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William Stuart McKerrow, 1922-2004

Stuart McKerrow, known to many generations of Oxford geologists as “Mac”, was an amiable and excellent communicator and innovator, who was particularly good at getting geologists of very varied subdisciplines to talk to each other and then work together. He was born in Glasgow on June 28 1922, and after boarding at Abbotsholme School, Derbyshire (where he picked up his love of geology) went up to Glasgow University in 1939. He was called up to the Royal Navy in 1942 and spent much of the war as a High-Frequency Direction-Finding expert in Atlantic convoy escorts, during which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) for gallantry. He returned after the war to finish his Glasgow geology degree in 1947 and was then hired by Oxford University, initially as a temporary Departmental Demonstrator. He stayed there, with appropriate promotions, until his death. After the award of his Oxford Doctor of Science degree (DSc), he was proud of being “DSC squared”.

During his first few years at Oxford he completed a doctorate on Fuller’s Earth brachiopods and published several papers on the Jurassic, but in the late 1950s he began field work on the Silurian of north-west Ireland, and subsequently the Palaeozoic, particularly the Ordovician and Silurian, came to dominate most of his working life. Also during the late 1950s he developed strong links with North American geologists and later had sabbatical years at CalTech, Chicago and Williams College. Thus he was at the forefront of the recognition of the geological links across the Atlantic during the Palaeozoic, both before and after the understanding of plate tectonics. He had a string of notable collaborators and nearly 30 research students. He also developed an interest in palaeoecology and edited the substantial and influential 1978 book The Ecology of Fossils. The changing geography and structural dynamics of the Earth always fascinated him, and he, together with Chris Scotese, organised an important conference on Palaeozoic geography, which was subsequently published as a Society Memoir in 1990.

Mac was also very much of an organisational innovator. He early saw the need for a fully illustrated British-based palaeontological journal in the 1950s, and became elected to the Geological Society Council (together with Norman Hughes) to pursue that aim through the founding of a new Society journal. Unfortunately Council did not agree with the proposal - a decision that led directly to the founding of the independent Palaeontological Association (1957) of which McKerrow was the first Treasurer. He was later elected its President. Years later he was re-elected to Council and subsequently the Society recognised his work by the award of the Lyell Medal. He was also awarded the Clough Medal by the Edinburgh Geological Society, the T.N. George Medal of the Glasgow Geological Society and the Founder’s Medal of the Belgian Geological Society. Mac and a few others also saw the need for more postgraduate collegiate organisation and accommodation at Oxford, which eventually led to the foundation of Wolfson College, of which he became a fellow, and eventually Vice-Gerent. He continued working right up to his death on 12 June 2004.

He married Jean Brown, also from Glasgow, in 1949, who survives him: they have three sons.

Robin Cocks