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Lynn Dalrymple -An Influential Leader in AIDS Communication: 1941-2012

This week we have lost the inspirational Professor Lynn Dalrymple, a pioneer in the field of theatre and AIDS communication, who made a significant contribution to HIV and AIDS education in South Africa. She died on Saturday 14 April, after a long battle with kidney failure.<--break->Dalrymple was born and schooled in Durban, and started her career as a teacher of English and Drama in the late 1960s in Empangeni. She was later appointed as a lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Zululand (UNIZUL). During this period, she challenged the accepted practice of using only Western texts and teaching methods at the University, and fought for contextual and cultural relevance; a central theme throughout her later work. Dalrymple had a great love and passion for theatre, and went on to establish the Department of Drama at UNIZUL, where she was Professor and Head between 1988 and 1996. During this time she pioneered the use of drama in education and drama for development; ensuring that a generation of students were exposed to a way of thinking that linked academia to the surrounding community through meaningful interventions.

In 1992, as the South African Department of Health began to realise that HIV and AIDS posed a real threat to the South African population, Dalrymple was approached by the late Dr Allan Jaffe, to create an educational programme to inform young people about preventing sexually transmitted infections. Using innovative drama workshops and performances, Dalrymple initiated the DramAidE (Drama in AIDS Education) project, which has since won numerous contracts, awards and funding grants from both local and international donors. Twenty years on, the DramAidE project continues to encourage young people to participate in HIV prevention efforts, through its work in schools and Universities around the country. DramAidE is one of the most studied projects in the field of health communication in Southern Africa, and has set a standard of excellence with regards to participatory HIV and AIDS communication. Lynn Dalrymple made this possible through her great personal commitment to the project.

Dalrymple's enormous impact on the work of DramAidE as a youth-centred, dynamic, and creative approach to AIDS education has significantly influenced scholars and practitioners both in South Africa and internationally. Many students who studied under Dalrymple have gone on to be leaders in the field of theatre and AIDS education. Dalrymple shared the success of the DramAidE methodology at many local and international conferences, worked alongside UNICEF, UNAIDS and JHHESA, has been widely published in magazines and academic journals, and has authored works that have guided numerous other HIV and AIDS education programmes. In 2000, Dalrymple was appointed adjunct professor in the Centre for Communication and Media Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, a position she retained until her retirement in 2010.

Dalrymple chaired the HIV and AIDS Committee of Council and Senate for the University of Zululand. She was a member of numerous government task teams, including the Department of Education's National Arts and Culture Curriculum Committee, the Department of Health's National Life Skills Committee and National Communication Forum, the Department of Health's Beyond Awareness Campaign, and the Peer Education Committee for the South African Universities Vice Chancellor's Association. She is also recognised for her pioneering work with the Southern African Association for Drama and Youth Theatre; her work on curriculum development for drama in schools; her fresh approach to teacher training; her encouragement of deeper and more critical research in the field; and her tireless advocacy of drama and theatre as a medium of learning.

In 2009, an award in Dalrymple's name was created for outstanding research in the field of applied drama and theatre at the University of the Witwatersrand's Drama for Life programme. This is a fitting tribute to a remarkable scholar, who gave her last public address at the same conference, to a standing ovation. Her presentation told the story of how a young, white, farmer's wife grew to understand the complexity of the country she lived in, and was called to engage with it on many different levels. Looking back at her work, it is apparent that this journey was possible because Lynn had a great talent for listening, for openness, and for compassion. She approached her work with boundless energy and humour, and with the utmost respect for others.

Lynn celebrated her 70th birthday in April last year, with a wonderful party at the KwaZulu-Natal Society of Arts, which brought together her love of indigenous plants, of art and of people. She leaves behind her husband Sandy, her four children and six grandchildren, as well as other family and a host of friends and colleagues. She also leaves a legacy to be proud of in the form of DramAidE. As a past student, a colleague, and a friend, I can attest to how Lynn, as an example of a thoughtful, generous, and ethical practitioner of theatre and education, has touched not only our academic and professional lives, but also our personal lives. Lynn has been known as "Gogo" by a generation of students and scholars, in recognition of her wisdom and influence. Since news of her death, tributes have poured in from University Drama Departments around the country, from the director of the National Arts Festival, and from the heads of many other organisations. She was a great inspiration to all of us who work in the field, and we will miss her.

The funeral service will be at St Thomas' Church, Musgrave Road, Durban at 15h00 Wednesday, 18th April 2012.

Dr Emma Durden, theatre and development practitioner and research associate, CCMS, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Some of the information in this article is drawn from the paper "Theory meets theatre practice: Making a difference to public health programmes in Southern Africa. Professor Lynn Dalrymple: South African Scholar, Activist, Educator" written by Emma Durden and Keyan Tomaselli, and published in Curriculum Enquiry, 2012.