Product has been added to the basket

Malcolm Fletcher Howells 1934-2017

Legendary Welsh field geologist and mapper, expert on the marine volcanism and sedimentation of Snowdonia.

xdghjMalcolm Howells died suddenly, painlessly and without fuss at his home in Leeds on Saturday 24 June, aged 83. On the previous day he was fully himself, bemoaning the demise of “the Survey” while delighted that the “dreaded mission statement” concerning Wales was illustrated with ‘his’ photograph of Crib Goch (Snowdon).  He was looking forward to family visits that weekend.

Field geologist

Malcolm joined the Geological Survey in Edinburgh in 1959 and mapped in the South Lowlands under G H Mitchell and A McGregor. There he played rugby for Langholm, when they won the Border Championship, and was expelled from the grounds of a nurses’ home for his wild appearance and suspicious behaviour (mapping). His wife Liz bore him Rachel, Anna and Sarah in Edinburgh. In 1967 Malcolm moved his family to Leeds where, from the (then) Institute of Geological Sciences, he was deployed - via compatriot, friend and mentor Howel Francis - to map in northern Snowdonia.

Geology of Wales

Born in the South Wales coalfield and brought up in the large house at the end of the terrace, by the ‘mountain’ at Abertridwr, within spitting distance of Senghenydd, Malcolm was most passionate regarding the Welsh people, heritage, language and song. To these he added the Ordovician volcanic geology of Snowdonia, which he and his great team(s) thoroughly recorded and portrayed brilliantly. The series of conjoined 1:25k geological sheets of northern and central Snowdonia, with associated publications and field guides, constitute an extraordinary legacy as the most detailed and thorough depiction of marine volcanism and sedimentation ever produced, anywhere.

The picture here shows Malcolm in his element in 1981, during fieldwork in Llanberis Pass; he loved the Welsh mountain terrain and could paint-in its geology and its significance from almost anywhere. In 2007 BGS published Malcolm’s ‘British Regional Geology: Wales’.  His essay, Chapter 10 – ‘Geology and Man’, proved a headache for the editor in moderating the manifest passions; nevertheless, those pages stand now as a fabulous testament to the nature of Malcolm’s work - accurate, erudite and fascinating. He scored on my copy: “… over so many years, seeing not only the magic geology, but the place which shaped us!!”

Outstanding teacher

With his infectious enthusiasm and great humour, Malcolm generously helped numerous PhD students through their darkest - commonly wettest - hours, and he became a central figure in training exchanges involving young geologists from both Poland and South Korea, in particular. He was greatly loved abroad and typically furnished aspirants with unforgettable discussions in both field and pub. From international field workshops many remembered the man better than the rocks.

Malcolm was immensely popular, widely versed and equally happy proclaiming topics across the arts, sciences, socialism, media, chapels and cookery. He never lost his roots in the South Wales coalfield, its mining communities, language and rugby; although his singing one night in the Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel did send the Princess of Nepal early to bed. His daughters, his extensive family and his extraordinary array of friends will sorely miss him.

By Peter Kokelaar