In Loving Memory of Andrea Leenen
1972 – 2022
Andrea Leenen, PAST’s long-time CEO, passed away peacefully on Tuesday, 1 March, after a short illness. Andrea loved Africa, her place of birth, especially the continent’s people and its prehistoric past.
PAST invites those who were touched by Andrea to share the way in which she impacted their life or career on this webpage devoted to her memory. Please email your brief account to Rob Blumenschine at firstname.lastname@example.org so that he might post some or all of it on this page.
Andrea led PAST’s Executive since 2000 with the guidance of its Board of Trustees, co-chaired currently by Rick Menell and Zweli Mntambo. By raising funds from such long-time donors as the Standard Bank, the South African government, the Claude Leon Foundation, and the growing membership of PAST’s Shared Origins Club, Andrea built PAST into the largest, African-based independent organization supporting research, education and public understanding of Africa’s fossil history.
As she studied toward a 2011 M.Sc. degree in palaeontology from the University of the Witwatersrand, Andrea expanded PAST’s original mandate of supporting fossil hominid research at South Africa’s Sterkfontein Caves to include the full span of life’s and humankind’s prehistory across the whole of the continent. She raised well over one hundred million Rand that supported thousands of grants awarded by PAST to senior scientists, postgraduate students and fossil technicians, all with the goal she steadfastly championed of building African leadership in a broad field of study dominated traditionally by overseas scientists.
Andrea saw the origin sciences as a gateway for young Africans to embrace scientific thinking. To this end, and to help steer learners toward a career in the African origin sciences, Andrea co-created the award-winning Walking Tall Educational Theatre Project with Greg Melvill-Smith in 2001. In its original form as a live theatre performance followed by an interactive science session that won the hearts and heads of learners, Walking Tall visited schools and science festivals throughout South Africa and in seven other African countries, reaching over 1.4 million beneficiaries. Recently, Andrea led the creation of filmed Walking Tall theatre performances, termed ‘theamentaries,’ which promise to greatly expand the project’s reach in and beyond Africa.
In recognition of the tremendous social value of the origin sciences, Andrea co-led the creation of the All from One campaign with Rob Blumenschine in 2015. One of the campaign’s inspirations was the late PAST Patron Johnny Clegg’s Scatterlings of Africa song, which PAST adopted as its credo in 2011. All from One uses the science of the shared origins of life and the African origins of people everywhere to promote continental pride and dignity, human unity and anti-racism, and the imperative for our survival to conserve Earth’s natural environments and biodiversity. Andrea deeply believed in and ardently advocated these ideals. At the time of her passing, Andrea was leading the expansion of All from One into what she anticipated would become a global campaign.
Andrea was a beacon of enthusiasm, intelligence and generosity that shined without limit. Her passion for and knowledge of Africa and its prehistoric past earned her the admiration and love of countless people across the continent and beyond. PAST will miss her greatly.
Andrea has been a great supporter and promoter of Paleoanthropological research in Africa, especially for upcoming African students in our field. Her vigor in her work is very impressive. It is a very big loss for our field of research in Africa. I can’t say enough about her dedication and affectionate support to promote African-based research in our field. She will be missed by all who worked with her and knew her closely.
– Dr. Berhane Asfaw, PAST Trustee
Andrea was a wonderful human being, kind, respectful, charming, hardworking, polite and always with a lovely captivating smile. She took PAST to greater and greater heights, annually achieving what we didn’t expect. She was a good communicator, never confrontational, dedicated to serve humanity and improve palaeontology and anthropology to the best of her ability. She will remain to have a special place in my heart and her passing leaves a big void that won’t be filled in our organization. She’s GONE TOO SOON. We have been robbed of an angel. She’s left a legacy that we need to honour. MHSRIEP
– Dr. Homer Motuba, PAST Trustee
Andrea is a shining beacon of energy, enthusiasm and kindness and she is here with me right now as I remember the years of delightful engagement, adventures and worthwhile work that we have done together.
– Rick Menell, PAST Co-chair
Andrea was a vibrant person, full of life and love of humanity. Andrea was always supportive of African museums, training of African students in paleoanthropology, conferences, workshops, field schools, field and lab research aimed at advancing our science. Many have benefited from her unreserved resolve to advance scientific research through PAST.
African scholarship in paleoanthropology has lost its great supporter. We have lost a great friend and backing; Africa has lost her dearest daughter. Andrea will always live in our memories.
– Dr. Yonas Beyene, PAST Grantee
[Andrea] was truly a blessing to Africa and the World of Palaeoanthropology and we will miss her.
– Dr. Audax Mabulla, Friend of PAST
During two decades, Andrea was an enthusiastic and involved supporter of our work at Sterkfontein, not only in her role as CEO of PAST, but as a friend. She has efficiently arranged many events in the Cradle of Humankind and in Johannesburg, Oxford and London to showcase firstly the excavation progress, and then the unveiling of the reconstructed Little Foot skeleton. I will greatly miss her cheery personality, stimulating conversation and devotion to research into our ancestry. Thank you, Andrea, for all you have done to ensure the success of our Sterkfontein endeavours. To Rob and to Andrea’s family, I want to extend my heartfelt sympathy. When Rob married Andrea after he had discovered a Homo habilis maxilla, he unwittingly brought to life the Gary Larsen cartoon of an anthropologist’s dream – a Homo habilis fossil in his hand and a beautiful lady by his side. Andrea, you were to us a beautiful lady whose passing leaves a great void in our lives.
– Prof. Ron Clarke, PAST Grantee
I looked up passion in the dictionary. It said “Or simply put, Andrea Leenen.” Anything and everything Andrea did was with pure passion, pure love, pure integrity. I fell in love with Andrea the moment I saw her, like everyone else I guess. She was a sun, a star, no wait, Andrea was a whole cosmos and all I can think now is to dive into this cosmos and enjoy every bit of what she meant, did and left behind – with passion. Thank you Andrea, see you up there one of these days and we’ll rock the firmament like we did over our suppers. Love you to the moon and back.
– Lucie Pagé, Friend of PAST
Participation in my first archaeological excavation and my Honours degree were supported by PAST. Through their continuing support, I am also gaining valuable lab-work experience. I will forever be indebted to PAST for the opportunities they provided and I will continue working hard to make them proud. Although I never met or had the chance to speak to Andrea in person, I am grateful that she took the time to send me congratulatory emails for my academic accomplishments. Thank you for the tips you gave me on how to promote palaeosciences online and how to amplify my opportunities for future funding from any source. You were great and your shoes are too big to fill. Rest now, you have played your part well.
– Recognise Sambo, PAST Grantee
Andrea was always so kind … and full of positive energy. It was clear to me … that she was adored by so many people.
– Prof. Michael Pante, Friend of PAST
I began working closely with Andrea from 2011 when chaired ASAPA. The support and guidance she gave me and to ASAPA was fantastic. She was always willing to listen and encouraged new ways of seeing and doing things in archaeology and the paleaosciences. She was passionate about the next generation of scientists and provided PAST funding for many student development workshops and research projects. Andrea was so keen on interesting young Ugandans in the origin sciences and so together we planned for Walking Tall to tour Uganda. Andrea’s contribution to archaeology and the paleosciences is immense! She will always be my inspiration. A giant has joined the ancestors. Rest well Andrea, rest in peace.
