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A Tribute to Professor Theodore MacDonald (1933-2011)

21/07/2016

 

Soon after I started teaching at USP in 1973, I enrolled for a Masters Degree in mathematics with Professor Theodore McDonald, then the Head of Mathematics and also Education. He was a magnificent teacher, but also a radical educator and social activist.

During Theo’s tenure at USP, leaflets were thrown around Suva protesting that a prominent politician in his hurry to get to Nausori airport, had mowed down a pedestrian and driven on, leaving the victim to die. No charges were ever laid against the politician but the Fiji Government was incensed at the pamphlets clearly originating from USP.

When Professor McDonald went to Australia with his sick child, he was banned by the Fiji Government from re-entering Fiji, without any protest from the USP management and the first Vice Chancellor (Colin Aikman).  A few rebellious young academics spoke at the protest meeting organized around the USP Swimming Pool by the USP Students Association (Jone Dakuvula, Pramod Rae, Padma Narsey Lal and Brij Lal will remember the event).

The USP Vice Chancellor refused to protest to the Fiji Government on the grounds that expatriate academics were banned by their visa conditions from “political activity”.   Professor McDonald could never come back; he was forced to sell his possessions and give away most of his books in Fiji; and my Masters in Mathematics stopped there and then.

But from Professor Theo McDonald, I inherited not only some solid redwood book-shelves (still with me today), and beautiful books on famous mathematicians (now residing at the library of Fiji National University), but also a life-long commitment to social ideals and academic activism.

When writing this post, I found out that Theo had sadly passed away.

[I am grateful to Dr. Simon Batterbury for correcting some information on Theo. after he left USP and Fiji.  I had apparently conflated him with another Dr. Theo McDonald at Harvard.  Dr. Batterbury wrote to me:

“The one I knew, the communist who dies in 2011, spent his last decade at West London Inst if Higher Education (now Brunel) and lived in Littlehampton, UK. He was the precocious one who took a  degree at age 13 and later taught maths at Monash . I can imagine him being banned form Fiji – he was also banned from the US.” 

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