Obituary – Dr Willem Steyn

Willem Steyn worked for the ARC-Tropical and Subtropical Crops (previously the Department of Agriculture) since 1989 where he started in entomology. And he only got involved in nematology from 2002.

He did the short course in Potchefstroom under Alec McDonald and came back from there, keen on getting his hands dirty while digging in search of nematodes. Throughout the years, he helped with rearing of root-knot and lesion nematodes, field trials for chemical companies, glasshouse trials for screenings, for product development, testing of cover crops, surveys in subtropical regions (allowing us to travel in many areas of the country) and EPN’s, but he had many other talents.

Willem was the organized part of our collaboration. A meeting, a conference, a workshop,… Willem was my ‘go-to’ person. Before I would ask him to draw up a list of delegates, he would hand me the list. Before I had even thought about certificates, they were on my desk beautifully designed. He was the person who made sure the finer detail was dealt with. And this is how Willem can be remembered, not only in organizing meetings but also in his work, everything was perfect.

He would make me feel guilty when his presentation was in order two weeks before the time while I will still running around until the last day.  And every time I would think: “Next time you need to follow the example of Willem!”

He was part of the NSSA conferences since 2005. His first conference was at Hans Merensky (Phalaborwa) and he always remembered the river and sundowners, the big vase full of expensive wine and the scrum …

After that conference, he never missed one! And he build many memories attending, organizing and partying. Willem loved a good party.

Although Willem was never part of the NSSA-EB, he was part of the organizing committees for the 2005, 2014 and 2019 conferences where he played a significant role.

While he started as a technician helping with many of the entomology and nematology projects, he was keen on having his own projects. In 2011, he registered for his MSc at TUT on ‘Resistance screening of vegetables against root-knot nematodes’ and he received his degree ‘cum laude’ in 2013. Subsequently, he got involved with EPN’s for the control of false codling moth, a quarantine pest, in subtropical crops, which included avocado, litchi, macadamia and mango. This lead to his PhD study at TUT on EPN’s. He obtained his degree in 2018, which resulted in three publications. But more importantly, he made the famers aware of biological control options for the control of insects. And they keep bugging us for EPN’s.

During his career, he had the opportunity to visit other countries and enjoyed these trips tremendously as they gave him the opportunity to meet the specialists whose name you read in publications and chapters but also to taste the food and enjoy the atmosphere of each country and he had many stories about each country. He attended ESN meetings in Vienna, Austria and Braga, Portugal and IPPC meeting in Berlin, Germany and he had planned to attend the 7th ICN in France.

I personally remember Willem in the smaller things, coffee in the morning, the endless trips we had together, the pit stop for a coke and a cigarette, the fun and laughter, the talks (which if I now realize were ‘me’ talking and ‘he’ listening). Willem always had a smile on his face and he was always ready to help. Willem was kind, he was a good listener more than a speaker but when he said something you could listen, he was patient and he was reliable.

Willem was part of our nematology family and he was respected and loved by all. Proof were all the messages send to him from all of you throughout his last three months. Messages of hope, encouragement, messages simply saying we think of you. Louis read all to them and Willem cherished them and it gave him great pleasure to know how much he was appreciated.

Willem thank you for being part of our family. It was a privilege to know you and to work with you.

We will miss you!

*Written by Dr Mieke Daneel

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