– Dr Catherine Namono, PAST Grantee
I think of Andrea as being an unquenchable lifeforce – a person so energetic, and so deeply committed to every dimension of PAST’s work. If I had to guess, I would say that she loved the origin sciences very deeply, but that she loved Africa and justice even more. It was a privilege to have known her. I am sure that her memory and her great legacy in building PAST as an institution will continue to be felt in all our lives, in the advancement of science, and in PAST’s work – needed now more than ever – to foster human solidarity and sustainability.
– Sim Tshabalala, PAST Trustee
Andrea became one of the major figures in the study of human origins on the African continent. One is almost lost in grief in the passing of a dear friend and loved one, but one can feel real inspiration and strength from her intellectual energies and contributions as a real driving force in our field of study. From her background in the Arts, Andrea crafted a diversity of new directions in the study of human origins. She brought together major figures in South African business and philanthropy with academics including her partner, Rob Blumenschine, into the only Trust on the African continent devoted to the study of humankind’s and life’s origins. But PAST is much more than a funding institution and through her direction continues to play a major role in the public understanding of human origins at all levels. Andrea will be remembered by all for her extraordinary outgoing personality that inspired scientists, university students, and the youngest school child. She will also be remembered for galvanizing support for our science from business institutions, government and people from all walks of life.
– Prof. Jack Harris, PAST Grantee
Andrea and PAST were active in all parts of African anthropology and archaeology. But my memories of being in the field with her was that, although serious research and good results were paramount, you always had fun. In Tanzania at Olduvai our OLAPP fieldwork during the 2010s was partially funded by PAST. Who can forget the “Walking Tall” performance at Olduvai Camp to a large audience largely comprising local Maasai luminaries and people, who enjoyed it enormously. Andrea and PAST more recently helped fund ground-breaking research at Kilombe Volcano in Kenya. The funding allowed us to a 2.5 Ma long archaeological sequence at a rarely preserved highland setting.
– Prof. Ian Stanistreet, PAST grantee
I am an Honours student who received funding for my studies this year from PAST. There was quite a financial strain on my family during the pandemic, so receiving the grant made a huge difference to my life and study plan. I look forward to completing my research project this year and being able to become a registered professional archaeologist next year! May PAST’s contributions to so many students, in the past and in future, honour Andrea Leenen’s memory.
– Courtney Knell, PAST Grantee
Although I have not seen Andrea for a long time, I remember her for her graceful presence, her passionate love of paleo and her considerable ability to get things done.
– Jane Evans, Former PAST Trustee
Andrea was extremely passionate and dedicated to the advancement of paleoanthropology in Africa and particularly towards capacity building and awareness through creative youth education. The Koobi I Field School and the National Museums of Kenya over the years benefitted from her tireless efforts and her dedicated fund-raising skills. We celebrate her dearly.
– Dr. Purity Kiura, PAST Grantee
During 21 years with PAST, Andrea has been our leading light in support of the palaeosciences, providing support to virtually all of my research projects and postgraduates. This has not only been at prominent sites like Sterkfontein and Swartkrans, but in Limpopo, and Northern and Eastern Cape. I have lost count. Her vision has helped bring palaeoarchaeological research back to the frontline it occupied historically. When Rob joined PAST as scientific advisor, East Africa was encompassed in their circle of support, highlighting even more what Prof Tobias once said about African research on origins: “Africa has given the world humanity, and that is no small thing.” Andrea’s passion was education and outreach, done so creatively, and that is also no small thing. I will miss you, dear friend.
– Prof. Kathy Kuman, PAST Grantee
I had the privilege of knowing Andrea as a colleague and a close friend beginning as a Ph.D. student 22 years ago. She helped me to obtain funding for my studies, and we later we developed a deep and lasting friendship that had a massive impact on my life. On Andrea’s advice, I took a new approach to life and learned to “live a little”. Professionally, Andrea was a hard task master; passionate, driven, very disciplined, stubborn and principled. As a human being, she had a heart of gold, was kind and was something of an empath. She felt for every sentient being, in particular animals. She was concerned about the state of the world, had a social conscience, and I believe made a difference by carrying out her life’s mission with passion and conviction. Andrea had a presence about her when she entered a room or addressed a gathering. Her sense of humour was infectious. She was a beautiful, unique, once-in-a-lifetime person who touched many lives and who has left us much too soon. I weep as I write this and am heartbroken at her passing! May her legacy live on!
– Dr. Bernhard Zipfel, PAST Grantee
I got my first big break in the South African entertainment industry at PAST as a Walking Tall physical theatre artist. The audition process was intense and I knew what hard work lay ahead. In my four years with Walking Tall, Andrea taught me to fight for what’s right. She was one of the strongest women I’ve ever met, and demanded the best out of me. Now, I take that wherever I go. When on a school tour with Andrea, she knew how to have fun too, being the perfect example of how to balance work and play. Safari njema, Andrea. Lala salama.
– Sinethemba “Snakes” Foba, Former PAST Walking Tall Cast Member
I have known Andrea for nearly 30 years, and I was deeply shocked to learn of her passing. From the outset, when I was chairman of PAST, she was the vital cog at the centre of everything that made the ealizedion not only run smoothly but go from strength to strength. She radiated an extreme enthusiasm and positive energy about PAST, which was infectious and motivated all who came in contact with her. Her pride in the organisation’s wonderful scientific achievements in the field of palaeoanthropology was there for all to see. The role she played in her long and devoted association with PAST cannot be underestimated, and will be almost impossible to fill in the same way. She will be sorely missed by everyone who knew her.
– Tony Trahar, Former PAST Chairman, Shared Origins Club Member
Andrea Leenen was a force of nature. Her enthusiasm, support and motivation for Africa-based research and science were exceptional and unique. Her encouragement and the funding from PAST throughout my postgraduate studies was a definite driver and something that I will carry with me throughout my career.
– Dr. Kimi Chapelle, PAST Grantee
Andrea had a long association with the Origins Centre Museum. She served on the Board for many years before the museum became fully incorporated into Wits University, and proved a fierce and fearless ally in the face of change and criticism. Andrea was not a silent patron, she was our champion. She believed in the work of the museum and promoted the museum by using it as a venue for ‘Walking Tall’ and funded the Origins’ outreach programmes. Andrea believed in the staff of the museum. She had an eye for talent and knew how to reach out to, and encourage people. Andrea had style. She loved Africa and she loved people and she brought out the best in them. We will all miss her. Robala ka kagiso.
