Profile: Heher family
(Update July 2017)

The idea of a Heher family profile originated from Sue and Walt's wedding in 2005. Both families scanned their archives for old photos dating from the 1900's and put together an electronic family "slide show".  These were exchanged within the family on CD.  The next step is to get them onto this website so they are available to future generations. It's very much "work-in-progress".... 

Dec 2017 at Mazeppa Bay: Tony, Sue, Luke, Ralph, Walt, Esme, Doug, Sarah and Megan

Jenny passed away on 6 July 2017, the day of our 49th wedding anniversary, one month short of the 52 years since we met and 51 years since we became engaged, so by any standards we made our "50th". A short pictorial tribute to her fun filled, adventurous life and details of the funeral service, are on this page.  Besides being a wonderful mother, talented teacher, rock climber, mountaineer and parachutist, Jenny was an extraordinarily courageous person with an unshakeable faith.  She surmounted adversities that would have devastated most. 

Celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary in July 2008 at Cathedral Peak in the Drakensberg, where we first met in 1965!
Jenny and Tony have three children, Doug, Sue and Ralph, and three grandchildren, Megan, Sarah and Luke.  Ralph is our laat, laat lammetjie - 18 years younger than his brother. He is the focus of our lives as he was brain damaged by tick bite fever when he was 2 so this has dominated our lives for the past 28 years, first with a long rehabilitation programme and then trying to place him in a residential home where he can be secure and happy. More on that below. 
Heher family: Walt & Sue; Esmé & Doug; Jenny and Tony; Ralph & Tasha

Jenny was a teacher, having been head of the English Department at St Mary's DSG in Pretoria for 16 years before she was medically boarded 20 years ago.  She enjoyed being involved in her Poetry and Drama Group, Book Club, Garden Club, various U3A groups and a number of the groups at Christ Church Constantia.  And with Ralph, "once a mother, always a mother" takes on new meaning!  In 2008 we celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary at Cathedral Peak in the Drakensberg, where we had first met in 1965.  Our "50th" was celebrated rather more quietly - see the slide show  on this page for that story.

Doug and Sue both graduated from the University of Natal, bringing the Heher total of UN degrees to 7 - and 13 degrees in total from an assortment of universities!  Doug did Mech Eng and is currently head of a design unit in a large engineering company which takes him all over the world looking into the feasibility of very large engineering projects.  His wife Esme is a CA and also works all over Africa - their challenge is to try to ensure they are not both out of the country at the same time!  They have two daughters, Megan (born 2004) and Sarah (2007).  They live in Gauteng after 10 years in Langebaan. They kept their house in Langebaan and now use it as their 'holiday cottage' so we see them quite often.

Sue spent 10 years in the SA diplomatic core, including 6 years in Palestine (she was fluent in Arabic) where she was head of the South African mission. A complete change of career took her to the USA for an MBA at Cornell University followed by a Masters in Hospitality Management - the 13th degree for the Heher family!  After a few years working with the US National Parks (tough job visiting US national parks!) she changed careers again and became Vice President of an energy efficiency company - supervising a large group of mechanical engineers!  It's a feature of our modern fluid world of work where a BA (English) can end up managing a team of engineers as easily as a BSc (Eng).  Sue is married to Walt and they live in Ithaca in upstate New York. They met while Sue was doing her MBA at Cornell, then lived in Boston for a while before returning to Ithaca. In 2010 they had a son Luke - our first grandson! Walt is a teacher with a wonderful gift of relating to children with great perception. Sue and Walt met ice climbing - a tradition they have kept up, including camping in a quinzee (a type of igloo) they made on their front lawn, sleeping in it with Luke! Their American friends thought they were totally crazy - they were probably right. 

A seminal early experience for Tony was the privilege of being awarded an Abe Bailey Fellowship in 1965.  The objectives have remained the same, but we had the luxury of travel by ship and an 8 week tour instead of the current 3 weeks. This experience broadened my horizons immeasurably and directly contributed to the award of the post graduate fellowship to study for two years in the USA. With the choice of Stanford, MIT or Berkeley, the Abe Bailey experience directed me to Berkeley, at that time (and probably to this day) the most radical university in the USA. During our time there, Berkeley elected its' first black mayor, Warren Widener, and one of the first black mayors in the USA. The city was as much a learning experience as the university and profoundly changed our world views.  And no doubt contributed to us having such a 'maverick' family, with Doug travelling around the world with us on that 'trip' and Sue only half way because she was born 'along the way'! 


After 12 years in R&D at the CSIR in Pretoria, Tony became CEO of a software engineering company for 16 years, designing and supplying over 100 hi-tec advanced control systems to the mining, mineral processing and chemical industries in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Canada and Scotland. . The company was a spin-out company drawing on my PhD in artificial Intelligence. Gold, platinum, diamonds, titanium and coal were our mainstays, including some of the largest plants of their type in the world.  A key feature of the company was the diversity of the workforce. In the late 1980s less than half the staff were white males and of the management team of 6, two were women, two were black and two were white - and this while working in the conservative white male dominated mining industry. We were a maverick bunch and had a lot of fun, successfully taking on challenges that many regarded as impossible. My Berkeley experience was invaluable, and not only academically. 

