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November-December 2014

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In Memoriam: Luiz Alberto Dias Menezes Filho (1950–2014)

It was always a pleasure to sit back and watch Luiz Alberto Dias Menezes Filho—he was never rude, he was never boisterous, he was never egotistical, he was never too busy to listen, and he was never one to involve himself in the swirl of gossip that always surrounds the mineral business. He was, in a word, good.

* Filho means ‘son’ and is the equivalent of Junior in Portuguese.

We all knew that Luiz was struggling with health issues in recent years, and we could see him slowing, his face getting pale, his smile not so quick, but still when word reached the mineral community of Luiz's death, we all paused, and it was unanimous within the community that this was a real loss and we would not quickly get over it. Social media was filled with praise and regret. At least, Luiz was surrounded by his family during his last days.

Luiz Alberto Dias Menezes Filho was born in São Paulo, Brazil, on 5 October 1950. Growing up in São Paulo, he was permitted to pursue his interests by his parents, Luiz Alberto Dias Menezes and Thereza Leonor Maglioni Dias Menezes. When he was just a young boy, his father presented him with a copy of Natural Richness of Brazil from which he learned about Brazil's great variety of plants, animals, and minerals. It was the minerals, though, that caught his attention, and a career was born. Luiz's father was a travel agent and traveled frequently. What kid, interested in minerals, would not be thrilled to tag along to Minas Gerais, the absolute center of minerals at the time? His father would bring back mineral specimens for Luiz from his travels throughout Brazil and many places overseas. At age twelve Luiz started a mineral club at his school! (I'm impressed—my own son at that age was looking for the next set of big waves to surf.)

During his university years at Escola Politécnica da Universidade de São Paula, Luiz and a couple of his collecting buddies started a mail-order business selling mineral specimens they had collected from all over Brazil. Ah, those were the days before the Internet became the hotbed of selling. In 1973 the business floundered just about the time Luiz graduated with a degree in mining engineering. His first job was with Serana S.A. de Mineração, operator of the Jacupiranga mine in Cajati, São Paulo, where he worked as mine engineer in the mining and crushing operations and as process engineer in the apatite flotation plant. Luiz held several positions during his time with Serana, including being in the company's geology department.

In the early 1980s Luiz and his wife, Maria Luisa, were on vacation in the United States, and happily for Luiz, it was during the time of the annual Tucson Show, so it was a no-brainer that they would make a detour to the show. In the 1980s the Tucson Show was the happiest of places—we all gathered in one hotel (yes, I said one!) to view beer flats full of minerals on the beds, but the social aspect was what made it the most fun. Luiz was sort of taken aback upon seeing the great array of fine specimens, rare minerals, and the number of dealers and collectors who had gathered. Also a no-brainer, he would return every year after that initial visit, and eventually he would bring specimens. Thus a part-time mineral dealer was born.

As if Tucson were not enough to convince him he had another “future,” the Munich Show probably nudged him even further into that future. Hang on, I have a love story to inject here, that of Luiz and Maria Luisa, the woman behind the man, encouraging him to pursue his new dream. Married in 1974, Luiz and Maria Luisa (a chemist by profession) worked together with his part-time mineral business. (I remember meeting Maria Luisa during the four-year period she filled in for Luiz at the Munich Show.)

Luiz always said that it was Maria Luisa who supported his resignation from Serana in 1988. Walk away from a promising career to sell something no one really needs? Nevertheless, Luiz Menezes Minerals began, with help from his brother Carlos and his cousin Edson Endrigo, both of whom were knowledgeable and very likable. The metaphysical marketplace was just coming into play at that time, and Luiz Menezes Minerals became a major player in that market. The quartz deposits in Brazil provided him with ample material to fill the high demand for the “magical” crystals. I remember seeing the “gem trees” that were coming out of Brazil, and I honestly did not connect Luiz with them; however, they were his idea and became another mineral sideline that, until 2002, was successfully operated.

