  In 2009, his deep passion for plant pathology prompted him to donate an amount of R 50 000 to the Society to award commendable PhD students in plant pathology.  The money was invested, and the interest earned is used to finance the John Mildenhall Award at the biennial SASPP congress.  At the 51st SASPP conference in 2019, held at Club Mykonos, Prof Mildenhall announced that he is donating an additional R150 000 towards increasing the value of the original award.  This very generous gesture is the largest ever donation the SASPP has received from a private individual.   

Prof Mildenhall’s long association with the Society stems from when it was an umbrella organisation for a number of disciplines, known as the South African Society for Plant Pathology and Microbiology (SASPPM).  In September 1967, Prof Mildenhall departed for the United States to enrol for a PhD study at the University of Wisconsin.  Upon his return to South Africa in 1971, he accepted a position at the University of Fort Hare where he remained for the next 29 years. 

During the 1970s the funds of the SASPPM were relatively limited and most of the keynote speakers were either local academics or foreign academics working on research projects in South Africa.  Furthermore, South Africa was becoming more and more politically isolated during the 1970s and 1980s and several prominent overseas academics refused to visit South Africa on political grounds.  During the late 1970s turmoil occurred in the Society when a number of microbiologists opted to form their own society for microbiology.  At the SASPPM meeting of January 1980, held at the compus of the University of the Orange Free State, the president of the SASPPM declared the society split into plant pathology and microbiology, respectively.  Initially, there was concern whether plant pathology had sufficient membership to maintain a viable organisation.  As time has shown, the SASPP continued to flourish as a vibrant and energetic society.  Having separated from microbiology, the fledgling SASPP was able to devote the annual congresses to topics pertaining solely to plant pathology. 

Prof Mildenhall organised the Annual SASPP congress held in 1992 at Cintsa resort, 25km north east of East London in a large marquee tent, the first and probably the last SASPP congress ever to be held in such a rustic venue.  He also instituted the “Mildenhall stakes”, an integral part of the SASPP’s tradition.  The origin of this stems from when John enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in 1967 and joined the UW rugby club.  He performed this beer trick in bars after rugby matches where he earned free drinks from the opposing team.  Upon his return to South Africa in 1971, he used to do it for fun in the evening after the SASPP congress barbeque.  Other plant pathologists soon took up the challenge and within a few years his colleagues were able to do it much faster.  This now has become a tradition at SASPP congresses, known as the Mildenhall stakes.

The Council of the SASPP would like to express its sincere thanks and appreciation to Prof Mildenhall for his dedication to plant pathology and the SASPP as reflected by his very generous financial donation.

Prof Wijnand J. Swart

President: SASPP

8 January 2020

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