– Dr. Mandy Esterhuysen, Dr. Tammy Reynard, Bongiwe Ndulula, Nathan Moses, Brian Mogaki, Memory Ndhlovu, Kerayamang Mafora, Nkateko Mabusela
I first met Andrea in 2004 when she visited the National Museums of Kenya, although I had corresponded with her many times earlier during my graduate studies at the University of Cape Town. Andrea’s passion for advancing training for African scholars, and her exceptional passion for promoting public education on human evolution resonated with my passion for the same. We together visited dozens of schools in Kenya with Walking Tall, including those in far-flung areas such as Lake Turkana. Andrea’s and PAST’s long-term support of my research in the Turkana Basin has certainly been instrumental in shaping the palaeontologist I am today. Personally, my wife Grace and I will miss Andrea, but the good work that she did at PAST and the ideals that she so strongly advocated especially towards the promotion of science in Africa by Africans will certainly live-on. Rest In peace, Andrea.
– Dr. Fredrick Manthi, PAST Grantee
I first met Andrea in 2014 when I was asked to act as a liaison between PAST and Standard Bank. I soon ealized that working with Andrea was going to be a highlight of my job. Others will discuss Andrea’s immense contributions to supporting science and her tireless activism against racism and the wanton destruction of the planet. Andrea did really important work in these big areas. It was my particular privilege and pleasure to see her working on some of the innumerable small things that built up into her the major aims of her leadership at PAST. Andrea worked incredibly hard on all the details, but did so with a truly admirable lightness of touch. She was, for instance, a great email writer. She made great jokes, and the warmth and kindness of her personality always shone through even when discussing the minutiae of contracts and trademarks and so forth. I will miss seeing her name pop up in my inbox very much – both because of the great work she did and because of the truly admirable way she did it.
-Dr. Simon Dagut, Friend of PAST and Shared Origins Club Member
Andrea loved Africa with all her heart. She helped me with generous support for my education in more ways than words can explain, including her limited personal funds. She has left a huge void in paleoanthropology that will be hard to fill. She will be dearly missed.
– Dr. Rodrick S. Katete, Friend of Andrea
Andrea was a remarkable person who did so much good for palaeoscience and humanity in South Africa and Africa more broadly. Her contribution to transformation and promoting the unity of all people was extraordinary. She will be sorely missed.
– Prof. Becky Ackermann, Academic Supervisor of PAST Grantees
I first met Andrea over 10 years ago. She had arranged to fetch me from Johannesburg airport to take me to Wits for a discussion with her about her involvement in paleontology. She was so vivacious and her enthusiasm was infectious. Within a short time I had committed to providing financial support to PAST from my Chairman’s discretionary fund of the Claude Leon Foundation for an initial year. And I have remained a dedicated PAST supporter ever since despite the fact that PAST did not fall within the Foundation’s principal areas of focus. Andrea’s enthusiasm and drive have made PAST the success it is. She devoted much time and energy to fund raising and raising the profile of PAST, both within SA and abroad. She collected around her a team of like-minded dedicated people and of course Rob was a very big part of the scientific success of PAST. It is extremely difficult to think of PAST without Andrea.
– Bill Frankel, Friend of PAST
When it was time for my PhD study, I couldn’t figure out the way forward because of lack of funds. But luck smiled on me when I met Andrea at a WAQUA conference in Benin Republic in 2010! Andrea, but for you, my dream of building a career in research and academia wouldn’t have happened. I received grants from PAST for 3 years as a PhD student, one year as a postdoctoral fellow and two times as a Faculty. Andrea’s love for Africa and palaeosciences is indescribable. I’m forever grateful for all of her huge support and unalloyed commitment to empowering young African scientists. May her memory be a blessing!
– Prof. Peter N. Eze, PAST Grantee
I have the fondest of memories of Andrea while busy with my Ph.D. research. My chats with her over a cup of coffee were opportunities for her shared words of support and wisdom. Forever treasured. A smile that reflected a beautiful person who will not be forgotten.
– Prof. Shahed Nalla, Friend of PAST
To say that Andrea’s passing is a loss to the palaeosciences is an understatement. Her tireless efforts at PAST in helping support scientific research as well as the promotion of palaeontology in society through the arts will forever leave a defined and instantly recognisible “marker layer” in our collective palaeoscientific record. Thank you, Andrea, for believing in us and giving us the opportunity to forge a career and, now perhaps more than ever, to leave our mark for future generations.
– Dr. Cameron Penn-Clarke, PAST Grantee
I always enjoyed the conversations with Andrea and Rob in the PAST office. It says a lot about Andrea that she was motivated to see PAST support not just the science directed at producing degrees and research outcomes, but also science education and skills workshops geared towards improving opportunities for those vital people who support scientists. Andrea was a true champion of African palaeosciences. I mourn her passing along with all those who knew her as a friend and colleague, and I also mourn her passing for all the future learners and palaeoscience-minded people in South Africa and beyond who will never have a chance to know her. Her voice was a loud one for the field, and in particular for the critical importance of African support of African palaeosciences. Thank you, Andrea. May your spirit and message continue to spread throughout the world with every Walking Tall performance.
– Prof. Kris Carlson, PAST Grantee
I was fortunate to have worked with Andrea on creating the All from One Exhibition for PAST. Within a very short period of time, I came to cherish Andrea’s passion, her unique intelligence, her strength of character and her capacity to hold everyone around her in a circle of kindness. We have lost a truly inspirational leader and a visionary who worked tirelessly to bring complex scientific ideas to the world in an accessible and just way.
– Lauren Segal, Friend of PAST
I was so privileged to work with Andrea and Rob on the early days and concepts for what became the All from One campaign, and to experience the creative genius of Walking Tall. Andrea’s kind and beautiful soul made every encounter a joy. Her love and care for animals will be another enduring memory. Andrea will be deeply and sorely missed and the impact and contribution that she has left through her work with PAST will remain as a living legacy, one that I will continue to support wherever I can.
– Fiona Budd, Friend of PAST
I met Andrea more than 20 years ago, and soon thereafter she was instrumental in persuading Standard Bank to support PAST. Andrea immediately struck me as a person of deep conviction and commitment to her cause. She was a true professional, exuding enthusiasm and passion for the origin sciences, and as a result was a prodigious fundraiser.
Standard Bank has always believed that its sponsorship of PAST was money well invested, and this was in large measure due to Andrea’s efforts, diligence, and commitment. In particular, the All from One campaign, which she co-created and which highlighted the shared origins of life and the African origins of people, dovetailed perfectly with Standard Bank’s strapline of “Africa is our home, we drive her growth.” Nothing was too much trouble for Andrea. She always went the extra mile for PAST’s sponsors. I will miss her smiling face and radiant presence.
– Jacko Maree, PAST Trustee, Deputy Chairman and former CEO of Standard Bank
Andrea is fondly remembered for her boundless enthusiasm for all the people of South Africa, be they those living now or those from the deep past. She worked tirelessly to make them accessible to each other through education. Her deep commitment to humanity will be long remembered and much missed.
– Dr. George Chaplin, Friend of PAST
To Prof. Rob and PAST colleagues: On behalf of the Olduvai Fossil Hominid Hunter Team that PAST has funded, I would like to send our condolences for Andrea Leenen’s passing.
