Prof Michiel Josias de Vries was born in the Barrydale district on 5 May 1933 and grew up on the farm Kleindoringrivier in the Klein Karoo district between Barrydale and Riversdale. After matriculating from Barrydale High School, he enrolled at Stellenbosch University (SU) for a BSc degree. Upon graduating, he was awarded a bursary to complete a master’s degree by the Department of Agricultural Technical Services.
Another bursary followed, and a few years later De Vries was on his way to Germany to pursue a doctorate at the Albert Ludwig University in Freiburg (he graduated with distinction in 1959). Upon his return to South Africa, he accepted a position at SU as a lecturer in physical chemistry in July 1961.
After 15 years in classrooms, De Vries was promoted to vice-rector on 1 September 1976. Three years later, in 1979, he was inaugurated as rector of the University – a position he held for the next 14 years. When the vice-chancellor at the time, Rev Kosie Gericke, passed away in 1981, the post of vice-chancellor was incorporated into the post of rector, a move that has been maintained ever since.
Under De Vries’ rectorship, the old Bloemhof school building in Ryneveld Street was renovated and relaunched as an art and culture space for the University’s students, as well as a gallery/museum to showcase the University’s art collection and cultural artifacts accumulated over the years since its existence. The Sasol Art Museum was officially opened during 1991.
Other developments that took place at the University while De Vries was in office, include progress in the field of information technology, as well as the computerisation of administrative systems and the library services and catalogue.
Prof De Vries passed away on 5 July 2002.