Obituary – Professor Gavin Norton

Gavin Norton joined the University of the Witwatersrand as a junior lecturer in 1989. Four years later, he began making his mark in cardiovascular research as he founded and became the Director of the Cardiovascular Pathophysiology Research Programme in 1993, which subsequently grew into the Cardiovascular Pathophysiology and Genomics Research Unit (CPGRU) in 2001 with further development of an off-site satellite research group, namely the Cardiovascular Pathophysiology Research Unit (Roodepoort, Johannesburg) in 2018. As a true clinician scientist, Prof Norton believed that good clinical practice uses solid scientific evidence as a foundation. As a result, his contribution to the body of work covering cardiovascular pathophysiology, hypertension and heart failure has been immense. He has authored/co-authored more than 220 scientific outputs, including research articles, review papers, a book, book chapters, and letters to Editors. His stature as a researcher and the respect he enjoyed worldwide is demonstrated by his having an H-index of 35 (Scopus) with more than 4345 citations and a B2 South African National Research Foundation rating. In addition, Prof Norton received a South African Medical Research Council Gold Medal for excellence in research and was one of the 30 inaugural honorary fellows appointed by the International Union of Physiological Sciences (IUPS).

Not only was Prof Norton, a formidable researcher, but he had a great passion for the teaching and training of students. He was instrumental in curriculum development, implementation, and monitoring in the School of Physiology at the University of the Witwatersrand. Prof Norton had a knack for explaining complex physiological concepts in simplistic but accurate terms. His focus on empowering his students to problem-solve has been one of the hallmarks of his teaching philosophy. In recognition of his teaching excellence, Prof Norton was awarded the Phillip V Tobias accolade as a distinguished teacher in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand. In addition, his fatherlike approach to postgraduate training made him a well-loved supervisor/mentor by all his more than 50 research Masters and PhD postgraduate students. The fact that so many of his graduates find themselves in prominent academic and industrial positions today bears testament to the quality of education he delivered.

Gavin was a real beach bum who enjoyed swimming and surfing. He also loved movies and had an impressive collection of DVDs of his favourite actors. Few knew he was an avid painter and sculptor and a fervent visitor of museums. His many travels across the globe made him a fountain of world knowledge and a fascinating storyteller.

Despite the acclaim that Prof Norton is entitled to, he remained humble, open to engagement with everyone, always helpful and ever ready to share his knowledge and experience.

We, therefore, say goodbye to one of the icons of Physiology. May his soul rest in peace.

The obituary was drafted and edited by Prof William Daniels (HOS School of Physiology, University of the Witwatersrand), Prof Angela Woodiwiss (Prof Norton’s spouse) and Dr Vernice Peterson (Member of the Cardiovascular Pathophysiology and Genomic Research Unit (CPGRU), University of the Witwatersrand).