Adieu Linda Richter

Professor Linda Richter, distinguished research fellow in the HSRC’s HIV, STIs and TB programme, former executive director of the Child, Youth and Family Development programme and A-rated scientist, is leaving the HSRC after an outstanding service tenure of 15 years. Her long list of achievements include an honorary professorship in the Department of Paediatrics, University of the Witwatersrand (Wits); an honorary professorship in Psychology and a research fellow at the University of KwaZulu-Natal; a research associate in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Oxford University, and lately, appointed as director of the first Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Human Development at Wits. In this message to colleagues and friends, she sets out her plans for the future.
I’ve spent 15 very happy, very productive years at the HSRC. Wherever I have been, I have identified with, immersed myself in and been proud of the institution at which I have worked. This has been the case at the HSRC and pertains to my return to Wits, where I was a student in the late ‘60s and a visiting professor in Community Paediatrics in 1993 and 1994.

The DST-NRF Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Human Development which I am directing at Wits in collaboration with some of the best social and public health scientists in the country, is a big new challenge. This is the first CoE in the human and social studies. We are a virtual organisation, committed to inter-disciplinary and inter-institutional work. But we’re up and running – fast – and in this, year two, we have had massive expansion in our funding, research and capacity development.

A lot has to be done this year. I chair a global group writing a three-part series on early child development for publication in The Lancet this year, and I’m a member of the committee organising the 9th World Congress for Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) in Cape Town in November – the first time the DOHaD conference ( is being held in Africa.

The CoE-HUMAN is supporting two important parts of the conference. First, a special supplement of the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease titled Developmental Origins of Health and Human Capital in Africa, which I am co-editing with Professor Shane Norris from Wits. Secondly, the CoE is organising a satellite session on early child development in collaboration with the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) and sister academies in Africa. In this meeting, top global scientists and senior government officials from several African countries will consider the available evidence and discuss how to promote and protect early development as part of both short- and long-term investments in health and human capital.

Everyone knows I work hard and play hard too and to celebrate my 65th birthday in September, my partner Pat Smythe and I are going on a two-week cruise in the Mediterranean on the beautiful Queen Victoria.

I also have several large research projects on the go. Birth to Twenty Plus (Bt20+) is well into generation three, with the oldest child of our birth cohort turning 12. I’m involved in start-up and mature projects with colleagues both here and abroad on life course development, early childhood, and children and families affected by HIV.

I will miss the HSRC. But I realise that I am taking the things I most value with me – deep friendships and wonderful collegiality.

I have a number of goals for the next two years, including to maintain my NRF A-rating and to reach 250 peer-reviewed journal articles (50 to go) by 2017. I also intend writing a long-planned book on helping disadvantaged children in tribute to my late mentor and colleague, Karsten Hundeide, from the University of Oslo.

I will continue to work with and see people who mean the world to me. We have supported each other through difficult times, shared ideas and contributed unique talents to our joint work, and enjoyed celebrating our successes – all the things we most wish for in our work environment.