– Agustino Venance, Friend of PAST
Andrea Leenen’s passion for growing the palaeosciences in Africa through PAST has helped support a great deal of research and training at our institutions. I am just one of many young researchers who have benefitted from her hard work and dedication to this cause. Without PAST funding contributing to my Honours and Masters research, and to my on-going PhD project, I would not have been in a position to produce the research that I have. Rest in peace Andrea, and thank you.
– Peter Morrissey, PAST Grantee
As a client of Action Appointment,s Andrea was a very rare soul. She took the recruitment process so seriously and was meticulous in the way she dealt with each candidate, making sure that after their interviews they received personal constructive and encouraging feedback. On reflection I realise that Andrea had the ability to see the best in people and because of that found it very difficult to reject anyone. It is very unusual for clients to take such a deep and personal interest in everyone who they interview. Interacting with Andrea was always such a pleasure, her passion for her work was infectious and inspiring.
Her death must be a devastating loss to PAST and if there is any support we can offer in ensuring that her legacy continues we will be only too happy to help.
– Lisa Garson, Friend of PAST
Andrea was a gifted leader, orator and scientist. Her leadership of and passion for PAST and her ability to bring to life the wonder and meaning of events from millions of years ago is undoubtedly what she will be best remembered for by so many people of extraordinary diversity across the continent of Africa and indeed the world. And for those of us lucky enough to hold an ancient hominid skull in our hands with Andrea eagerly leaning in to participate in the moment of awe or to watch the sun set with Andrea over the plains of Africa, or to watch her give direction to the cast of Walking Tall have experienced Andrea in her prime. It is hard to imagine that Andrea is no longer with us because she brought such tremendous life to every single moment. These images of Andrea in my mind are of course inextricably linked to Rob, her devoted husband and partner. No memory of Andrea would be complete without the image of him by her side. Their love made all of us so happy to know that such a love existed. While Andrea is gone, their love story will live on in all of our hearts as an indelible example of “true love”.
– Robin and Brad Gibbs, PAST International Advisory Committee Members
SPECIAL TRIBUTE TO ANDREA FROM MIKE NAYLER
My association with PAST began in November 2000 when I was asked to provide administrative services to the fledgling organisation operating out of a room in Mark and Christine Read’s home.
Although PAST’s operations were under the control of a board of trustees led by Gavin Relly it became very obvious even then, that the 28 year old Andrea Leenen, designated a clerk, was the driving force implementing not only the ideas of the trustees but forging ahead with her own imaginative and clearly thought through ideas which through the sheer force of her will the trustees were obliged to accept. It came as no surprise that before long she was catapulted into the position of Manager and not much later still to role of CEO.
Andrea’s character, her intellect, ebullient nature, dynamism, imagination and wry humour were just what PAST needed and, to their credit, the trustees gave her full rein. This resulted in what could have become a moribund organisation becoming instead an organisation with energy, imagination and vigour, recognised throughout the paleontological world as a force to be reckoned with as a promoter of the science but more importantly as a catalyst for students, scientists young and old and even staid academics.
But for PAST to grow in the manner envisaged by Andrea funding was essential. In this area she shone. She was able to negotiate with and cajole the captains of industry, the leaders of banks and philanthropic organisations, government leaders and joe citizen into opening their wallets. Significant sums were thus raised which enabled Andrea to launch further imaginative projects based largely on palaeo-education. Thus was born the Walking Tall educational theatre project which lesser trustees felt was bound to fail. But under the enthusiastic leadership of successive chairmen Andrea grew it, slowly at first until today it is regarded as one of PAST’s foremost educational tools having been viewed by well over a million learners, students, academicians and businesses in South Africa, further north and abroad.
In 2010 she teamed up with Rob Blumenschine, a renowned palaeontologist, and together as a husband and wife team, they set about proving to the world that we, its inhabitants, are all from one- a concept so many find difficult if not impossible to understand and appreciate. To Andrea nothing was impossible and with her characteristic verve and enthusiasm great strides have been made and much achieved in this possibly most difficult of all propositions.
PAST remains at the forefront of academic excellence: academics around the world have benefited from PAST bursaries; the science has grown and as a result the quest for knowledge of our ancient human origins continues to flourish.
Andrea has left the world in a better place than she found it. No one can wish more than that and those of us who were associated with her are justly proud of her as a person and her very many achievements. Her spirit, her enthusiasm was and remains the very soul of PAST. She will be very sorely missed.
– Mike Nayler, PAST Founding Trustee
I always had a soft spot for Andrea, rather like a favourite niece, and we shared an interest in matters paleo over many years. I have been able to see her develop into the driving force in PAST. Always cheerful, no matter what difficulties presented themselves – either people or logistics. One could always rely on Andrea to pull through and do the right thing. Andrea was the solid rock that one could depend upon through good times and bad.
– Prof. John Cruise, PAST Trustee
Andrea always filled the room with energy and connectivity. It was her great gift to put people at ease and make them feel really welcome. The [palaeontologically] uninitiated in the company of experts were always included. Made to feel at home newbies were soon comfortably into learning fascinating insights about human origins. In no time they became converts to the cause. And that’s the magic that will be sorely missed.
– Philip Baum, PAST Trustee
Ode for Andrea Leenen
Called a true African
Not just born in Africa
But one in which Africa is born.
Cher Andrea Leenen
Your African light shone brightly.
Holding our PAST
Guarding the memories of ancestors
The sacred bones
Telling us stories
Of where we come from.
Unraveling humanity’s divisiveness
The illusion of superiority
A heinous social construct
Displaced by the science of our shared origins.
You patiently built.
That we are All from One.
I remember your mantra
We are all 99.9% identical.
We are the forests, oceans and environment.
We are part of Mother Earth
Not apart from Her.
We will miss you sorely.
But while you tread softly
Your footprints of Conscience
Have left their imprint
In our Hearts.
Hamba Kahle beautiful sister.
Your laughter will ring in our ears
As you weave the magical tapestry
In another dimension.
-Jay Naidoo, PAST Patron
Andrea and her efforts for PAST have enabled me to carry out my research in South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique, and have assisted all of my students, for which we are all very grateful. On the personal level, I only got to know Andrea very well in 2009 when I invited her to come to Rob’s Olduvai Gorge project in Tanzania for the Zinjanthropus 50th Anniversary celebrations. There in the field she met Rob and that was the beginning of their relationship. Andrea and I became good friends, helping each other in many ways, fending off hungry Italian researchers from taking food prepared for the PAST Trustees when they visited Olduvai in 2014, and long chats about everything while drinking wine. The memory of our last week in Cape Town [in late January] where Rob and Andrea were so gracious [when hosting a workshop], and she was so positive and forward-looking – but probably suffering – will remain with me. Rest in peace my very dear friend.