We were all used to seeing Luiz at the major shows around the world. He was one of the most respected dealers in the mineral community, and anything he told customers would not be embellished in any way. Collectors would rush to Luiz's booth at the beginning of a show to see the wealth of Brazilian minerals he would have—not only beautiful pieces but also many extremely rare species.

Luiz was responsible for bringing to collectors specimens such as the monazite twins from Buenópolis, indicolites from Golconda, microlites from the Ipé mine, and so many more. Among his favorite acquisitions were the rutile “stars” on hematite, apatites, and kosnarites. His smile was always bigger when he talked about those finds.

Yes, fancy minerals were a good business for him, and they gave him the freedom to do special things with his family, to travel around Brazil, and to devote time to his true passion—rare minerals! He had a solid background from his university days, and he was a very capable and knowledgeable amateur mineralogist. He knew how to operate the microprobe, and he worked with good friends at various universities in the identification of new species. Luiz was instrumental in the discovery of at least eight new species, the first of which was when he was only seventeen (pink microcrystals he had collected were identified as lanthanite-Nd). On that first visit to Tucson in the 1980s he showed Dick Graeme some well-formed orange crystals from the Jacupiranga mine, Cajati, São Paulo, Brazil. The late Gene Foord identified them as “manasseite,” which later was determined to be quintinite-2H. All of these discoveries put Luiz on the map as a dealer who handled some of the rarest species known.

It had to happen that a mineral would be named after him, and menezesite was described by six of his friends and admirers in 2008. Luiz found the type material in the Jacupiranga mine. He was not looking for fame—he just loved minerals, and he loved collecting them.

Every serious mineral collector has a copy of the fabulous book titled Minerals and Precious Stones of Brazil, published in 2010. Luiz was a major contributor to it, and the richly illustrated book contains photos of sixty-seven of his specimens. He had a vast personal collection (nearly ten thousand specimens) representing more than eighteen hundred species, with the main focus being Brazilian minerals. Most of the Brazilian specimens were sold to a museum that will open soon in Sete Lagoas, a town 45 miles from Belo Horizonte. They will be displayed with his name. The remaining pieces have been offered for sale in small quantities at shows during the past two years, and they will continue to be offered in this manner. Pieces from abroad are being dispersed through online sales.

In recent years, unknown to many people, Luiz was working on a PhD in economic geology at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais. It was only natural that his thesis topic was the mineralogy of several granite pegmatites in Minas Gerais. After the Tucson Show each year Luiz would stay on to work with Dr. Robert Downs at the University of Arizona doing research for his thesis, among other things. It was sad for all of us that Luiz was unable to attend the 2014 Tucson Show, but his brother Carlos was just as delightful and helpful in his absence.

Luiz loved to cook, and many enjoyed his cooking in Tucson at José Eduardo Barbosa's house. Luiz and José were good friends and traveled together frequently. His specialty was a boneless lamb roast, and I won't look at a lamb roast in the future without thinking of Luiz. I only recently found out that Luiz was an amateur soccer player (he must have been bursting with pride at Brazil's hosting of the World Cup). His culinary skills were developed when he retired his soccer ball. Luiz also loved to travel, not only in Brazil but around the world. He especially enjoyed historical places and the U.S. national parks.

Luiz leaves behind his beloved wife and four daughters, all of whom have prominent careers: Daniela is a psychologist and language teacher, Tatiana an attorney, Fernada a physician, and Bruna a veternarian. I can only imagine the love in that household and the time they devoted to these beautiful girls. There are three grandchildren, two girls and a boy, who gave Luiz much joy.

For a man such as Luiz there is so much more to say, but I will leave all of you with your own special memories of one of the finest men to ever grace the mineral world.

Descanse bem, meu amigo. (Rest well, my friend.)

Dona Leicht and her husband, Wayne, have owned and operated Kristalle in Laguna Beach, California, since 1974.

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