31 May 2013
It was with deep sadness that we learned of the death of our colleague, Professor Peter Martins Ndumbe, on 14 May in South Africa after a long illness. Peter had most recently been Programme Manager (Research, Publications and Library Services) at the WHO Regional Office for Africa in Brazzaville, Congo.
Peter was Chair of TDRs Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) from 2006-2010, after years of other activities and committee assignments. Under his guidance, the focus shifted to support the development of research leadership in low- and middle-income countries, and to support locally owned priority setting of research agendas. Sue Block Tyrrell, then head of External Relations, called him “a champion for Africa and for TDR,” adding he “chaired STAC with these aims in mind.”
Robert Ridley, who was Director of TDR at the time, recalls, “I remember one of his frequent questions at STAC whenever priority research was being discussed. It was not what is the question? But who asked the question? If we want to assist people we must address their questions, not our own, especially if full of Northern preconceptions.”
Making an impact on African students
Peter was a native of Cameroon, where he had been the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Yaounde, and later Dean of Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Buea during his tenure as STAC chair. He had the opportunity to impact many African medical and science students, and to encourage them to get involved in their health systems, to identify the local needs and work with global partners to drive the needed research.
His stature in life and spirit will be remembered by all and missed very dearly. Peter represented the perfect combination of the highest scientific and human competence. He never failed to contribute with his enormous expertise, his eloquence and wonderful sense of humor. He uplifted the spirit of any meeting.
Rolf Korte, former Joint Coordinating Board chair
“He had a deep underlying affection for so many people, especially his students, whom he primarily wanted to think for themselves and to ask their own questions,” said Robert Ridley.
“Before anything, I feel that he fought for fairness because he knew what it is to live in the middle of unfairness and inequity,” said Dr Jorge Motta, who was one of the chairs of TDRs Joint Coordinating Board (JCB) who worked with Peter. “He was the perfect example of someone highly educated, amicable, witty and truly dedicated to the welfare of others.”
Peter worked with several JCB chairs during his tenure, and he made a big impact on their thinking, always reinforcing the need to see the problem from the country perspective. “He fended for science and scientists in Africa, in WHO for a healthier world and for academia in his own country,” said Rolf Korte, a former JCB chair.
A love of celebration
Peter was also well known for his love of celebration – he used dinners and other events to bring people together outside the official arena and create even stronger bonds. He was a skilled toast master, who always found the right story or anecdote to draw out laughter but also share a keen perception of the person he was toasting.
Rolf Korte sums up the feeling of many. “His stature in life and spirit will be remembered by all and missed very dearly. Peter represented the perfect combination of the highest scientific and human competence. He never failed to contribute with his enormous expertise, his eloquence and wonderful sense of humor. He uplifted the spirit of any meeting.”
For more information, please contact
Ms Jamie Guth
TDR Communications Manager
Telephone: +41 79 441 2289
Cross posted, with thanks, from the WHO/AFRO homepage