– Prof. Marion Bamford, PAST Scientific Advisory Committee Chair
I have known Andrea for the past 16 years and in those years, I have known her to be this lovely and empathic lady who took a genuine interest in my career both academic and professional from the very moment we met till the time she was untimely taken away from us. She was always keen on my progress and always encouraging me to ask for financial assistance from PAST to pursue both my academic and professional endeavours. I feel a personal loss due to her passing and may her dear soul rest in eternal peace.
– Sifelani Jirah, PAST Grantee
There are only a few who believe that African-born scholars should have a bigger role in African paleosciences research and Andrea was one of them. Her untimely passing is an extremely devastating loss to all of us who share her beliefs. Unlike most, Andrea knew how best to communicate our origins stories with the general public, reaching out to almost the entire African continent. Her contributions to African paleosciences and development of African scholars will always be remembered by all of us in the discipline. Andrea was not only a great leader and promoter of African scholars, but also a great friend for those of us who had the opportunity to know her in person, such a joyful and vibrant human being she was. Andrea passed away leaving a great legacy behind and she will be truly missed.
– Prof. Yohannes Haile-Selassie, PAST Scientific Advisory Committee Member
In 2009, I started an incredible journey to South Africa where I began my PhD in archaeology, which was made possible through PAST funding. Upon my arrival, I had the pleasure of travelling to Botswana with Andrea to aid in research she was conducting for her MSc project. We shared Old Brown Sherry around a campfire with our colleagues under starry nights. It was a magical experience that cemented my interest in South African archaeology. The support of Andrea and PAST changed my life, and I am forever grateful.
– Dr. Matt Caruana, PAST Grantee
Andrea made a positive impact on many lives and careers. I have never met anyone as passionate about humanity and the palaeosciences. Working with Andrea for almost 5 years and being part of the Walking Tall Educational programme was mind blowing. The beginnings of the All from one campaign was an absolute honour to be part of and seeing the movement grow from strength to strength is fabulous. Wherever you are – I bet you Johnny Clegg, Greg Melvill-Smith and your bellowed Labrador Huxley are getting a new show on the road. Kwaheri Andrea
– Bronwyn Quinn, Former PAST Administrative Assistant
I have received several grants from PAST over the years but the memory I would like share is the most recent one and the one that most highlights Andrea’s generosity. In 2021, I hosted an archaeological conference for which funding was needed. I approached Andrea with a view to asking PAST to contribute towards the opening session by sponsoring a live performance of their I See You theatrical production. I was taken aback when Andrea offered to sponsor the entire conference. The financial certainty that PAST provided made ealizedi the conference a fun and relatively stress-free experience. In the event we were forced to host the conference online, but true to her word, Andrea generously converted the grant into publication support for the conference proceedings and into student bursaries, thereby ensuring that the conference’s objective of furthering worked bone research in Africa could be tangibly ealized. There are many whose degrees and careers have benefitted tremendously from PAST and Andrea’s generosity of spirit.
– Prof. Justin Bradfield, PAST Grantee
I had the privilege of knowing Andrea as a colleague and a close friend beginning as a Ph.D. student 22 years ago. She helped me to obtain funding for my studies, and later we developed a deep and lasting friendship that had a massive impact on my life. On Andrea’s advice, I took a new approach to life and learned to “live a little”. Professionally, Andrea was a hard task master; passionate, driven, very disciplined, stubborn and principled. As a human being, she had a heart of gold, was kind and was something of an empath. She felt for every sentient being, in particular animals. She was concerned about the state of the world, had a social conscience, and I believe made a difference by carrying out her life’s mission with passion and conviction. Andrea had a presence about her when she entered a room or addressed a gathering. Her sense of humour was infectious. She was a beautiful, unique, once-in-a-lifetime person who touched many lives and who has left us much too soon. I weep as I write this and am heartbroken at her passing! May her legacy live on!
– Dr. Bernhard Zipfel, PAST Grantee
Andrea was a trailblazing stalwart supporter of paleosciences and an all-around amazing human. So many African students are indebted to her kindness, generosity and bravery, and many owe PAST for their subsequent career.
– Prof. David Braun, PAST Grantee
Andrea was a beacon for so many who were supported by PAST including myself. She was always willing to assist, to take that extra step to help, and she gave her very best to the many students and academics that PAST supported. Andrea’s dedication to the palaeosciences shines through in the students, the workshops, the papers and the futures that PAST helped create. Her support grew the industry, it transformed the palaeoscience landscape, and it brought people into the palaeosciences who otherwise may never have become involved. I owe a great debt of gratitude to Andrea. Her legacy will live on, but she will be terribly missed.
– Dr Tim Forssman, PAST Grantee
The passing of Andrea Leenen has hit academia like a storm. I fondly remember her for her down-to-earth personality. Her efforts to help students have left an unforgettable mark in my heart. She came through for me on more than one occasion when there was an issue with my research funds. Disregarding all bureaucratic protocols, she directly contacted me and promised that things would be sorted out in a week, a promise that she kept. It was through her help that I got the funding to participate in Koobi I Field school. Her emails were always kind and positive. I acknowledge her continued support and inspiration throughout my studies. Her role as an educator through her “Walking Tall” program that was held in Nairobi National Museums of Kenya left a strong mark in the hearts of students and young children. Without such programs, my passion in human origins studies would not have been nurtured.
– Joyce Waithira, PAST Grantee
Andrea was the driving force behind PAST and it is difficult to imagine it without her vibrant presence and professionalism. Her commitment to and passion for promoting and supporting research into human origins in South Africa and the greater continent will leave a huge void. I had the pleasure of working with Andrea since 1998 when Standard Bank became the principal corporate sponsor of PAST. As Head of the Bank’s arts and culture portfolio I was fortunate to inherit this unique project as part of my responsibilities – a somewhat different challenge to art exhibitions, festivals and jazz concerts – with one of the annual highlights we worked on together the Standard Bank PAST lecture featuring many a renowned paleoanthropologist. One of her passions, and her ‘baby’ so to speak, was ‘Walking Tall’, a PAST educational theatre project which achieved huge success in teaching learners across the continent about the evolution of life and humankind. Andrea leaves a legacy that will have to be preserved for future generations.
– Mandie van der Spuy, PAST Trustee
I was one of the many early career scientists who benefited from Andrea’s encouragement and funding support from PAST for my studies and subsequent research. Andrea was always there to lend a sympathetic ear or to excitedly explore new ideas. Because of her passion for archaeology and palaeosciences, PAST has become a guiding light in the realms of science communication and outreach. Through her dedication, the essential message of our research at Sterkfontein has been communicated in engaging and dynamic ways to a local and global audience – an extraordinary achievement that I have been proud to be a small part of. We, as individuals, a research community, and members of the human race will dearly miss Andrea and all that she was still to accomplish.
– Dr. Dominic Stratford, PAST Grantee
I was introduced to Andrea when PAST funded my Masters work beginning 14 years ago. At the time, palaeoanthropology was an intimidating place for a young woman scientist and I remember Andrea being so very down to earth, happy and approachable, giving me the courage to push forward – a friendly face. In subsequent years we met occasionally at conferences, the NMK in Nairobi, or when I was employed at SAHRA. I can confidently say that without her, I would not be where I am today. The impact Andrea has had on the palaeosciences and for young women scientists in particular is awe-inspiring.
