Rhodes University: Rhodes University pays tribute to its Distinguished Alumni Awardee, Pearce Rood

Pearce was a boy from Klerksdorp who could never quite believe that he was a partner in the world’s largest law firm, a member of the MCC and the Reform Club. Someone who had spoken to the Crown Prince of Japan in Japanese, even though he had not said “I hang upon your eye” as the courtliest Japanese demanded.

After primary school in Klerksdorp he went to Pretoria Boys High where he got a first class matric pass and then, at the age of 16, went to Rhodes University where he was known as Daisy. Rhodes University in those days was a university of about 600 students where the first years were called inks and inkettes. There were men’s residences and women’s residences with strict curfew times, but one could take one’s girlfriend to the “Kaif” or to the elaborate end – of – year balls. One of Pearce’s proudest moments was a try he scored for the under 19A rugby team. His stories of Rhodes were mainly about sport and Rag and people, but he did end up winning the Spilkin Law Prize. Rhodes remained an important part of his life and, later in his career, he set up Pearce Rood law prizes to encourage students to stay on to study law. Carmel Weitzman wrote “I was awarded the Pearce Rood Scholarship at Rhodes University, without which I would never have been able to do my law degree. I graduated with distinction in 1999.” Carmel went on to serve for 13 years as a trustee for the Rhodes (UK) Trust which Pearce helped to set up.

Pearce maintained his contact with the Rhodes Law Faculty throughout his life, generously sponsoring prizes for students and making significant donations of books to the Law Library. His interest never wavered and faculty members visiting the UK were always invited to lunch at his home so that he could catch up on the latest news. In 2010 Pearce was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award for his outstanding contribution to the law profession and the university as well as his philanthropic work which benefitted various charities. His financial support to the university was not only limited to the Law Faculty. In 2020 when the university launched the Covid-19 Relief Fund Pearce was one of the first people to put their hand up to provide financial support.

Pearce was an idealist who felt he could not live in apartheid South Africa so, after leaving Klerksdorp and working at Anglo American for a while, he immigrated to England to work for Simmons and Simmons while he qualified as an English solicitor getting four distinctions in the final Law School exams. Soon after qualifying he moved to Baker and Mackenzie, a trail breaking, international law firm at a time when the concept was very new.

An American client mentioned that it would be nice to have a Japanese speaking lawyer in London, so Pearce immediately decided that he could be that lawyer and started learning Japanese with great fervour. He decided that he would learn Japanese better if he lived in Japan and joined an established office of Baker and Mackenzie taking his family with him for a year.

Back in the London office he built on his South African and Japanese connections in particular paving the way for colleagues to interact with Japanese clients producing a little booklet giving advice on Japanese etiquette. He helped set up Mitsubishi Electric in the UK and became a member of their European Advisory Board and his undoubted integrity was valued by all his clients.

Pearce is remembered by his former colleagues as a man who greeted them in a warm and friendly way when they joined the firm and also encouraged and inspired them in their legal careers. He was also known to give them interesting work to do and they regarded him as a man of considerable intellect who had the ability to solve clients’ problems in a practical way. In the firm he was also known for his writing skills, a man who “wrote beautifully, more clearly, comprehensively and with absolute accuracy than anyone else I have read. How easy he made it seem, dictating fluently entire opinions without a pause.”

Aside from his work he enjoyed reading and music and followed cricket and rugby, never quite passing the Tebbit test which established Englishness on which team one supported. On retirement he took to playing golf and became an active fundraiser for The John Passmore Trust supporting young black cricketers in Langa, delighting in being able to recruit the former England captain Peter May and the well- loved commentator Brian Johnston, “Jonners”, as trustees. He supported many good causes and individuals in their careers quoting William Penn:

“I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”

As a family historian he wrote The Rood Family’s Dutch Jewish Origins and researched the sad history of his Irish grandfather with all its ramifications. As a family man he was the fun uncle and the surrogate grandfather and the proud father of three sons. His memory lives on for the many whose lives he touched.

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