Tribute to the late Prof G.M. (Vollie) Spies

Posted on February 27, 2023


29 September 1952 - 26 February 2023

Known for her love of people, communities and the academic project, Vollie Spies also excelled at athletics and achieved many records in her lifetime. In her retirement she continued to serve the Faculty through her department with unwavering distinction. Most recently she demonstrated this by successfully supervising her final PhD student who will graduate in our Autumn ceremony in 2023. She loved cycling and in the last week of her life was the organiser of the Bestmed Race, recently held at UP, and participated in the cycling race on 19 February.

The Faculty of Humanities and the Department of Social Work is deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Prof GM (Vollie) Spies on Sunday, 26 February 2023. Her passing is an enormous loss for the Faculty, the Department of Social Work and Criminology and the entire UP community. We honour her as an academic, social worker, therapist, expert witness, community worker, athlete and most of all for her humanity.   

Prof Spies started her academic career at the University of Pretoria in 1982. Her work focused on individuals, children and families, child protection services, family violence and more specifically sexual trauma in families. She received a master’s degree in Social Work (1988) from UP with the title Family therapy with the incest family and a Doctorate (1997) from the University of South Africa with the title The healing of the adult survivor of child sexual abuse.  She interrupted her tenure at UP in 1990 but returned to the institution as a senior lecturer in 2000. She was promoted to associate professor in 2007, a position she held until her retirement in 2017. 

She was widely consulted by diverse professionals on the dynamics of sexual abuse and disclosure and the healing process of sexually abused survivors. She acted as a consultant for the office of the Family Advocate on sexual abuse cases. She also guest lectured in other departments at UP, the Faculty of Criminal Justice at Leiden University and the University of London. Prof Spies regularly testified as an expert witness on child sexual abuse in Regional and Supreme court cases in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town and other smaller towns in South Africa. She was a part time private practitioner specialising in sexual abuse, marital violence, marital discord and divorce – focusing on the child, adult survivor and the family. 

Several master’s and doctoral students graduated under her supervision. She served on the Advisory Board for Wellness at UP (2012-2017) and on the Faculty of Humanities’ Research Ethics Committee (2011-2017). She also developed a short course for the University of Pretoria on the dynamics of sexual abuse which was presented to, among others, staff of the Regional court in Pretoria in 2001-2004. Prof Spies also facilitated community outreach programmes for adult survivors of sexual abuse and partners, and developed a programme for adolescent girls who were sexually abused. She was regularly invited to speak in schools, churches and by other community groups. 

Among her many professional contributions, Prof Spies will be remembered for her role in child protection. She was the project leader, working with two colleagues, to complete a research project for the National Department of Social Development to develop and evaluate a protocol and training programme for the safety and risk assessment of vulnerable children in South Africa. The Safety and Risk Assessment tool for Child Abuse, sponsored by UNICEF and USAID and a first for South Africa, was developed and piloted between 2011 and 2013. She trained many social workers to use the tool and, in 2014, received an honorary award for her contribution at the Third International Conference on Practice Research in New York.

Social work was not Prof Spies’ only passion. In addition to developing a formidable career in social work, she also pursued her passion for sport, specifically competitive running and cycling – she was poised to win her category during the cycle race held on 19 February 2023.

Prof Spies was Chair of the Tuks Marathon Club and, since 2007, a Member of the Executive Committee of Tuks Sport. She was instrumental in the annual BestMed Tuks Race, which regularly attracted almost 10 000 runners. On 18 February 2023 she organised yet another successful BestMed Tuks Race with great enthusiasm. 

Prof Spies was not only at the forefront in organising UP sport events, but was also a dedicated and successful athlete who proudly represented Tuks at significant races, both nationally and internationally. In 2017 she received an honorary award from the Vice Principal of the University of Pretoria for 21 years of exceptional service to UP Athletics: Road Running Club. In the same year, she received colours from UP for completing 20 Comrades marathons. In 2015, she was honoured with a Tuks Sport Administrator of the Year award for her service as Chairperson of the Tuks Road Runners Committee.

Other achievements include Provincial (North Gauteng) colours for athletics in 2002 and being accoladed as the best master’s athlete in North Gauteng during 2002-2010 and 2011-2015. She received South African colours in 21.1km Road Running in 2014 and won a gold medal in the Mauritius marathon in the masters category in 2018. She received trophies for the best woman athlete of Tuks Marathon Club for 2000-2007 and 2012-2015, the best grand masters athlete (60-65) in 2013-2015 and North Gauteng Championships in Cross Country in 2013-2015.

She also won bronze medals in the Comrades Marathon between 1997 and 2015, a gold medal for winning in the grand master’s category in Comrades in 2013 and silver medals for fifth position in 2014 and 2015. In 2013, following the Comrades completion, she said: “It was a wonderful experience that made me realise that I have never been this proud of myself before, I will definitely take part in the following one next year.”  Similarly, in the Two Oceans Marathon, she received bronze medals (1997-2011), a gold medal for winning the grand master’s category (2014) and a silver medal for a fifth position in 2016. 

On the international front, she received bronze medals in London Marathon (1999, 2006); Berlin Marathon (2000); Amsterdam, Netherlands Marathon (2007, 2010); New York Marathon (2007), Lisbon Marathon (2007) and Dublin Marathon (2007), a silver medal for the Master’s Championships in Sacramento Marathon, and gold medals in Sydney Marathon (2004), the 2003 Millennium 10k in London, and for the 1999 Mauritius Half Marathon. 

Prof Spies demonstrated in physical and intellectual ways what the finishing line means to all of us at UP. In all of us who knew her, Prof Spies seemed less driven by competitive ambition than by the sheer joy of what she undertook.  She knew how to fly and fly higher at UP by inspiring people in the process – two distinctive mottos that demonstrate the spirit of the university.

We celebrate her incredible life and contribution to the social work profession and beyond. Her legacy will continue as we draw collective strength from her life, work and dedication.

On behalf of the Faculty and the Department, our deepest condolences go to her children, grandchildren, and family.


- Author Professor Vasu Reddy (Dean: Faculty of Humanities) and Prof Antoinette Lombard (Department of Social Work and Criminology)

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