Professor Emeritus Claire Penn passed away peacefully last night (21 July) after a long illness. Claire dedicated a significant portion of her life to the University, having worked at Wits for 44 years. She received her degree in logopaedics (speech and hearing therapy) cum laude in 1972.
Claire held the endowed chair of Speech Pathology and Audiology and was Director of the Health Communication Research Unit in the School of Human and Community Development at the University. She was the first A rated scientist in the Humanities Faculty at Wits. She had a strong international profile, served on the editorial board of a number of international journals, was a member of a number of international speech pathology organisations, and regularly delivered international invited keynote addresses. Claire published over 100 papers in local and international peer-reviewed scientific journals, 25 chapters, and 4 books (including an extensive multi-volume dictionary of Southern African Signs).
Claire was instrumental in the development of the field of health communication in South Africa. The merging of her lines of research afforded a rich and mutually beneficial interface with societal impact and recognition. Her research strongly suggested the need for an expanded role for the profession of speech language therapy both in national and international contexts. Her work also consistently demonstrated the major contribution that South African research findings and methods and insights have to offer the global forum.
Claire was a recipient of a number of awards, including the Order of Mapungubwe (Silver) from the South African government (2007), for her “excellent contribution to the field of speech and language pathology, especially in the area of linguistics, sign language, child language, aphasia and head injury and producing ground-breaking research in understanding the complexities of human communication”. She was the winner of the Science & Technology category, Shoprite/Checkers SABC2 Woman of the Year award (2008) and the Department of Science and Technology Distinguished Woman Scientist award (Academic excellence in Social Sciences or Humanities) (2010).
Claire will be remembered as an outstanding teacher, supervisor, researcher and mentor. She had great vision for the profession and inspired generations of speech therapists and audiologists. Many of those who were taught and mentored by Claire have gone on to become research and clinical leaders both locally and internationally.
Claire is survived by her partner Martin, her son Adam and her grandchildren.