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September-October 2012

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In Memoriam: Robert Andrew Howie (1923–2012)

Robert “Bob” Andrew Howie was born in Buckinghamshire, England, on 4 June 1923, and he started his education at Bedford School in the town of Bedford, Bedfordshire. He volunteered for service in the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1941, and it was while stationed in Gibraltar that he was infected by the poliomyelitis that, for the rest of his life, affected his mobility but not his indomitable spirit. On student geological field trips he was the first out of the bus and partway to the outcrop before most of the students had roused themselves. His enthusiasm and determination were an inspiration to many. His lectures on gemology to student societies ended with him producing a very realistic copy of the British crown that he placed on his head and then produced a sword from his walking stick to defy anyone to make a grab for the crown. He drove a small car with a ferocity that terrified the bravest. When in his eighties, the brakes failed and the car rolled from his house, across the garden, over a wall, and into shrubbery on the other side of the road. He climbed out in front of ashen-faced neighbors. I treasure the email in which he described this incident from the perspective of his RAF experience: “Any landing that you can walk away from is a good landing.”

Bob went to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1946 to read chemistry, geology, and mineralogy. He remained at Cambridge for his doctorate, which concerned the origin of the Charnockite Series of Madras, India. In these studies, under S. R. Nockolds, he performed a large number of chemical analyses of the rocks and of minerals that he painstakingly separated from their host. The results showed the charnockites to have had an igneous origin rather than the metamorphic origin that had also been proposed. He obtained his PhD in 1952. His fifty published papers concern charnockites and silicate mineralogy (notably garnets), pyroxenes, amphiboles, tourmalines, and axinites.

In 1952 Bob took up a lectureship at Manchester University where Alex (W. A.) Deer was head of the department and Jack Zussman was also on the staff. So began a lifelong collaboration and friendship that led to the publication of the Deer, Howie, and Zussman series, The Rock-Forming Minerals. The first edition, consisting of five volumes, appeared in 1962 and 1963 and brought international recognition and acclaim for its authors. It is the first point of reference for researchers at the master's level and above. In 1963 three new minerals, found in the metamorphic rocks of the Franciscan in California, were named deerite, howieite, and zussmanite in recognition of their contributions to mineralogy. The three original authors, with help from associates, have revised The Rock-Forming Minerals, expanding the work to eleven volumes of which ten have appeared (1996–2011). Although not a well man, Bob died rather suddenly, and he was working on the final volume a couple of days before his death. As part of the same exercise, in 1966 they produced a student version, An Introduction to the Rock-Forming Minerals, followed by a second edition in 1992. This indispensable guide is now about to appear in its third edition to be published by the Mineralogical Society of Great Britain and Ireland.

Bob became a Reader at King's College, London, in 1962, and in 1972 he was awarded a personal chair as professor of mineralogy. His straightforward and direct approach did much to benefit the department, especially when, in times of economic constraint, it became necessary to amalgamate the department at King's with those at Bedford College and Chelsea College and move into the Department of Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway College, where he was Lyell Professor of Geology from 1985 until his retirement. Since then he has been Emeritus Professor of Mineralogy at the University of London. Bob was active in the administration of London University where his directness was much appreciated. He was dean of the Faculty of Science (1979–83) and chairman of the Academic Council (1979–86). He was vice-chairman of the Board of Management of the London University Computer Centre (1987–93), and he served on the senate of London University (1974–78 and 1980–90) and the Court of London University (1984–89).

He obtained a ScD in 1973, and the University of Cambridge recognized Bob's contributions with the award of a DSc in 1974. He was on the Council of the Geological Society of London (1968–76), their vice-president (1973–75), and was awarded their Murchison Medal in 1976. He received the Distinguished Public Service Award from the Mineralogical Society of America in 1999, and the photograph here shows Bob's pleasure following the awarding of a DSc from the University of Derby, England, in 2009. He has been an Honorary Life Fellow of the Mineralogical Society of Great Britain and Ireland since 1994. He became an Honorary Fellow of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain in 1996, having been both vice-president and president of the association. Bob became an Honorary Fellow of King's College, London, in 1980 and an Honorary Member of the mineralogical societies of India (1973), Russia (1982), France (1986), and Bulgaria (1991).

Bob was a tireless supporter of the Mineralogical Society of Great Britain and Ireland. He joined the organization in 1950 and served on its council from 1958 almost continuously until recent years. He was the general secretary (1965), managing trustee (1977–87), three times vice-president (1975–77, 1985–86, 1998–2000), and president (1978–80). He saw Mineralogical Abstracts as an important service for mineralogists, and he edited the publication from 1966. Beginning in 1956 he wrote many of the abstracts, signing himself RAH. It required a huge effort to make a précis of often as many as 1,600 varied scientific contributions each year as well as editing the 5,000 or more abstracts that were published. He oversaw the transition from the printed volumes to the modern version, MinAbs Online. Although he realized that closure of Mineralogical Abstracts was inevitable for financial reasons, he was greatly saddened by the decision after fifty years' dedication. He also wrote abstracts for Chemical Abstracts, Analytical Abstracts, Gemmological Abstracts, and Gems & Gemology. He was the book review editor for Mineralogical Magazine from 1980 until his death. At the age of eighty-eight, he was actively engaged in writing abstracts and reviews and editing the manuscripts of the Deer, Howie, and Zussman series.

Robert Andrew Howie was a mineralogist of generosity, integrity, dedication, and distinction. He spoke and dealt directly to the point. In his work at university and through his abstracting and reviewing, he rendered enormous service to others in the interest of advancing the study of mineralogy and gemology. He will be greatly missed.

Dr. John F. W. Bowles has been working with W. A. Deer, R. A. Howie, and J. Zussman for thirty years and is the author of the oxides section of volume 5a of Rock-Forming Minerals: Oxides, Hydroxides and Sulphides, 2nd edition (2011).

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