Gordon Hersman's Portrait of an Africanist in Johannesburgh at Witwatersvard University
South Africa

My portrait done in oils is a gift and a story from "Out of Africa" as well. My good friends Gordon and Maeve Hersman had hosted my first visit to the University of the Witwatersrand and a return when I was the Miller Professor in 1986. Gordon is a surgeon and colleague on the Wits faculty, but also a playwright and a very accomplished artist. "Whilst you are considering the offer to return to take the chair, I will do your portrait in oils, so that it might hang among the other portraits of our chairmen," said Gordon. I thanked him for the thought, but considered it as seriously as his proposal to nominate me for the Nobel Peace Prize.

A visitor to Washington, who has subsequently become our very good mutual friend, Maureen Kolrepp, rang me up on her arrival to visit family in Georgetown, with something special. Unrolling the canvas with the medical students around me in my office, they said "Oh, we must hang it in the library!" "But don't you have to be a posthumous donor? But for the honor of such a hanging, I should like to decline, for at least a while!" Gordon had sent with it a letter, saying "Note the camelthorn acacia tree and the savannah of the bushveld you love through the window, your books in the bookcase, and that you are standing in front of ALL of Africa, and not just South Africa." This portrait was painted when it was not possible for South Africans to travel to or through black Africa, so I would be shuttling between with stories from each side. Africa in general, and especially Southern Africa, remains a test laboratory, often a crucible, for hope for humankind, and a reminder that time is short and human conditions urgent. The white coat is labeled "GWG" and "GWU," but the window is open to the world, for you the viewer.