Sandy Harris Story

With walking stick, in the head of Leigh Harbour, sharing memories of Kwazulu – Natal rivers and coastline with his visiting nephew who still remembers with great admiration all the Agulhas Current finds that Sandy made, and the equations that went into his work on nearshore circulation, wave-breaking depth etc.

With walking stick, at the head of Leigh Harbour, sharing memories of Kwazulu–Natal rivers and coastline with his visiting nephew who still remembers with great admiration all the Agulhas Current finds that Sandy made, and the equations that went into his work on nearshore circulation, wave-breaking depth etc. 

Respected Leigh resident Sandy Harris died in June 2012.  He is survived by his wife Veronica, one of our Whangateau Harbourcare members, and their daughters Philippa and Sue.  The following tribute is from Sandy’s younger daughter Sue, presently residing in Perth (Western Australia).

TFW Harris [August 1916 — June 2012]

Sandy during his first decade as a New Zealander. He emigrated with his family from South Africa in 1978.

Sandy during his first decade as a New Zealander. He emigrated from South Africa in 1978 and his family followed soon after. 

Known to all as “Sandy”, and as “Prof” at Leigh Marine Laboratory for his title of Visiting Professor at Auckland University, Thomas Frank Wyndham Harris was behind much science we now take for granted, especially in the field of physical oceanography.  He was treasured by students for his guidance, and admired by academics for unique analytical skills.  During Sandy’s funeral, Dr Bill Ballantine (former head of the University’s Leigh Marine Laboratory) covered these points and Sandy’s time at Rhodes & Cambridge Universities, saying Sandy was an environmentalist before the term was even known.

Among achievements in several countries, Sandy attained a PhD in South Africa through the University of Natal for his work on the dynamics of rip currents.  While a lecturer in the Dept of Oceanography at the University of Cape Town (UCT), he published measurements on the sources of the strong and important Agulhas Current.  It is not surprising that, with a great interest in photographs of the earth from space, Sandy was the first to organize satellite imagery for sea surface temperatures off the African coastline.  This arose from contacts he made when visiting NASA, and marked the start of infrared satellite monitoring of South African surface ocean temperatures.  After about a decade at UCT, he was awarded the title of Associate Professor.

A former UCT student of Sandy’s, the Director of the Nansen-Tutu Centre (at UCT’s Dept of Oceanography) visited him in Leigh this past February (2012), and writes the following:

“[Sandy] was not given to boasting about his achievements: sporting or scientific. He was a very modest man, a complete gentleman who never spoke ill of anyone. I, for one, owe him a huge debt of gratitude for getting me into Oceanography, bringing me to Cape Town, and kick-starting my career at UCT!  It was always a pleasure chatting to him, and I think it is amazing how sharp he was when we saw him last.  I will continue to think highly of him.”

Sandy’s public sharing of science followed the rigorous route of publishing new findings in science papers and joint featuring in review papers, and culminated in substantial publications notably in his “retired years” during which he continued his research eg “Greater Cook Strait — Form and Flow”, “The South Indian Ocean — Aspects of its Exploration, Form and Flow”, and in Western Australia “The Avon, an Introduction”.  His publications continue to be admired, set for students, and sought after by ocean users.

He goes down in history as a remarkable unassuming achiever, a popular but private man, and a resolute carer of his family.  To quote a UK relative that knew him well, especially during World War II when he was in the Royal Navy defending Britain, “there is simply no replacement”.

Comments

  1. Gwyneth Harris says:

    A great pleasure to read this account of the professional life of my uncle, Sandy Harris. Even from a distance away in the UK, his admirable stoicism, insight and infectious humour is greatly missed. Gwyneth Harris, West Sussex, UK

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