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Dennis Curry, 1912 - 2001

Dennis Curry, who died on 3 March 2001, was a widely respected researcher on Palaeogene and top Cretaceous stratigraphy, winning the Society’s Prestwich Medal (1963) and R H Worth Prize (1989). After graduating with first class honours from Cambridge in 1933, he stayed on for a year to do research on the nummulites of the Eocene Barton Beds (published 1937). Further work on the Palaeogene of the Hampshire basin was interrupted by the war, in which he served as an RAF instructor (radio and radar).

From 1955, results appeared with increasing speed. His studies in palaeontology included work on benthic foraminifera, cephalopods and pteropods. In two presidential addresses to the Geologists’ Association (GA) he put together an enormous amount of stratigraphic research, including the age relations with the Belgian and French successions. He was the chairman of the Geological Society group that produced Special Report 12: a correlation of Tertiary rocks in the British Isles. He was also an author on the Cretaceous correlation report - one of the few who have contributed to more than one of these publications.

In the 1960s he had started to extend his studies of foraminifera down to the Upper Cretaceous and included the planktics. This led to three discoveries: comparison of flint microfaunas with those in the surrounding chalk revealed extensive loss by solution in the chalk. However, the solution had been taxonomically selective. In some places the residual flints in the basal Palaeogene showed that much higher levels of Chalk had once been deposited. The flint microfaunas from various levels in the Palaeogene have shown that many of these flints could not have been derived from the nearby Chalk, but were probably transported over distances of up to 100km or more.

In the mid ‘50s Curry had begun to work on the floor of the English Channel, at first with W B R King and later W F Whittard, Doug Hamilton and Alec Smith, all with the help of the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth, mainly using their RV Sarsia. The range of discoveries is too extensive to list here; but it is a measure of Curry's breadth of mind that he used the floor of the Channel for the interpretation of marine unconformities in general. Another of his fields has been radiometric dating of the Palaeogene, in collaboration with Prof. Gilles Odin in Paris.

All this research, published in more than 70 papers, shows both breadth and depth that would be impressive in a university lecturer. However until 1971, when Curry was appointed Visiting Professor of Marine Geology at University College, London, he was wholly an amateur with an almost full-time job as a businessman. He was a Director (from 1946 to 1984, Joint Managing Director) of the high-street chain of Currys Ltd.

What is perhaps most remarkable is that although forced into working for Currys by his father - a common situation before WW2 - Dennis made a resounding success of the business. During his time as director the number of Currys branches rose from 215 to 550. To have him on the council of a scientific society was unusually valuable because of his business experience. I recall an occasion when the Council of the GA had to ponder on a complex of inter-related factors of finance. While the rest of us were wondering how to approach the problem, Dennis was scribbling some figures. In less than two minutes he came up with a complete quantitative analysis of what the various courses of action would involve.

Dennis had firm views on how learned societies should be run - as businesses whose customers are the members. If the costs of running the society go up, the members should pay higher subscriptions - or the society should raise more money from profitable activities. The obvious way is by producing publications that sell. Publications should be made so attractive that they will be bought not just by those who read them, but by those who feel they might read them, or feel they ought to have them on their shelves. At a Council meeting of the Palaeontographical Society he pointed out that he had been member since about 1930 - but no part of any monograph had been of interest to him. The best way to encourage profitable sales is to have a low subscription price, but a high price for individual volumes.

Although he regarded scientific societies as businesses, he was also generous with his own wealth. In October 1969 he presented our Society with 25,000 shares in Currys Ltd. For more than 15 years the dividend income was a simple benefit for the Society but when Currys was taken over by Dixons the Society found itself with an extra £400,000. The decision to use this capital to set up the Society's own publishing house in 1988 was exactly the sort of use which Dennis liked. It was a business investment that should produce extra income for the Society and also increase the amount of published geological research.

Dennis’s generosity was not limited to the grand gesture - although there were many of these, such as being a major donor for rebuilding St. Richard's Hospital in Chichester - he had the knack of giving without being patronising. When the crew of the Sarsia needed a new radio, he didn't just offer money or a radio, he gave them a note for the manager of Currys in Plymouth to supply the crew with whatever they asked for.

Our Society has lost a true gentleman.

Jake Hancock