– Jenna Lavin, PAST Grantee
Andrea was an amazing African woman who loved Africa and her people, especially African students interested in paleosciences research. I am privileged to have crossed paths with Andrea, for she played a critical role in providing PAST funding support for my academic journey at Wits. I especially remember her unique appreciation of the African fabrics and beads, which blend well with her beauty! Africa has lost a gem!
– Dr. Rahab Kinyanjui, PAST Grantee
I first met Andrea in 2015 when I helped at PAST’s All from One exhibition at Standard Bank. Her energy, passion and drive were inspirational and infectious. PAST has always been very supportive of me and my research, from Honours to PhD, and I can honestly say I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for the funding I received from PAST. Andrea always showed an interest in my research and progress and was rarely too busy to stop and ask about it in passing at the Evolutionary Studies Institute. May her legacy live on through PAST, as it continues to support and promote palaeosciences research and outreach in Africa and the world.
– Dr. David Groenewald, PAST Grantee
Andrea was a force of nature. It is impossible to imagine a world without her. I admired her greatly. Andrea came alive when she explained and described the brilliant All from One campaign when we first met at Oxford University. All from One brilliantly outflanks and exposes absurd and cruel attempts by blinkered racists to create divisions and hostility between people of different ethnic backgrounds. Andrea was also keen to find out what brought a retired English judge to make a documentary film about the Rivonia trial entitled Life is Wonderful: Mandela’s Unsung Heroes. It was the start of a great friendship, conducted mostly by Zoom and email. Andrea was a bright light in a sometimes dark world. She exuded compassion, empathy, commitment and enthusiasm. She was deeply committed to doing whatever she could to make the world a better place. Her enthusiasm was infectious and delightful to observe. She was kind, generous, sensitive, funny and supportive. One of those rare people who cross one’s path by chance and add immeasurably to one’s joie de vivre. Andrea was so young, full of life, full of enthusiasm, full of commitment to making the world a better place, so full of potential on top of a life already rich with achievement. I feel privileged to have met her, to have engaged and collaborated with her and to have counted her as a friend. As Wolf Blitzer says on CNN , may her memory be a blessing.
– Sir Nick Stadlen, Friend of PAST
Andrea’s passion for transformation and support of Africans in the palaeosciences has been so impactful and today we see the results of her work. I am one of the recipients of PAST’s support during my postgraduate studies and today I can call myself a palaeoscientist because of Andrea’s passion, dedication and hard work for this field. The trailblazer that Andrea was can never be outdone. She lived her life for this field and she will be sorely missed by the world and more so by the Africa she so loved. Go well Andrea. Until we meet again…
– Dr. Dipuo Winnie Kgotleng, PAST Grantee
Although I only knew Andrea a short time, her dedication, professionalism and perfectionism were truly inspiring. Her work with PAST in advancing and supporting the palaeosciences has been immense. Her work on bridging the divides and healing historical divisions in our society through the use of science and theatre have left their mark on South Africa and internationally. It is an impressive legacy which she leaves behind, one which I am certain will continue to affect and uplift the lives of so many. Lastly, Andrea was above all, a warm-hearted, kind and caring soul. She leaves the world dimmer with her passing.
– Cuan Hahndiek, SAHRA Heritage Officer
I recall first meeting Andrea many years ago and being overcome with her warmth and enthusiasm for bringing human origins research to not only the entire African continent, but the world. She inspired so many with her dedication to PAST. Andrea’s positive nature and unique understanding of why human origins research is so important for bringing all humankind together is a model for all of us in the paleo-sciences. Such a tragic loss. I send my deepest sympathy to her family, and strength to her loving husband, Rob, during these sad and challenging times. Andrea’s legacy will live on, but the world is a little emptier now.
– Prof. Don Johanson, Founder of the Institute of Human Origins
From our eyes into our hearts. Rest well in a wealth of love dear daughter-in-law.
– Leonard Blumenschine Jr.
Andrea’s generous support and impact in the professional development of African scholars in the field of human origins is one of her great accomplishments and a testimony of her true love for Africa and its heritage.
– Niguss Baraki, PAST Grantee
My last memory of Andrea was spending the day with her at the West Coast Fossil Park. I realise now that that was a special experience, not to be repeated. She brought a positive energy to meetings, seeking realistic solutions to the funding of new projects. She was fun to be with and a good laugh was never far away. She connected with the real issues through engagement with others and in this way was able to direct funding where it mattered most, with a minimum of fuss and bureaucracy. Her passing is a great loss to the promotion of palaeontology in South Africa.
– Dr. Hamish Robertson, Friend of PAST
I met first Andrea at Olduvai in 2009. She and PAST were staunch supporters of my research activities there and especially of my excavations at Mbulu Plateau. Andrea was an inspiration to my students, some of whom she encouraged to seek and supported in their Ph.D. Studies.
– Dr. Fidelis Masao, PAST Grantee
Andrea worked for the betterment of humanity through the study of human origins and unity like most people breathe: Her efforts were spontaneous, natural, and constant. Andrea rejoiced in spreading the word about our African origins and the beauty of the human evolutionary story, and never tired of working with other creative and energetic people to find new ways to convey these messages to all. She was fearless, tireless, and irrepressible in her devotion to advancing understanding of our common origins in the service of human well-being. In a country full of diamonds, she sparkled like no other.
– Prof. Nina Jablonski, Friend of PAST
I first met Andrea in 2000 when she was working for PAST in an office in a trustee’s home. Later as CEO she, together with PAST’s Board, Scientific Advisors of PAST and Rob, Andrea transformed this fledgling palaeoscience funding organisation into an internationally recognised and respected funder of palaeoscience research, education and outreach. Unquestionably the success of PAST is attributed to Andrea’s passion and enthusiasm for the science, coupled with her caring for people. Having previously obtained a degree in humanities, Andrea enrolled for a MSc in palaeontology at Wits and achieved this with distinction in 2011. She demanded perfection from herself and those around her, and through sheer hard work and dedication, and her ability to enthuse potential funders on the importance of the South African fossil record, PAST has forever transformed the funding, research, and outreach landscape of palaeosciences in Africa.
