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Prof. Macpherson: Makerere’s light that has shone for generations

By Vision Reporter

Added 13th September 2011 08:00 PM

Prof. Macpherson served Makerere during her best years and did not abandon ship even during the nightmarish years of coups and civil wars

Prof. Macpherson served Makerere during her best years and did not abandon ship even during the nightmarish years of coups and civil wars

Prof. Macpherson served Makerere during her best years and did not abandon ship even during the nightmarish years of coups and civil wars, writes Abasi Kiyimba

TOMORROW, we walk down memory lane, to pay tribute to a woman who loved this country like her own; who gave nearly all her entire professional life to building this nation; who through her dedicated service delivered some of Africa’s most eminent sons and daughters.

Tomorrow, September 14th, Makerere University will join the rest of the country – former students, colleagues and friends to celebrate the life of Professor Margaret Macpherson, the grand old lady of this university, who retired in 1981, after 36 years of service.

A memorial service in honour of Professor Macpherson will be held tomorrow at St Francis Chapel at 2:30 pm. A reception at the Makerere Guest House will follow after. Friends, colleagues, students and well-wishers are invited to what promises to be a great Makererean re-union; one which would have warmed the fallen professor’s heart.
A lasting legacy

Although ‘MM’, as Prof. Macpherson was fondly known all over the campus, passed away at the age of 91, and a good 30 years after her physical departure from Makerere, this iconic personality of the ‘Hill’ will be deeply missed by the Makerere community.

She was single-mindedly devoted to the growth of Makerere as an institution and to the development of the teaching of English, Literature, Drama and the whole range of disciplines now referred to as the Humanities.

Since her arrival in Uganda in 1945, as a fresh Oxonian graduate and the wife of Ian Macpherson, a Makerere administrator, Margaret can be justifiably said to have touched the lives of generations of Makerereans right down to the present day, in one way or another.

Those who were not taught by her were almost certainly taught by academics, who passed through her hands.
Margaret was an amazing personality, who gave Makerere her best years. She lived in Uganda for nearly 40 years, including the nightmarish decades of coups, counter-coups and civil wars.

Many recall with admiration that during these years, she fully dedicated her life to the service of Makerere University and the community around it. Memories of her work and life will forever remain vivid, especially to those who studied and worked in Makerere from the 1940s to the 1980s.

She was a woman of many interests, ranging from academics to Scottish Highland dancing. But her priority was teaching. She will certainly be remembered for her work in the teaching of English and Literature both at the Makerere College School, where she started her teaching career and later at the University. Indeed, she is largely credited with the pioneering of the teaching of what there was of modern African Literature at that time.

Love for the community
In the wider Makerere community, she was a community-minded person, doing all that was in her powers to shape Makerere so that it could build others.

She was, for example, one of the principal actors in the establishment of the Department of Music Dance and Drama (now the Department of Performing Arts and Film) and with the late David Cook, she had a strong hand in the starting of the Makerere Free Travelling Theatre, which continues to live in the hearts of those who knew it in the 1960s and 1970s.
Professor Macpherson loved theatre and gloried in making the best of the voice.

During rehearsals, she would not only ensure that everyone delivered their best, but also insisted on meticulous communication. She was a firm believer in doing everything with thoroughness, if not perfection.

She always insisted that the University was not a degree factory, but an institution to give people a sound education.
Her contribution to the evolution of Ugandan theatre in both English and Luganda and to the teaching of drama in the country is documented in some of her publications.

Her guidance to playwriting and production, Let’s Make a Play, illustrated with Erisa Kironde’s play Kintu. Her formidable If It Works It’s Right still stands as an unparalled guide to theatre practice.

Professor Macpherson will also be greatly remembered for authoring the most authoritative history of Makerere University to date, entitled They Built for the Future: A Chronicle Of Makerere University College 1922-1962.

This should be a great challenge to Makerere historians as their Alma Mater approaches her 90th birthday next year.
Margaret was a strikingly caring person, especially about her beloved Makerere.

Even after her retirement, she continued to promote Makerere from the UK, through publishing the Old Makererean Newsletter, and participating in several fundraising drives and book-soliciting ventures. She kept in close contact with staff in the Department of Literature, offering guidance in many ways, including curriculum reviews and literature selection.

She will be deeply missed by her beloved Department. But her departure will be felt far and wide and in the highest positions all over the East African region, since her students read like a list of who-is-who in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and beyond.

These include presidents, prime ministers and other politicians, nearly all leading professors and academicians, acclaimed authors and writers and great luminaries in every field.

It should be remembered that, before the establishment of the Higher School Certificate programme in schools in the early 1960s, everyone joining Makerere had to do a preliminary two-year course before embarking on their specialisation.

Since the course included an English component, taking it meant being taught by the redoubtable Margaret Macpherson. Hence the mixed-bag nature of the crowd of her students, ranging from Julius

Prof. Macpherson: Makerere’s light that has shone for generations

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