1 November 1931 – 17 January 2021
Water Engineer Extraordinaire
It was with great sadness that we learnt that Fellow Theo van Robbroeck had succumbed to Covid-19 in the early hours of 17 January 2021, only eleven days after the passing of his beloved wife, Irma, also from a Covid-19 infection. The loss of Irma must have been a very heavy blow for Theo!
Born in Terhagen, Belgium, in 1931, Theoe emigrated to South Africa with his family in 1952. He immediately entered Stellenbosch University and graduated with a degree in civil engineering in 1956. He joined the then Department of Water Affairs in 1957 where, after a year doing survey work, he gained valuable experience for about 10 years in various Resident Engineer positions on the construction of departmental dams. After attending Course in Dam Engineering in France, and a short period in a firm of Consulting Engneers, he rejoined the Department in mid-1969. Here he filled a lead role in the design of large dams in the Design Division.
After very successful periods of engineering work and leadership in the Design and Planning Divisions of the Department Theo rose the the position of Deputy Director-General at the head of the Integrated Planning Branch. It is with some reluctance, it is reported, that Theo accepted a transefer to the position of Director-General of the Public Works Department in 1994 from which he retired in 1998(?).
Theo was sometimes referred to as a “ Civil Engineers engineer”, being blessed with an exceptional suite of character and intellectual attributes. He was a highly intelligent individual with an equiring mind and an aptitude to successfully address complex problems. This enabled him to envisage and define innovative solutions to such problems and, aided by his charming personality and people skills, develop team spirit in every work situation. He welcomed and acknowledged the contribution of others, from many related fields and dsiciplines, was able to assimilate their knowledge and develop his own skills.
Born and schooled in Belgium, gaining a University qualification in Afrikaans in Stellenbosch, and successfully following high level engineering design courses in France, enabled Theo to be a skilled linguised. He made good use of this skill in his very successful participation in the work of international engineering organisations such as ICOLD, and in representing South Africa and the Government in the work of International Water Commissions dealing with resources of joint interest, and in high level negotiations on major international water resource development projects such a the Lesotho Hoghlands Water Project and joint projects with Eswatini and Mocambique. It is with good reason that he was referred to as our Water Diplomat – he was outstanding in this role.
Theo always had time to make meaningful contributions to the engineering profession in South Africa. He was a loved and respected Fellow of the Academy, played a long and leading role in the SA National Committee on Large Dams (SANCOLD) of which he was President for many years, represented SA at the International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD) of which he was President from 1994 to 1997, and an Hon Fellow of SAICE. He served on the SAICE Council for many years and as Vice President for a term. Not surprisingly, was a strong force in the SAICE Water Engineering Division where he served as Committee Member and as Chairman for a number of years.
The contributions of our departed colleague, mentor, example, leader and friend will long be remembered.