LONG SERVICE AND RETIREE AWARDS: PIETERMARITZBURG CENTRE: 2018
MARK LAING (Citation by Steve Worth)
Professor Mark Laing was born and schooled in Zimbabwe, and came to the University of Natal to study biological sciences in 1977. Falling in love with Plant Pathology, and conducting of research, he was lucky enough to make his career at this university, starting as a lecturer and ending up as Senior Professor in Plant Pathology and Director of the African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI).
Prof Laing’s name is synonymous with African scholarship and research. His reach into Africa is a template for the mission of the university; something he pursued long before it was the primary aim of UKZN.
Prof Laing’s name is synonymous with practical iconoclasm – challenging cherished but outworn doctrines and time-honoured but outmoded institutions that have ceased to serve reasonable ends.
His 35 years of service to the university have been driven by his intellectual curiosity, driving a bubbling pot of ideas coupled with his lack of investment in any orthodoxy, dogma or fixed position on anything; arguing that it is our job to vigorously challenge the status quo. His service has been driven by his tenacious passion to pursue ideas, even if it takes 25 years to unravel that idea into knowledge and value; and by his refusal to be pigeonholed in one confined area of study. He loves pushing the boundaries of his and others’ knowledge, to integrate the new with the old to create a fresh way of seeing things. He does this pushing at the interface of disciplines where he believes lateral thinking and the possibility of truly fresh ideas reside.
His is the epitome of the courage required to take on big ideas and big projects in the face of naysayers and the unknown. This courage has enabled him to think big, to hope even bigger, and to remain optimistic in the face of hostility and seemingly insurmountable challenges.
He has graduated over 150 postgraduates and published over 200 papers. Despite the enormity of this output, his students have remained as the core of his career, in lectures, pracs and as a supervisor. He revels in seeing a responsive student grow as a person and as a scientist. For him this has been and remains a privilege and pleasure. He never tires of it; to him, it makes it all worthwhile.
Though some may question this, Prof Laing’s name is also synonymous with humility as he unequivocally attributes the duration and success of his university career to David Moon his partner of 40 years – without whom Prof Laing admits he would not have survived the turmoil, let alone flourished as he has.