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Robert Andrew Howie 1923 - 2012


Outstanding research scientist, abstractor and author of the most widely known mineralogy textbooks of the 20th Century

Professor Bob Howie, a giant in the field of mineralogy, made a huge contribution to the rapid dissemination of scientific results through abstracting journals, particularly Mineralogical Abstracts, of which he was principal editor (1971-2003). He took retirement in name only at 67 and continued to publish and write abstracts from his home at Bonsall in Derbyshire until almost his final day.

Bob Howie was born of Scottish parents who moved from Ayrshire to a farm near Bedford after WWI. The young Howie was captivated by the sight of the large airships that came to Cardington during the 1930s and flew enticingly over the farm. So in 1941, he joined the RAF University Six Months course hoping to go the Cambridge to take engineering. But he was assigned instead to Edinburgh where the speciality was meteorology. At the end of the six months he was nominated ‘best cadet’. From this time, Bob Howie had a lifetime of adventures in just a few short years: sailing across the North Atlantic with U-boats lurking below, learning to perform aerobatics in Tiger Moth aircraft in Saskatchewan, training to fly bombers in simulated blind conditions, flying around an airfield with the wind screen iced over, learning aerial photography and learning to recognise enemy ships from silhouettes caused by flashes of gunfire. He then joined a meteorological squadron flying over the Atlantic before being posted to St David’s in Wales where he had a narrow escape from death when a Halifax that was takingoff skimmed his hut and crashed into the sea. Next, he was posted to Gibraltar where he contracted polio and was forced to spend a full year in what appears to have been a very mobile bed - but unfortunately not one that could fly.

Invalided out of the RAF, he went to Trinity College, Cambridge to read Chemistry, Geology and Mineralogy. After graduation in 1950, he undertook a doctorate on the chemistry of unusual very dark granites from India known as charnockites. Bob Howie showed extraordinary perseverance in completing large numbers of mineral analyses despite the intensive labour they then involved. Following completion in 1953, Bob Howie was appointed Lecturer at Manchester University. In 1962, he was appointed Reader and later Professor at Kings College London. In 1986, he was appointed Lyell Professor of Geology at Royal Holloway, London.

During this time Bob Howie wrote a large number of papers on mineral assemblages in various rock types and the chemical composition of the component minerals. During the 1960s he co-authored with W A Deer and J Zussman a series of five specialist volumes describing the structure and composition of all the known families of minerals. In 1966, this led to the publication of the famous undergraduate textbook An Introduction to Rock Forming Minerals. During the 1970s and 1980s the three authors developed the original five-volume series into a comprehensive series of 10 volumes leading to the publication of a second edition of the undergraduate textbook in 1992. The total number of copies sold of the two editions of the textbook exceeded 125,000. At the same time, Howie undertook the prodigious task of preparing huge numbers of abstracts. He would write over 1600 of these per year, and maintained this productivity for over 35 years.

Bob Howie has been given many honours. In 1962, Dr Stuart Agrell named an iron - manganese silicate mineral howieite after him. In 1974, Cambridge University awarded him a ScD degree and in 1976 he was awarded this Society’s Murchison Medal. He was a Fellow of Kings College, an Honorary Life Fellow of the Mineralogical Society, an Honorary Fellow of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain and in 1999 he was the first recipient outside the USA of the Public Service Award of the Mineralogical Society of America.

Paul Bridges