Wits community mourns speech pathology and audiology professor emeritus who dedicated her career to advocating for patients

Wits University Professor Emeritus Claire Penn passed away peacefully last Saturday, July 21, after an extended illness.

Penn, 66, was the Director of the Health Communication Research Unit and the endowed Chair of Speech Pathology and Audiology in the School of Human and Community Development.
Penn was a former student of the university having first enrolled in 1969. She dedicated 44 years to the Wits University community.

Penn has played a pivotal role in the development of health communications in South Africa. She was a prolific researcher and a member of prestigious international speech pathology organisations such as the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and the International Association of Logopedics and Phoniatrics.

Penn contributed extensively to scientific journals and published over 100 papers, 25 book chapters, and books. She served on the editorial boards of local and international peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Penn was a two-time NRF A-rated scientist. In 2007 she was honoured with the Order of Mapungubwe by the South African government for her, “excellent contribution to the field of speech and language pathology, especially in the area of linguistics, sign language, child language, aphasia and head injury, and producing ground-breaking research in understanding the complexities of human communication”.

In 2008 Penn was the Shoprite/Checkers SABC2 Woman of the Year in the Science & Technology category.

Dr Jennifer Watermeyer, who worked alongside Penn in the Wits Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology, says that Penn was a passionate advocate for patient rights and ethical principles who set high academic standards while still nurturing her students.
“Prof Penn had a brilliant mind with tremendous vision. She was generous with her time, energy and insights, a superb teacher and role model who has left a lasting impression in the hearts and minds of many students and colleagues,” she told Wits Vuvuzela.
Her former students and fellow staff members have laid flowers in front of her office door. Penn memorial service will be held at St. Francis of Assisi Anglican Church on Friday, July 27 at 12:00.

FEATURED IMAGE: Professor Emeritus Claire Penn will be remembered for breaking glass ceilings for women in academia. Photo: Wits University.