Durban — Tributes continue to pour in for Dr Esmé Frances Franklin Hennessy, 89, an acclaimed KwaZulu-Natal botanist and author on the subject, who died on Saturday.

Dr Hennessy was born August 30, 1933, and grew up in the coastal village of Umzinto, south of Durban, where her father was the district surgeon. Childhood exploration of her rural environs fuelled the curiosity of plants and love of beauty that defined her life.

Hennessy completed her Bachelor’s, Honours, and Master’s degrees in Botany, and her Ph.D. in Taxonomic Botany, at the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg.

In 1956, she married Royal Navy Commander Brian John Hennessy and took his surname.

In 1961, Hennessy was invited to serve as a lecturer in Botany at University College, Durban, the first woman to hold that post. Between 1972 and 1993, she was a member of the science faculty at University of Durban-Westville, culminating as Associate Professor of Botany.

In 1994, she accepted an honorary post as Associate Professor of Botany, University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, where she served until 2006. She remained External Examiner in Plant Taxonomy (PhD theses) at the University of Natal until 2010.

Hennessy is the author and illustrator of many publications, including the books South African Erythrinas (1972); Orchids of Africa – a Select Review (1981), which she wrote and illustrated with Joyce Stewart; and The Slipper Orchids (1989), which she illustrated and co-authored with Tessa Hedge.

Hennessy’s botanical illustrations were exhibited widely, including at the Hunt Institute for Botanical Art and Illustration at Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh; at the Royal Horticultural Society in London; and at the Smithsonian Institution. She also enjoyed several rewarding stints for botanical research at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London.

She has been involved in the American Orchid Society, Botanical Society of South Africa, Electron Microscopy Society of Southern Africa, Linnean Society of London (elected to Fellowship, 1985), Natal Orchid Society, Society of Botanical Artists, U.K. (founding member, 1988), South African Association of Botanists (founding member, 1968), South African Council of Natural Scientists (registered, 1983).

Hennessy retired from the Department of Botany, University of Durban-Westville in 1993, and is currently an Honorary Associate Professor in the School of Botany and Zoology in the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg

In 2006, Hennessy emigrated to the USA.

In 2017, she was asked to create original illustrations for two books: Beautiful Corn: America’s Original Grain from Feed to Plate, by Anthony Boutard, and Baja Blooms: The Gardens of Los Colibris Casitas.

Hennessy is survived by her son, Timothy Hennessy.

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2023-05-25T12:32:52Z dg43tfdfdgfd