– Prof. Bruce Rubidge, Former PAST Scientific Advisory Committee Member and PAST Grantee
Andrea was a fearless leader whose passion and devotion in paleosciences has changed the way research and scholarship in Africa should be funded. She believed that Africa is one and therefore the colonial geographical barriers should not undermine the understanding of our origins and development of science in Africa. Through her leadership PAST has successfully united many African scholars, researchers, educators, artists, curators etc. through funding to support numerous research, training, education, and outreach activities. I will remember Andrea for her generosity and support to the Eastern Africa Association of Paleoanthropologists and Paleontologists (EAAPP) since she attended its 2nd biennial conference held in Arusha, Tanzania in 2009, where she gave a very inspiring presentation. She introduced PAST to the conference participants, which at that time this non-profit organization was not known beyond South Africa. We were immediately connected by understanding the common problems that many African scholars face; lack of equity, diversity and inclusiveness in research funding, resources, and scholarships. I recognized her potential and I invited her to become the EAAPP’s representative for SA, which she accepted with grace. This was a big boost to EAAPP, and with her fund-rising skills we are grateful that PAST has provided generous support to African scholars and students to travel to various places in Eastern Africa to attend EAAPP conferences. Thanks to Andrea, EAAPP has grown substantially, and we have seen many scholarly, educational, and curatorial collaborations among eastern and southern African countries rooted out of her synergies. Andrea will be always remembered by the local Maasai community at Olduvai Gorge for coordinating the Walking Tall group that traveled several times to perform in Tanzania. This is memorable experience to Tanzanians, and I am grateful to be part of this program that has inspired children, students, and many people to understand and appreciate the value of paleoanthropological resources and African heritage. I shall always cherish her laughter, happiness, kindness and generosity. She’s a truly Pan Africanist and she will be missed.
– Prof. Jackson Njau, Former PAST Scientific Advisory Committee Member
I am extremely saddened by the demise of Andrea Leenen, whom I have known for 20 years. Andrea loved the field of paleoscience and was determined to expand it in the African continent through the PAST Pan-African Vision. I cannot thank her enough for the financial support towards the research in the African continent and for supporting training for hundreds of young African scholars through PAST. Her promotion of the field of paleoscience was exceptional and unparalleled. I wish to reiterate that Andrea played a crucial role in forming and expanding the East African Association for Paleontology & Paleoanthropology (EAAPP) and supported through PAST its biennial meetings, a platform which we have come to cherish. My sincere condolences to Rob and all those who loved her.
– Dr. Emma Mbua, PAST Grantee
It has been my pleasure to know Andrea over many years and I followed her extraordinary leadership and commitment to palaeontology. Her understanding of the history of humankind and her work to show our origin has been inspiring to many. Its application across the world has proven critical to understanding the origin of our one human race and to counter some of the more bizarre theories that appeared during the 19thcentury around different races and species. From my point of view, I managed to pick up on this critical point many times over the years to show that we are all the same and all more or less equal at the start of our lives, and it is through geography, culture, society and circumstances life begins to shape us. I have enjoyed shocking friends and business colleagues around the world with explanations based on the origin of humans and how we are all the same – this has helped me raise money for a number of charities, in particular our Build a School programme in East Africa. I could not have done this without Andrea. I was very proud to know Andrea and must commend her fantastic contribution to this science and to helping the children of Africa believe in themselves through creative programmes.
– Mark Florman, PAST International Advisory Committee Member
The people of Mozambique will always miss you, Andrea. You were one of the most energetic persons I have met in my life and always willing to push us forward in our research. I remember the day I took the initiative to approach you and Rob about the organization of the first Walking Tall in Mozambique and you immediately replied with a smile saying yes, Nelson, let’s make it happen in Mozambique. The memories, experiences we shared there are something I will never forget. I will also never forget your support of my Ph.D. research and hence I always work hard to pay tribute to the legacy you left with us. Rest in peace.
– Nelson Nhamutole, PAST Grantee
Even having worked with Andrea far less than most, I feel her absence sorely. This is because she had such a wonderful way of working – with an infectious energy and an inclusivity that took everyone along with her owing to her warmth and care – because it wasn’t work in a narrow sense, PAST was her passion. She leaves a huge gap, but what a privilege to have known her and what a legacy she leaves.
– Lynda Murray, Friend of PAST
It was always most enjoyable assisting Andrea on anything as her ‘thank you’ echoed after she would leave our fossil preparation lab. One would want to do their best next time, because of her appreciation no matter how small a thing one did for her. Personally, I am left with few words after learning of her passing as I look at the gifts that I still hold by my hands. I feel I still owe her. Maybe had she stayed a while, I would have had the chance to return all the favours. Rest in peace, Andrea.
– Charlton Dube. PAST Grantee
I have known Andrea throughout my Postgraduate years. Whenever I saw her, she had the warmest smile and it’s a memory that I carry and cherish. I’m forever grateful for Andrea’s and PAST’s support and encouragement. I really appreciate her believing in me and granting the opportunity to fulfill my passion. Thank you, Andrea. May your soul rest in peace.
– Dr. Safiyyah Iqbal, PAST Grantee
Andrea had profound interest, passion and commitment to supporting paleoscientific research in addition to prehistory scientific communication and outreach activities in Africa. Andrea took it upon herself to offer guidance to early career researchers in writing grant-winning research proposals. She had the patience to read through, critique and offer constructive contributions that would ultimately result into a solid project proposal. She walked with many of us, every step of the way to becoming established researchers. Personally, I have been a beneficiary of PAST’s support since 2007. I have been supported in research as well as in conducting outreach in South Africa and Kenya. PAST’s reach and impact is tangible in Kenya. Through the Walking Tall program, the science of human evolution was demystified across diverse cultures of the Kenyan community. This has inspired a new generation of researchers who will carry the baton forward. Andrea will be dearly missed. Her legacy will live on through our research, guidance and mentorship that we accord to upcoming generations of researchers. Long live Andrea!
– Dr. Job Kibii, PAST Grantee
Andrea’s untimely death is a huge loss to many African students, researchers and palaeosciences enthusiasts. Through her visionary leadership and commitment to palaeosciences, PAST has funded countless researchers and students to undertake research across Africa. I am grateful to be one of PAST’s grantees. Andrea is gone but her legacy continues to live in our hearts. Rest in peace, Andrea.
– Alexander Kabelindde, PAST Grantee
It seems impossible to believe that African palaeosciences have lost such as key figure and force for advancement. During my time on the INQUA Executive, Andrea shared my dream of helping scientists in my ‘ancestral homeland’ of East Africa, and then in West Africa, establish their own Quaternary societies, and ensured that PAST supported these ventures financially. On a personal level, my enduring memory of Andrea will be of our joint adventures during early conferences of these societies, from a nearly flooded hotel in Benin to a hotel in Ethiopia where Americans were getting to know the orphaned babies they were adopting.
– Dr. Margaret Avery, PAST Scientific Advisory Committee Member
There are special people who walk into your life one day, out of the blue, and change your life for the better forever and Andrea was one of those people for me. She had a profound life affirming energy and brought care and laughter and passion to her work and to her friends and being in her company always left one feeling better. I was and am honoured to have been asked by Andrea and Rob to become a member of the PAST family. Andrea and Rob and I talked often about the simple life philosophy of “be a good ancestor” and Andrea exemplified that way of being to the tip of her toes. She will be deeply mourned and missed and will always be much loved.
– Robbie Stamp, PAST International Advisory Committee Member
Andrea was a giant in paleosciences. Although I was not close to Andrea, her work influenced and continues to influence my ‘heritage studies’ engagements. Andrea’s Walking Tall initiative which I followed closely at different occasions in Tanzania and in South Africa especially during the 14th Pan African Archaeological Congress at Wits inspired me greatly. It was because of this inspiration that I started television programs to promote heritage sites in Tanzania, an initiative that has grown to became what’s now famously known as ‘musicalizing heritage and heritagizing music.’ Andrea has gone too soon; a hero in African Archaeology and Paleontology, a true Pan African has gone! We will greatly miss her.
