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March-April 2016

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In Memoriam: Rock Henry Currier (1940–2015)

When news of Rock Currier's sudden death circulated throughout the mineral community, I was absolutely blown away by the response. I have never seen so many postings in so many social media spots from people who were not only shocked but also saddened beyond belief. Wherever you are, Rock, I hope you know that you were one of those special mineral personalities beloved by all. How we will miss your acerbic sense of humor, your willingness to share your vast knowledge of minerals, your tireless efforts on behalf of Mindat, and your endless patience with even the dumbest of us—I admit I was one of those when I first met you some forty-five years ago.

Rock (and that truly is his real birth name) Henry Currier was born on 25 August 1940 in Evanston, Illinois. I never did learn exactly where his mother and father came up with the name Rock for their bouncing baby boy—perhaps a premonition of his future? Some say it was from a long-ago uncle; others put forth that his mother was enamored with Rock Hudson, but the dates don't add up. Rock's father, a physician, moved the family to San Marino, California, in 1944. Dr. Currier was the physician to a few presidents and also Babe Ruth. The baseball signed by Ruth “to Rock” was a prized possession. Rock's younger sister, Beth, contracted polio when she was young and has been in a wheelchair most of her life. She lives in Arroyo Grande, California. There are numerous cousins, and I even found a family connection to the famous Nathaniel Currier of Currier and Ives fame.

Rock attended Pasadena City College (PCC) for two years, earning an associate of arts degree in 1960. Of course, PCC at that time was well known for its courses in mineralogy conducted by Edwin Van Amringe and H. Stanton Hill and the famous mineral field trips conducted by Van Amringe. After PCC he studied chemistry at UCLA but dropped out before completing his degree. Something else was more compelling to him, and he landed a job at U.S. Borax in Boron, California, in the chemical control laboratory. He could not help but notice the shelves in the office of Vince Morgan, chief chemist at that time, filled with some of the finest borate minerals from the mine. This could be where he became the “Boron Moron,” as he often said. Vince Morgan was a mentor for Rock's interest in borate minerals. Rock left the job at U.S. Borax around 1970 and then worked for companies that supplied hospital laboratories with chemical reagents in the New York area. He was laid off from the job in 1972, and the light bulb suddenly came on: he would be a mineral dealer!

Traveling to India, Thailand, Korea, Australia, and Malaysia in search of minerals, it was the Indian zeolites that garnered his attention. He stayed in India to collect in the quarries and make contacts. Tons of Indian zeolites were brought into the States, and Rock christened his new company Jewell Tunnel Imports (a nod to the legendary railway tunnel between Poona and Bombay where so many of the famous pockets of specimens were unearthed). He returned to an apartment in New Rochelle, New York, and based his new business in the Wildcliff Museum in that city. The Wildcliff property was donated to the city in 1940 by Clara Prince in hopes that it would become a natural science museum. In 1963 it became the Wildcliff Youth Museum but closed after ten years. It is currently in a state of flux.

After spending four years in New York, Rock moved back to California and operated his business from his mother's house in San Marino. In 1972 he made his Tucson debut, sharing a room with Tucson mineral dealer Gene Schlepp. The “Poona Pimp,” as he was affectionately called by his friends, had “arrived,” and people started paying real attention to the fine zeolites he was offering.

This man was a world traveler and was always in search of minerals: Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Mali, Congo, Ethiopia, Namibia, Russia, China—good grief! He went everywhere. While gathering specimens for his business he was also amassing a personal collection of some of the finest minerals. Who among us was not dumb-founded when Rock displayed more than fifty cases of his collection at the Springfield (Massachusetts) Show in 2003. The depth of the collection was impressive.

Rock's sense of humor was baffling to some. I remember a Christmas many years ago when in the mail came a card with the return address of a clinic in Los Angeles (made up, of course) with big red letters saying: “PERSONAL: YOUR HERPES TEST RESULTS ENCLOSED”—the card was from Rock. Sometimes he would call me, and when I answered he would go right into one of his famous limericks and then hang up. I'll miss that.

I don't think Rock ever lied—you could ask him anything and get an honest answer. His passion for minerals, I think, was surpassed by his passion to share his knowledge. His writings about his travels were so entertaining, informative, and prolific! I'm glad we have them to refer back to in years to come. He worked tirelessly at his computer on behalf of Mindat. All of his photographic archives, as well as his reference books, will go to Mindat.

One of Rock's projects was mining, along with his good friend Bob Bartsch, some of the most incredible amazonites in Colorado for an entire summer. He mined quartz with Ed Swoboda in Brazil, atacamite in Chile with Neil Pfaff, and so much more. I don't think there is a country he had not visited, no matter how harsh the conditions.

When my husband, Wayne, and I were involved with the Mineralogical Society of Southern California, the membership consisted of a group of some of the best field collectors including Bob Bartsch, Bruce Lee, Joe Siefke, Al Ordway, Jim Puckett, Bob Pedersen, Mike New, and others. Our tight-knit group often collected together all over the western states. It was always fun to listen to their stories—some of which I would love to share, but dare not!

When Mali was hardly on anyone's radar, it was Demetrius Pohl and Rock who went there and brought back the famous prehnites, garnets, and epidotes. Sometimes Rock was gone for months at a time, crisscrossing the world. His downtime was usually in Paris or London on his way home, but he would always end up at the museums with his camera. There are tens of thousands of slides in his office documenting those museum specimens, and his photos are distinctive because in the front of each is a brass bar showing an inch and a centimeter for scale.

Jewell Tunnel Imports became a very successful business for Rock, and through the years he moved into various locations until he found a large warehouse in Baldwin Park. The 12,000-square-foot facility was perfect for his now very much expanded operation. It was Rock's wish for the business to continue under the able guidance of John Fazana.

We could say that Rock was the ultimate high-grader. As shipments came into the warehouse from all over the world, the best pieces would usually find their way into his personal collection without any apologies to his clients. His rare mineral collection of about thirty-two hundred species was donated to the University of Arizona RUFF project. He also has about five thousand micromounts.

I could fill hundreds of pages about the life of Rock Currier. What I really want all of you to know is that we have lost one of the great treasures ever to enter the mineral world. The unpolished, direct, no-nonsense, heart-of-gold big jewel of a man will never pass this way again.

I will refer you to Rock himself: http://www.jeweltunnel.com/node/3. Let Rock entertain you—his own story in his own words says so much more than I ever could.

There are plans to have a tribute to Rock at the 2016 Tucson Show. One obstacle to overcome is the location because there will be hundreds who would want to say goodbye and share stories.

So long dear, sweet Poona Pimp … and, yes, Rock, I forgive you for sending the male stripper to me years ago.

Dona Lee Leicht and her husband, Wayne, have owned and operated Kristalle in Laguna Beach, California, since 1971.

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