Remembering Giel Hattingh (1940–2022)

Updated: Nov 8

By Hennie Kruger and Jan van Vuuren


It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of Giel Hattingh on 5 November 2022 at the age of 82 years.


Johannes Michiel Hattingh was born in Parys (Free State) on 16 May 1940. He matriculated in Parys at the tender age of 15. The following year (1956) he enrolled for further studies at the Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education (currently North-West University). After the death of his father during his first year at university, however, the young Giel had to leave university and start working.


He worked at Sasol for a couple of years and then resumed his studies at the PU for CHE where he obtained the following degrees: BSc in Mathematics and Statistics (1962); Hons BSc in Mathematics (1963); MSc in Statistics (1965) and a doctorate (DSc) in Statistics and Operations Research (1971). His doctoral thesis was titled Contributions to the theory of linear and quadratic programming with a few applications.


Giel started lecturing at his alma mater in 1966 but after obtaining his doctorate, he and his wife Antoinette, whom he married in 1967, left for the United States where he worked for IBM at the TJ Watson Research Centre in Yorktown Heights, NY. Prior to working for IBM, he also spent nine months doing post-doctoral research at Stanford University where he studied under the famous George Dantzig. He returned to South Africa and the PU for CHE in 1974 and was promoted to full professor in 1976. He was then transferred in 1976, together with two other full-time academic staff members, to Vanderbijlpark to lay the early academic foundations for what would become the Vaaltriangle Campus of the university. In 1981, he returned to Potchefstroom and was appointed as the Director of Computer Services, a position he held until 1984. From 1985 to 1989, he was the Chief Director of Planning and Information. Giel returned to academia in 1990 and was appointed as chairman of the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems. He held this position until his formal retirement in 1998. After his retirement he remained a staff member at NWU on a contractual basis until 2012. During this time, he acted as the head of The Telkom Centre of Excellence as well as the Head of the Research Subprogramme on Computer Science, Informatics and Operations Research.


Giel became a member of ORSSA in 1970 and was elected Fellow of the society in 2005. He played a seminal role in introducing OR at the PU for CHE as he was the first to present courses in linear and non-linear programming in 1966 at the Vaaltriangle Campus. His academic contributions, especially in the field of OR, were monumental. He supervised a large number of master’s and doctoral students, and published extensively on a variety of topics related to decision support systems and mathematical programming. He was also involved in collaborative research with various institutions in Germany and the United States, and conducted various international study tours. Together with his students, he also regularly attended both national and international conferences.


Prof Giel, as he was generally known in Potchefstroom, will be sadly missed by the OR community. He was a warm, modest and compassionate person who never hesitated to extend a helping hand to anyone who needed it - sometimes at his own expense. His work ethic was a shining example to all who knew him. Not only was he a first-rate academic, but also a wise mentor who could be called upon to assist many a student and staff member gently, but firmly, in almost any situation. He is survived by his wife, Antoinette, two children, Karien and Christiaan, as well as his grandchildren. We extend our sincere condolences to his family.


References

1. I Basson et al., 2019. OR at other South African Universities, pp. 609–648 in HA Kruger and JH van Vuuren (Eds), Operations Research in South Africa: The first 50 years, African Sun Media, Stellenbosch.

2. C van der Walt, 2018. The history of the development and operation of Information technology at the Potchefstroom Campus of the PU for CHE from approximately 1967 to 2003, North-West University, Potchefstroom.

3. JH van Vuuren, 2019. Fellows of the Society, pp. 267–290 in HA Kruger and JH van Vuuren (Eds), Operations Research in South Africa: The first 50 years, African Sun Media, Stellenbosch.

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