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James Dixon Lawson, 1922 - 2005

Late last year Jim Lawson and his wife Judith left Glasgow for a stay at their cottage near Oban. After spending a quiet Christmas Day Jim went to bed, never to wake again. His death was unexpected. He was my teacher, a long time colleague in research, and a dear friend. He was a pleasure to be with.

After army service he returned to the University of Manchester in 1946 to complete his undergraduate course, after which in 1948 he was immediately appointed to an Assistant Lectureship. He began research in the Silurian inlier at May Hill. Its very thin succession with successive abundant faunas was most appropriate to his skill as an observer and his meticulous attention to detail. His supervisor was that William Smith like figure S H Straw, himself a pioneer in the use of shelly faunas in Silurian stratigraphy.

In 1950 I began working in Central Wales. I demonstrated for Jim’s classes and we began to discuss the possibility of a Ludlow Research Group. Jim put great energy into its development, establishing a veritable network of contacts. Having departed to a research fellowship at Birmingham he organized the first meeting of the group there. He went on to inspire a succession of research students.

In July 1954, after we had spent the evening together, he was driving back towards Ludlow when a drunken driver smashed into his car. A period of illness followed. With recovery came our resolve to tackle the type area for the Ludlow Series. We were joined by Vic Walmsley, another Manchester graduate, who had previously worked in the Usk inlier from his base in University College, Swansea. They were happy times. Jim had a favourite saying: "the better the boundary the worse it is", which cryptic remark actually lies at the very heart of modern stratigraphical classification. The Establishment of the day seemed to regard our use of both faunas and lithology together in Silurian stratigraphy - and our establishment of boundary stratotypes for stages - as somewhat revolutionary. It was through the support of Bill Ball, then curator of palaeontology at the ‘BM’, that our Ludlow monograph was published in1963.

Jim’s subsequent publications have variously illuminated his philosophically sound views on stratigraphical principles. He worked also on the critical and difficult area of Ludlow rocks at Aymestry and described new and useful exposures along new forestry roads in the Ludlow anticline. He gave consideration to Ludlow benthonic assemblages. Together with Denis White he wrote the chapter on the Standard Ludlow Series in A Global Standard for the Silurian System. He joined Art Boucot in a massive compilation of Silurian fossil communities. He never lost his appropriately critical attitude to those who, instead of accepting the internationally agreed stratigraphical classification of the Silurian System, which continues to work well and allows fundamental work to continue, would wish to destabilise it.

Jim took up a post in the Glasgow department in 1962, retiring as Senior Lecturer in 1984, though continuing with some part-time work for a few further years. He was a dedicated university teacher who thoroughly enjoyed being with students. His clarity of mind and expression was of great value to them.

Walking with school friends in the Peak District in the 1930s he developed that great feeling for the British countryside that was never to leave him. He especially loved the Welsh Borderland, where he returned again and again. In Scotland he took up the challenge of the higher highland summits (the Munros). He and Judith began to travel much more widely about the world. He maintained a love of poetry. From their home in Glasgow they enjoyed music.

Jim had beautifully clear handwriting – unlike some of us he did not need to communicate through typing. When an envelope arrived, as it quite frequently did, I knew at once that it was from him and looked forward to the letter or card inside. An arthritic knee had interfered with his walking. On my recent Christmas card from the two of them he had written: "New 'leg' marvellous. Other knee on Jan 11th". But, sadly, that was not to be.

Charles Hepworth Holland