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John Gordon Robson 1930-2012


Geophysicist with a passion for rugby who worked all over the world, while working exclusively for Shell

After leaving school Gordon was called up for National Service in 1949 having already gained a place at Brasenose College, Oxford, where he read Physics as well as representing the college at rugby, his passion. He then took an MSc course in Applied Geophysics at Imperial College.

Gordon joined Royal Dutch/Shell as a geophysicist in 1955 and spent most of his working life in that highly technical capacity or, later, as a manager, in various parts of the world, including Libya, Nigeria (three times), East and West Pakistan, the United States, the Netherlands (twice), the UK (London) and Bangladesh. Most of his assignments were for two years or more.

While in Dallas in the early 1970s he worked on the Advanced Seismic Computer, a joint venture between Shell and GSI. His involvement was for digital seismic processing, then in its infancy; he continued this activity in Shell’s processing centre in The Hague until 1976.

He then spent some five years as Chief Geophysicist for Shell Expro in London; during that time he purchased his Westminster flat, where, in his retirement he spent his winters. In summer he migrated north to his “castle”, an ancient tower house at Durris in Aberdeenshire. During his stay in London he became involved with the Society in setting up the Institution of Geologists with the aim (since achieved) of giving working geologists (and geophysicists) chartered status.

As a stage in his early retirement he also took on the task of doing the university ‘milk round’ for Shell, interviewing likely Earth science undergraduates at various institutions around the country. He also assisted his old school, King’s College, organising careers advice seminars.

In preparing this short resume of Gordon’s professional career I have received recollections of his life from many of his ex-colleagues. Although most agree that he was a very reserved and private person, not easy to get to know well, the words ‘generous’ and ‘kind’ occur most frequently. He was a bit of a workaholic himself, single-minded in support of the company. In fact, on one occasion he had accumulated so much leave that his boss had to threaten to lock him out of his office unless he took a holiday. Nonetheless, those who worked for him, without exception, liked and respected him, often enjoying his company outside office hours, whether in his Westminster flat or at a restaurant or a pub (as long as real ale was on tap).

Gordon must have picked up his delightful Edinburgh accent from his parents as, until his retirement he spent little, if any time in Scotland. He never married, and after his parents and a lone aunt died, he had no close relatives; though he did have a number of good friends. He died aged 81, while apparently in the best of health, as the result of a fall in his London flat. He will be greatly missed by those who knew him.

Myles Bowen