20 February 2024 | Story Lacea Loader | Photo SUPPLIED
Prof Bob Frater
The late Prof Robert Frater, after whom the Robert WM Frater Cardiovascular Research Centre at the UFS was named.

The Robert WM Frater Cardiovascular Research Centre (the Frater Centre) at the University of the Free State (UFS) received the sad news of the passing of Prof Robert (Bob) Frater at the age of 95 on 29 January 2024 in New York. 

“Prof Frater was and will continue to be regarded as an international icon in heart surgery, especially in mitral valve repair where he described the use of artificial chordae, which is still the international standard today.  Since 2006, he has been intimately involved in the establishment of the research programme in the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the UFS, which culminated in the establishment of the Frater Centre in 2015. This would not have been possible without the combined efforts of the UFS and the generous financial support by Glycar – a Pretoria-based company established by Prof Frater,” says Prof Francis Smit, Director of the Robert WM Frater Cardiovascular Research Centre and Head of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the UFS.

Prof Frater was born in Cape Town and attended Bishops Diocesan College from 1937 to 1946. He excelled at school, both academically and as a sportsman. He was a prefect, captained the tennis team, and played first team rugby. He studied medicine at the University of Cape Town (UCT), achieving a first class in Surgery. He qualified as a cardiothoracic surgeon at the Mayo Clinic and after a stint back in Cape Town, spent the rest of his illustrious career at the Einstein and Montefiore university hospitals in New York. Despite this distance, Prof Frater always maintained and cherished his South African roots, palpably demonstrated by his notable collection of Africana books and art.

“He was an inspiring mentor and educator, and constructively influenced generations of cardiothoracic surgeons trained at the UFS and internationally. His enthusiasm for scientific research and deep understanding of heart valves and tissue engineering have largely determined the research focus of the Frater Centre to this day.  He received an honorary doctorate in Medicine from the UFS in 2011 in recognition of his immense contributions to cardiothoracic surgery during his lifetime. Apart from his international recognition and awards, the other outstanding award he received and cherished in South Africa, was the Robert Gray Medal from his old school, Bishops Diocesan College,” says Prof Smit.

At the UFS, he was Prof Smit’s promotor for his PhD on human heart valve transplants (homografts) and inspired an additional five PhD studies (four of which addressed tissue engineering, and one in re-designing a poppet mechanical heart valve, which was named the Frater valve).  Studies on heart valve mechanics and hydrodynamics conducted at the Frater Centre in support of these valve developments resulted in three cum laude Master of Engineering degrees awarded by Stellenbosch University.  Over time, the Robert WM Frater Cardiovascular Research Centre’s research output steadily increased in scope and quality, mainly due to the values of curiosity, excellence, integrated interdisciplinary collaborative teams, integrity, and mutual respect instilled by Prof Bob Frater.

“Prof Frater was always received ostentatiously in Bloemfontein. The registrars crowded around him, our research team was inspired, wisdom was gained from his vast experience in surgery and research, and no-one was left untouched by the deep humanity of this remarkable man. He was truly an exceptional individual, and a memorable South African.”

We wish to express our sincerest condolences and deepest sympathy to his wife Eileen, sons Hugh, Dirk, and the rest of the family,” says Prof Smit.

We use cookies to make interactions with our websites and services easy and meaningful. To better understand how they are used, read more about the UFS cookie policy. By continuing to use this site you are giving us your consent to do this.