The "Rainbow" family at Sue and Walts wedding, May 2005

Retiring for the first time about 20 years ago ... and have kept on retiring every since - getting busier and busier each time!   Retirement "hobbies" have included two very interesting years as Chief Director in the Department of Trade and Industry (just after the transition), a rather less successful year as chief executive of the South African Sugar Association and 5 years as Director of UCT Innovation at the University of Cape Town. As a result of my research background, I developed a new mathematical model of Technology Transfer which was published in various journals and presented at conferences in five different countries. I had fun.  I also spent several years doing a range of consulting work in Lesotho, including being head of the Economic Development Team of the World Bank funded Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Project, including "commuting" to work up Sani Pass and several helicopter surveys of the entire Drakensberg.  Really tough jobs!  

The work in Lesotho was secured by a combination of my business, economic and Drakensberg background. Climbing the 'Berg for 40 years, and having had a farm in the 'Berg for 20 years, helped (to my surprise) convince the World Bank that I was able to take on this challenging eco-tourism project. From engineering to eco-tourism is not as big a jump as it seems - the mathematical modeling has many similarities. In fact the  mathematical model of Technology Transfer, which was internationally applicable,  drew on the model developed for eco-tourism in Lesotho!  

My main recreation has been mountaineering,  leading a group that is aiming to climb, and record in a web directory, over 200 walking, scrambling and climbing routes in the Western Cape.  We have have done about 180 so far!  The directory is a multi-media mountain wiki - see - great fun for anyone with an interest in the Cape mountains.  But a stupid tumble off a little 2 foot ladder in August 2016 resulted in a broken heel bone, 5 months on crutches and 9 months before I could start even limited climbing again. Frustrated at the enforced inactivity, I took up sea kayaking and am now also a keen kayaker and a founder member of the "Cape to Kayak" group which is aiming to paddle as much of the coast as we can. But with too much coast and too little time... 

The picture on the right was taken while opening a spectacular new route on the Steenbras Mountains near Gordons Bay called Boskloof Ridge.   One of the climbers who did it said "Everest was safer" so these are no walk in the park, but demanding routes requiring ropes and abseiling.  Not too bad for a 73-year old!    Opening new routes or re-discovering old ones is a particular interest. I have opened 12 new routes in the last few years which is more than I managed in the previous 50!  Besides leading for the Mountain Club of South Africa I have also helped start several new University of the 3rd Age (U3A) walking groups which has seen the U3A expand to be the most active group in the Cape with around 300-400 people participating in sixteen groups who are out hiking every day of the week. 


 Opening a favourite route: Boskloof Ridge above Steenbras

Another hobby is woodworking and building houses. Started out of necessity 45 years ago as a poor young couple straight out of university, this has developed into an interesting and rewarding past time.  These have have all been houses for ourselves to live in.  The one where we learnt the most was building a cottage on the farm we owned in the Drakensberg for 20 years. We not only made our own bricks, but also the road to get to the site!  The most recent project has been a "green' cottage on our current property built for us to live in when we want to downsize. More on that at Fairgreen Cottage. It taught me a lot about modern, low energy design concepts. 


An interest in the web and how it is a resource that can be used by all has grown from being a bit of a hobby to the creation of 14 different websites to date.  I far prefer a website to Facebook or the like and have found a website is an indispensable companion to any work one does, whether for business or pleasure.   

Another recent activity was Chairman of the  Southern Intellectual Disability Initiative (SIDI) which set up a number of group homes for intellectually disabled young adults. This secured nearly R30m from both private donors and the government for a number of homes.  It was a demanding and almost a full time job - unpaid of course. My experience of retirement is doing more and more work for less and less pay! 

        Megan and Sarah
 Luke (in his 'Madiba' shirt!

Two of the homes in the SIDI network are Humberstone House and the Academy for Adults with Autism. Ralph started at Humberstone but recently moved to the Academy....  Besides being chairman of the overall SIDI initiative, I was also a director of Humberstone for 4 years.  Starting and running these group homes is challenging and draws on all ones management skills - financial, human resources, strategic planning, fund raising and much more. Besides securing a future for our own child, the developmental focus of the work changes ones perceptions.  Working with the handicapped makes one very humble and dismissive of the shallow values that permeate so much of society.  

My academic background has followed a meandering course through physics, mathematics, electrical engineering, computer science and mechanical engineering, ending with a PhD in Artificial Intelligence -  which means I knew a great deal about very little, and that a long time ago!  Seriously, although my background helps, I retired long before most of the resources I now use became available,  so a lot has has been self-taught by trial and error - especially lots of the latter!  The biggest single factor is a willingness to jump in boots and all and try things out. Obviously it helps to have some friends to talk to, if nothing else to cry on their shoulder when you get totally frustrated.  New pursuits, whether climbing, kayaking, websites, bridge and much more, are a joint journey of discovery where we all learn from each other....  I'm enjoying the ride!
 Esme, Ralph, Megan, Doug & Sarah
Injasuthi, Drakensberg, April 2012
 Sarah, Ralph & Megan, Storms River, April 2013
 The Heher clan going zip-lining!
Storms River, April 2013