– Dr. Elgidius Ichumbaki, Friend of PAST
Andrea was a big sister to me during my PhD study at Wits University. She was paramount in ensuring the smooth continuity of my PhD and my general stay in Johannesburg, both financially (through PAST Grants) and the moral support I got from her in adapting to the hectic Jozi life. These ensured that I completed my PhD in time and with ease. Her role in starting me on my research career through field and travel grants from PAST has made me who I am now in my research career. She was a tall pillar for me. It is now physically gone but her spirit lives on in me. My heart is sunk deep low, but I will rise again, however long this will take. May her soul rest with her Maker as we find solace and courage to celebrate her beautiful life.
– Dr. Jillani Ngalla, PAST grantee
Andrea was exceptionally caring and compassionate, and her enthusiasm for palaeosciences was immense. I will forever be grateful for her funding support, guidance and encouragement throughout my postgraduate years, and especially throughout our conceptual phase with the Student Development Workshop and the Southern African Archaeology Student Council. She has left a legacy as valuable and as rich as the past we all seek to investigate as palaeoscientists, and while she has left us now she will never be forgotten.
– Dr. Matt Lotter, PAST Grantee
Andrea was kind, supportive, and a mother to some of us. She will be remembered and always have a special place in our hearts. May her soul rest in peace.
– Jackson Kimambo, PAST Grantee
Andrea’s passing has brought sadness to our community. Dealing with the loss of a dear loved one is very challenging. May her family, friends and colleagues find solace in the best memories they shared with her. May they be comforted by the love shown by everyone associated with her as they share cherished memories. Her memory will live on strongly in our hearts. May she rest in peace.
– Southern African Archaeology Student Society, Grantees of PAST
It was plain to all what an extraordinary force Andrea was. She carried herself with a self-assurance that was clearly a result of knowing that the work she was doing was impactful and meaningful. Her influence on the transformation of African palaeosciences cannot be measured. Many would not be in the field today were it not for Andreas’s steadfast determination to make a difference. I have no doubt that her legacy will live on for generations to come.
– Stephanie Caruana, PAST Grantee
Andrea touched the lives of so many through her vision that research and education, particularly targeting those outside the academy, were naturally coupled and synergistic. Her determination to expand paleo to include later histories illustrates her vision that history cannot and should not be placed in silos. Her support for my team’s later Holocene research in Uganda has reverberated so positively in the lives of many aspiring archaeologists there, a legacy that will endure well into the future. To marry such vision with charm, boundless energy, and unwavering commitment makes an extraordinary life.
– Prof. Peter R. Schmidt, PAST Grantee
When we think of Andrea and the way she approached life, one word stands out above all others: passion. From our very first meeting with the PAST team, which signalled the start of a solid two-year working relationship, to getting to know each other as strategic partners and human beings alike while spending countless hours debating and brainstorming the collective impact we sought to make in the world, Andrea’s passion for the origin sciences and effecting meaningful change for the future of our planet shone through at every juncture. We are deeply shocked and saddened by her passing, and we hope that someday, our shared intent for the future of this troubled and divided world – one so desperate for unity and stewardship – will be realised. May Andrea’s passion and example live on in the words and actions of all whose lives she touched and continue to touch through her legacy.
– Terri-Leigh Cassel and Team, PAST Partner
As members of the Sterkfontein and Swartkrans technical team, we have known Andrea for many years, from her visits to Sterkfontein, and when she has arranged for us to attend PAST events in other places. She was always kind to us, smiling and chatting, and she showed great interest in us and our work. We are now so sad that she is no longer with us, and we share the pain that Rob and Andrea’s family are feeling now. We and the field team of Sterkfontein and Swartkrans send our sympathy to them and to PAST, who through Andrea have helped us so much in our work over the years. May her soul rest in peace.
– Abel Molepolle and Andrew Phaswana, PAST Grantees
I only worked with PAST for a short time, but Andrea is one of those people who makes an impression! Playing a tiny part in Little Foot’s journey to Oxford and beyond was one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever been involved in. It was a privilege to know Andrea. Her energy, passion and drive to get things done were quite remarkable. Her love for Africa and for paleontology shone through in everything she did.
– Yvonne Rainey – Friend of PAST
Andrea was a great supporter of African paleo-anthropological research, and especially for us local researchers in the field. I first met her in 2001 as one of the first few Africa graduate students supported by PAST and Wits. Our bond in the field and her continued dedication and support for us and our students goes strong. We shall truly miss her.
– Dr. Christine Ogola, PAST Grantee
The Association of Southern African Professional Archaeologists mourns the loss of Andrea Leenen. She was a shining beacon in the African paleo landscape, inspiring many archaeologists by enabling the development of our discipline through support for ASAPA conferences, student development workshops and the South African Archaeological Bulletin. Her enthusiasm and efforts on growing interest and wonder in humankinds’ prehistory in Africa are deeply appreciated and this leaves a lasting legacy.
– Prof. Sarah Wurz, PAST Grantee
Andrea’s zest for life and unrelenting passion for Africa was contagious. I had the privilege of partnering and learning from her and Rob over the past 13 years. I remember smiling whenever her name popped up in my mailbox, because I knew she would be telling me about all the great initiatives PAST was currently involved in and urging me to be involved. This was written with such purpose and genuine hunger to make a positive impact in the world yet it was housed in her great humour and left me wondering if I even had a chance in not committing. I will miss her smile, her cheeky spirit and her heart of gold. She made the world a better place.
– Lauren Olivier, Friend of PAST
Waking up to the news of Andrea’s death was one of the most depressing moments in my life. Andrea was thoughtful and generous, and her devotion to my academic progress was admirable. In addition to being a PAST grantee, whenever I met her in person, I knew I could always count on one or two words of wisdom and encouragement coming from deep within her heart. I’ll remember her in many positive ways with a big smile as I go through my academic journey. For now, I have just submitted my Master’s work for examination and the best I could do was dedicate it to her.
– Gideon Chinamatira, PAST Grantee
The South African Archaeological Society Council and members were shocked to receive news of the passing of Andre. She was a shining light for so many young researchers and an inspiration to the people of Africa. Our Society in turn has benefited enormously from the many grants that PAST has awarded us for printing the South African Archaeological Bulletin and her support for this endeavour will not be forgotten. We will always remember her infectious energy and goodwill.
Prof. Janette Deacon – PAST Grantee and Former Scientific Advisory Committee Member
I will forever be grateful to PAST for the generous funding towards my Honours studies and currently Masters degree. I’ve never met Andrea in person, but when I first received funding, she took the time to send a congratulatory message, which made me feel special. Her work with PAST has undoubtedly impacted many lives. May she always be remembered.
– Loyce Mpangala, PAST grantee