Brian Zylstra and his wife Dorothy Zylstra formed the Skye Foundation Trust and the Skye International Foundation Trust in 1997. The seed capital for these trusts came from the sale of Skye Products, an extremely successful business established by Brian Zylstra in the 1960s.
The purpose of these trusts has been to assist excellent and high-achieving South African scholars who are nominated by the deans of their faculties to obtain postgraduate degrees in their chosen field of study at the institution of their choice. The Skye Foundation Trust also assists by awarding scholarships to promising Honours students and talented candidates in various sports at the universities of the Witwatersrand and Cape Town. Over the years, Skye scholars have come to fill important roles in business, government, healthcare and academia in South Africa and throughout the world. In recent years, the international appeal and reach has expanded by offering a number of joint scholarships between the Skye Foundation and the universities of Cambridge and Oxford.
Born in Kimberley, Northern Cape, on 20 November 1935 Brian Zylstra attended school in Parow in the Western Cape. He went on to study at Wits where he excelled at rugby and captained the Wits First XV team, earning Transvaal colours and Wits Full Blue. After qualifying as a Chartered Accountant, he married Dorothy O’Neil and the couple spent two years in the United Kingdom, where Brian worked as a management consultant. They returned to South Africa in 1961 and in 1964 Brian co-founded Skye Products and the business began in the cosmetics and hairdressing industry. In time, the company grew to become a major footwear and apparel wholesaler in South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.
Brian Zylstra always maintained a strong interest in Wits, his alma mater. Skye rugby bursaries were established at Wits through Skye Products in 1987, and these were extended in 1989 to include athletics and hockey. Students who have benefited include rugby Springboks and several Olympic athletes. From 1995 until 2003 Brian served as a Governor of the University of the Witwatersrand Foundation. He was a member of the Wits Executive Committee of Convocation in 1998 when he funded the establishment of Arena magazine, the precursor to WITSReview.
The couple’s contributions over the years assisted the development of the arts, sport, research and development at the university. These included the Vice-Chancellor’s Discretionary Fund, the University Foundation, the Office of Alumni Relations, the Academic Endowment Fund, the R.W. Charlton Fund, and an art commission for the William Cullen Library. Brian and Dorothy both received the Wits University gold medal in 2007 for their sustained support.
Once the Skye Foundation Trusts were established, Brian, Dorothy and their three sons redirected their philanthropic efforts to these trusts.
Brian Zylstra died in 2012 and the Skye Foundation endures with the Zylstra family at its helm. Brian’s oldest son, Philip Zylstra (BSc (Eng) Wits) is chairman of the board and Dorothy Zylstra and her younger sons David (BA, PDM (Bus Ad) Wits) and John (BBusSc UCT) are trustees. Other trustees cover the academic and financial areas of the scholarships and bursaries that are awarded.
Dorothy and her sons and their families live in Sydney, Australia, where they continue to run their family-owned businesses.