By the age of 24, John Kuhn had completed his Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits). He was already in his first year of a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) Degree at the University of Oxford where he was a Rhodes Scholar. At the same time, John was also doing studies majoring in ‘spin doctoring’ with a long-term vision of joining politics and possibly becoming a future president of South Africa.
John was already successful as a businessperson – he had set up an internet based enterprise and was making some good money and had been student union leader at Wits. Sadly, John died suddenly in March 2003, aged only 24 years. Recalling that it is now 10 years since John Kuhn died, we dedicate today’s Rise and Shine column article to the amazing John.
I have not met another young man in the mid 20s who has achieved as much as John had achieved by the age of 24. And yet, John had a very good, down to earth and approachable personality that respected every human being irrespective of their background. I first met John Kuhn on 10th December in 2001 in Cape Town – where a group of young Rhodes Scholars elects from Southern Africa had a get together, as part of their induction in readiness to go to Oxford in the summer. Being the only non-South African in the group and given that it was only my third trip abroad, I felt quite intimidated, lonely and a bit stressed up.
John achieved a lot – but many of his friends remember him for the love, personality and human traits that he exhibited, more than for his scholastic, leadership and business achievements. I too remember him most for how he made me really feel at home at the Cape Town camp. John came straight to me and had a good chat with me about my family, my country, my aspirations, what I wanted to study at Oxford and he spent a lot of time on what I wanted to do after completing my education.
In turn, he told me a lot about his side too – but dwelt a lot more on his future aspirations and how he wanted to use the most of his time at Oxford. John was the most organised, most hardworking, busiest, most effective and efficient young man I have met. When we were going to Oxford in September 2002, John was embarking on the demanding MPhil in International Relations while at the same time, he was completing another master’s degree back in South Africa and continuing to run his company. John purchased return air tickets for each of the three terms – clearly planning out his whole year with clear dates of when he would be leaving and returning to Oxford during holidays.
John only finished two terms in Oxford before he died in March 2003 but during that short period, John touched the lives of many with the kind of intensity I have not seen in such a short period of contact. It was not surprising that when John died during Easter holidays in South Africa, the whole Oxford mourned John’s death and many had personal stories to tell about their encounters with the amazing John. John had met hundreds of scholars through lunches, teas, dinners, debates, sports events and more.
It was not surprising, therefore, that when John died, many institutions commemorated his life. His Oxford University College, St Antony’s College, planted a tree in his honour. The Rhodes Trust named the scholars, tea room at their Oxford Headquarters the ‘John Kuhn Tea Room’ and also Wits University similarly honoured John in a very special way. Recently, I came across the John Kuhn Fellowship and Trust www.johnkuhntrust.org.za , which was created at Wits University by his mother Madeleine and friends of John to celebrate John and give practical expression to the ideals of his life. Each year the Trust provides financial assistance to post-graduate students at Wits who exhibit John’s qualities of scholarship and leadership. May John Kuhn’s spirit live forever!