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Richard Welch Murphy 1929-2010

Dick Murphy died on 8 September 2010, aged 81. A petroleum geologist of the old school, he eschewed a career in management to indulge his love of the science. Born in St Louis, Missouri, on 3 September 1929 he grew up in Washington D.C. and went to Princeton with a Fulbright Scholarship in European History. Periods spent in Vienna fuelled his affection for Europe, and classical music.

After graduating (1951) Dick joined the US Army, serving in Korea and rising to Lieutenant. An R&R trip to Japan (November 1954) allowed him to climb a snow-covered Mt Fuji, which engendered a passion for mountain-climbing. In 1955, funded by a US Army demobilisation grant, began a Master’s degree in geology at the University of Wyoming, graduating 1958. His fieldwork earned Dick a reputation as an adventurous type, and his mountaineering skills were employed helping to recover bodies from the October 1957 air crash on Medicine Bow Peak, then America’s worst ever aviation disaster.

Dick worked in the Rockies for Casper Oil Company and then Standard Oil in the late 50s before joining Esso’s élite 'Rover Boys'. carrying out reconnaissance surveys around the world, including the Sahara, Nigeria, Argentina and various Alpine basins. He moved to SE Asia in 1962 which began his love affair with the region, and in 1965, after three years’ fieldwork in the Phillipines, Dick joined Esso’s Far East Study Group (Singapore). Fieldwork in Sabah (1965) commenced as usual with an ascent of the region’s highest mountain, in this case Mount Kinabalu, but he also discovered the 'Hash House Harriers' there - and running became another passion.

Living in Singapore he met his second wife Kate (m.1969). Fieldwork in Japan and Taiwan brought their adventures, and invitations to explore in Vietnam, Thailand, Burma, West Malaysia, Cambodia and beyond were investigated and recommendations telexed to New York. Dick became President of the Geological Society of Malaysia, and in 1973 co-founded the SE Asia Petroleum Exploration Society. When Esso’s Singapore office closed (1977), Dick and his family reluctantly accepted a transfer to Houston, and (1980) to Esso’s Europe/Africa Division in London. He retired from Esso in 1983 but travelled widely as a consultant for the World Bank and for governments of developing countries.

Settled in Surrey, Dick built links with Chelsea College (later Royal Holloway) and helped establish the oil-industry Consortium for Geological Research in Southeast Asia. This spawned an industry short course, ‘Petroleum Geology of Southeast Asia’, which Dick gave all over the world until 2010. During those 25+ years, some 1400 young geologists benefited from his encyclopaedic knowledge.

Dick Murphy will also be remembered for his deep knowledge of history and the arts, as an accomplished writer, and poet. Although immensely attached to Britain he remained an American (and never lost his accent!). He is survived by son Troy from his first marriage, by his second wife Kate, their daughters Rachael and Sarah, six grandchildren, and by his partner of several years, Christine Oxborrow.

Michael F Ridd