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May-June 2014

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In Memoriam: Richard Flagg (1922–2013)

The mineral collecting community lost one of the last of her “Grand Old Men” with the passing of Richard W. Flagg on 20 November 2013. As the son of noted Arizona collector and author Arthur L. Flagg,* Richard delighted in minerals and mining from an early age, ultimately graduating as a metallurgist from the University of Arizona College of Mines in 1945. He worked for various companies as a minerals processing metallurgist for forty years, retiring from Duval Mining Company in the mid-1980s. He was well-regarded professionally and was named to the Legion of Honor of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration.

* For information about Arthur Flagg, see “Arthur Leonard Flagg and Arizona's Flagg Mineral Foundation,” by Philip D. Richardson, in the January/February 2012 issue of Rocks & Minerals (pages 31–38).

His career was almost cut short in 1978 when a U.S. Air Force A7D Corsair crashed only a few blocks from the University of Arizona. Narrowly missing the university, a nearby elementary school, and Tucson High School, the pilot was able to set the plane down on a city street, tragically killing two young women in their car. Five other people were injured, Richard probably the worst among them, as he was not only hit by debris but was also splashed with flaming jet fuel. His back was badly hurt, and he suffered second- and third-degree burns over nearly half his body. These injuries gave him great pain for the rest of his life, but he seldom if ever complained. Everyone who knew Richard well marveled at his stoicism and the fact that he was never anything but a consummate gentleman, even in the face of what most would consider more than adequate provocation.

Richard enjoyed collecting minerals throughout his career and retirement, specializing in ore minerals, microminerals, and minerals from Arizona and other places where, as a child, he had collected with his father. He was especially interested in the impact of mineralogy on metallurgical processes and was a real stickler for proper characterization and identification of sulfide and sulfosalt species. He was already a stalwart member of the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society (TGMS) by the time I moved to Tucson in 1979, and I was honored to work with him for many years on both TGMS and our annual show. Richard served as TGMS treasurer for many years and as a “son of the Great Depression” could always be counted on to counsel frugality. Generally a man of few—and well-chosen—words, Richard would always defend the treasury vociferously, as well as any action that would cost anyone an extra penny.

Richard combined his love for minerals with an equal love for woodworking and at some point adopted maintenance of the TGMS exhibit cases as his personal mission. Originally purchased in the late 1960s, Richard managed to squeeze more than fifty years of life out of these cases, patching them back together until they required almost complete rebuilding, which he then undertook starting with a systematic redesign incorporating reuse of as much of the original materials as humanly possible. Richard annually supervised the construction of the exhibit cases and their setup on the floor. He could always be seen before, during, and after the show with his tool belt as he intently coaxed one more year's life out of their “tired bones.” His frugality combined with a remarkable ability to improvise led to the aversion of many crises during setup as he pressed odd bits of this and that into service to keep things going. On more than one occasion I witnessed him rescue an exhibitor frustrated by a recalcitrant case by loosening the bolts that held it together and tweaking it “just so” with a tool he created himself out of what looked like an ancient long-handled screwdriver. On top of all that, he also had a semi-miraculous ability to get the fire marshalls to approve our setup, despite certain misgivings?

In recognition of his many years as treasurer and exhibit-case wrangler, Richard was named a Life Member of the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society in the 1990s. At shows he was always accompanied by Marjorie, his beloved wife of sixty-eight years, and frequently by his daughter, Carolyn Flagg Kerr, with the whole family pitching in on what was effectively the Flagg family heritage. Many of the features Richard designed into the cases that he babied along for years were incorporated into the new cases that were inaugurated by TGMS for the 2014 show—it was indeed sad that he wasn't there to see them.

The family requested that any memorial donations be made to the charity of one's choice. (Editor's note: As a suggestion, TGMS is a nonprofit organization and has a scholarship fund.)

Dr. Peter K. M. Megaw, an exploration geologist and a consulting editor of Rocks & Minerals, has been exhibits chair for the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show™ for more than twenty-five years.

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