Diana Cochrane-Van Eeden, Executive Assistant for the VC, steps down

Posted on July 09, 2021

We say a fond farewell to Diana Cochrane-Van Eeden, Executive Assistant in the Office of the Vice-Chancellor and Principal, who after almost 20 years at the University of Pretoria (UP) has stepped down from her position. She offers insight into her role at UP and what she is looking forward to in the next chapter of her life.

What was a typical day like in the office of the Vice-Chancellor?

Busy and interesting – no day was the same. There was always an opportunity to make a difference and an unexpected deadline around the corner.  

What was exciting about your job and what was your least favourite part of it?

Seeing all my arrangements and work coming to fruition was my favourite part – it may have been a programme that I had finalised for an important visitor, completing a report or PowerPoint presentation, arranging a successful function, being part of the Rectorate team or getting a call from people to thank me for assisting them. My least favourite part was seeing a close colleague retiring or leaving the University.   

What are some of your fondest memories of your time at UP?

I had so many good times with colleagues and friends at UP, some of whom are still there, some who have retired and others who left the University to pursue other opportunities. I look forward to staying in touch with them. I also met so many interesting people every day, before the pandemic arrived.

I will always remember our beautiful campus with its aloes, fever trees and the jacarandas in full bloom when November examinations draw closer, as well as the beautiful office and Rectorate with its beautiful art.

I am going to miss working with wonderful colleagues, assisting students and being part of a great university.

What are some of the interpersonal skills you’ve gained?

To work with people every day, it is necessary to have great interpersonal skills. I see myself as an empathetic listener, patient and reliable, with excellent communication skills. When dealing with difficult people, an empathetic and caring ear, genuine interest and a solution-oriented approach is best. Sometimes just listening or relaying a message can solve a challenging situation. 

Was there a particular challenge that you faced in your position? If so, how did you overcome it?

When I worked at the Department of IT (now IT Services), I assisted with the online telephone directory. At that stage, we still used fax machines, so when I did not get swift feedback by sending out emails, I used our fax facilities in the office. It was remarkable how fast I received updates and feedback to assist the team in completing a project.

What are some of the changes that you’ve seen at UP and that you are proud of? 

All the exciting and interesting new infrastructure developments: Javett-UP Art Centre – a special favourite – Future Africa, Engineering 4.0 and many, many more.

Is there a particularly funny memory that you have of your time at UP?

A former colleague always ensured that she knew when the administration staff in the department had milestone birthdays, and she had these huge cut-out paper footprints. When you had a milestone birthday, you could be sure that there would be a trail of huge footprints leading from the elevator to your office with a visual announcement to say how old you had turned on that particular day. It is these fun and sometimes embarrassing moments that you remember for a long time.

What would you say you have learnt as a person over the years at UP?

Every person has something special to give and has talents that they are sometimes unaware of. By listening and getting to know people, you can learn so much from each and every person to take forward with you in future. The most important lesson that I learned was to make today matter and the importance of making a difference in someone’s life on a daily basis.

Do you have a message for Professor Tawana Kupe and fellow colleagues?

One of my dear colleagues recently sent this blessing to me, and it is my message to Prof Kupe and my colleagues:

An Irish blessing

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

and rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

What is next for you?

I am investigating opportunities to start a marketing business in the near future.

- Author Xolani Mathibela

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