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Alan John Martin, 1933 - 2006

John Martin, who died on 22 October 2006, was one of the most distinguished petroleum geologists of his era who never lost touch with his geological roots. Widely respected throughout the international oil industry he was also active in the academic world and in professional geological societies. His ability to combine authority and humanity was admired by all and he provided an important link between the branches of geology. His worldwide network of friends and contacts was legendary.

John was born in Norwich on 8 June 1933. Following a State Scholarship from the City of Norwich School he attended University College London, and took First Class Honours in Geology in 1955, staying on to complete a PhD in sedimentary petrology in 1958. He joined BP straight from university - one of the small number of talented geologists, selected personally each year by BP Chief Geologist Norman Falcon, who helped turn BP from a largely Middle-East based oil producer into the global powerhouse of today.

His first posting was to Libya, where he participated in geological fieldwork in the south of the country and was part of the BP team that, in February 1959, located the B24 bomber Lady be Good. This aircraft had disappeared in 1943 on a raid to Naples from Benghazi, having overshot the airfield on its return run and continued south into the desert for 2 hours before running out of fuel. It later became the subject of a book.

In Libya he met his future wife Anne, who was also working in Benghazi; they were married in 1960. There then followed a classic peripatetic life for a BP explorer, in the UK, Abu Dhabi, Alaska, Australia, Iran, North America, finally returning to the UK in 1977. While in Alaska in the mid-70s John helped lay the groundwork for the Prudhoe Bay discovery, following which he was honoured as co-recipient of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s 1970 MacRobert Award. During this 17 year period John saw rapid promotion, becoming Chief Geologist in Australia in 1968 and Vice President Exploration for BP Alaska in 1973. Following two years in Regional Exploration Management, where he was the architect of BP’s successful ventures in Egypt, he was promoted to the senior role of General Manager Exploration for BP’s worldwide activities, at 46 the youngest person ever to achieve the position.

John retired from BP in 1984 and joined Clyde Petroleum (one of the earliest and most successful British independent oil companies) as Exploration Director, a position he held until retiring in 1993. John enjoyed the operational freedom, flexibility and hands-on approach of an entrepreneurial company at the cutting edge of the exploration-risk spectrum. Although describing himself as a “hammer and hand-lens man”, he always kept abreast of technological changes - especially in geophysics; but he never lost his enthusiasm for fieldwork and the wide-open spaces.

After 1993 he remained active as a consultant, working in Portugal and Yemen and, most importantly, becoming Chairman of the Falkland Islands Government’s first oil licensing committee. Following the success of the Licensing Round, he joined the Board of Desire Petroleum - an independent formed specifically to explore for oil offshore the Falklands - finally retiring in 2004 due to ill health.

A hallmark of John’s career was his enthusiasm for nurturing links between industry, academia and the geological profession. He was a great supporter of the Society, with a particular interest in the history of geology. He served as Secretary in the mid-80s, sitting on numerous committees and helped establish the History of Geology Group (1993), serving as Secretary and later Chairman. John was also a Council Member of the Geologists' Association and Vice President of the Petroleum Exploration Society of Great Britain. In 1995 he received the Special Commendation Award from the American Association of Petroleum Geologists and subsequently their award for Distinguished Service.

John always maintained a close connection with UCL and was elected Fellow and Visiting Professor (1983). In the late 1990s he acted as external examiner for the MSc course at Royal Holloway and had close connections with Imperial College.
John also found time to serve on a number of government and other bodies related to Earth sciences: Council Member, NERC (1984-87), Chair of science management audits (Geological Survey, Institute of Oceanography) and Trustee of the Cambridge Arctic Shelf Programme.

John remained a “Norfolk Man” and nothing pleased him more than moving back to live in his beloved county on retiring from BP in 1984, becoming active among the Friends of Norwich Museum, the Norfolk Archaeological Society, the Churches Trust and the Nelson Society. But it was during his time as chairman of the Geological Society of Norfolk that he at last found time to foster his life-long interest in the history of geology which, John claimed, had been inspired by Victor Eyles when he attended his MSc course on the subject at UCL back in 1957.

The first attempt to form a History of Geology Group affiliated to the Geological Society of London occurred as early as 1984, but it was not until John became involved at the third attempt in 1992 that HOGG finally became established. It is largely thanks to John’s enthusiasm for the subject and his determination to see the Society recognise its valuable history as the oldest Geological Society in the world, that HOGG is as successful as it is today.

John was a cultivated man with a keen sense of humour and a wide range of interests embracing the arts (especially painting), architecture, politics and sport. In recent years he had strongly supported his wife Anne’s athletic career, which still continues. He is survived by her, three daughters and three grandsons.

David Jenkins & Colin Phipps