Prof Chris Buckley Obituary

by | Jun 2, 2021 | General

Professor Chris Buckley

5th July 1949 to 27th May 2021

In loving memory of Prof Chris Buckley – a true legend and pioneer who dedicated his life to providing water and sanitation services to the unserved.

It is with deepest sorrow that we inform you that our dearest professor, colleague and friend passed away peacefully on the 27th May 2021 after a hard and brave fight against cancer.
Chris was a well-known, iconic figure in the international Water and Sanitation field, and touched the lives of so many, both personally and professionally. He was one of those unique people that always managed to inspire everyone with his astonishing general knowledge, and deep understanding of science and engineering. Chris’s compassion, patience and dedication to students and young researchers resulted in the completion of over 100 Masters and PhD graduates, the majority of whom are now well-established professionals in the water and sanitation sector. Each one of them carries a piece of Chris’s passion, determination to solve problems, and his love for life and learning. His charismatic personality, radiant smile and mischievous sense of humour will forever be remembered.

Chris’s career in the water and sanitation field began in the 1970s as a post graduate student in Chemical Engineering at the then University of Natal. He joined the Pollution Research Group (PRG) in 1972 – a small group of three or four people that had been formed in 1971. He took over the leadership of the PRG in 1985 and was appointed as the full-time head in 1987. Under his guidance, the PRG has delivered ground breaking research in the water and sanitation field, and expanded its research scope beyond chemical engineering, to become a trans-disciplinary contract research hub with local, national and international recognition for its work. Over the span of his research career, Chris secured significant funding grants from organisations such as the Water Research Commission, the eThekwini Municipality and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as many other public and private organisations. His commitment to producing high quality research outputs, and his ability to adapt to the changing research landscape, has ensured that these funding relationships have endured under his leadership. In order to reflect the growing range
of research undertaken by the group, the PRG was rebranded and relaunched as the Water, Sanitation & Hygiene Research & Development Centre (WASH R&D Centre) in December 2020.
Chris was always full of bright and innovative ideas at any time of the day and night. He constantly developed research questions to address water and sanitation challenges, and then set about establishing a network of researchers (both young and established) who would go on a journey of discovery with him. He built these relationships so easily and quickly, not requiring formal systems to secure them, but rather using respect, trust and the spirit of Ubuntu as his means of connection. His colleagues and students would know that after a time of intense discussion about a particular problem, Chris would quietly stand up, straighten his beard, undo his board marker and miraculously summarise all that had been said in a perfect diagram on the whiteboard.

Chris travelled all around the world in his quest to solve the water and sanitation challenges, and served on numerous committees, working groups and task teams. In all the places he visited, he made new friends and work contacts thanks to his social nature and open mindedness to embrace new cultures and experiences. Chris had the same friendly attitude towards everyone regardless of their age, background or social standing. His worldwide popularity was beyond measure, as he managed to connect people and create partnerships in either a formal or informal context. Chris did not seek personal recognition or accolades for his achievements, but his contribution to the Water and Sanitation sector have been celebrated through a number of awards such as the Water Research Commission Legacy Award and being granted Honorary Membership by the Water Institute of Southern Africa.

Chris leaves behind his wife Ann, his daughter Pippa, his son Tim, his son-in-law Tim, daughter-in-law Stephanie and five beautiful granddaughters. We express our heartfelt condolences to the family.
Chris will be truly missed by all – family, students, colleagues and friends, but he leaves a lasting legacy through the WASH R&D Centre. He is an institution that will forever be loved and remembered for his enormous lifetime contribution.

The memorial service will be held on Friday 4th June at 11am in Durban. Due to Covid-19 protocols, the number of attendees is limited. Please contact Susan Mercer / 082 375 9104 if you would like to attend so that you can be added to the attendance list. The service will be livestreamed and a link will be provided on the WASH R&D Centre website:

Should you wish to submit a tribute to Prof Buckley please go to:

To view Prof Buckley’s tribute page please visit:

Should you wish to show your support, Prof Buckley’s family have created a trust fund – The Chris Buckley Water and Sanitation Internship – where you are welcome to make any donations. For more information on this please download the document: The Chris Buckley Water and Sanitation Internship Trust

Issued by: UKZN: College of Agriculture, Engineering & Science