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Mike Hanlon 1964-2016

ty8opMike Hanlon, author and science journalist who died suddenly, aged 51, on February 9, was a good friend of the Society - although sadly, not a Fellow.  I had the honour of knowing him since 1999, when he first burst upon the Media Suite of a British Association meeting, in Sheffield. 

After a long day spent pumping life into non-stories, a group of us headed out in his Alfa Romeo (he loved cars, fossils and space travel above all) to Castleton.  With our pies and pints ordered, it took about a minute for us to discover that we were both, originally, geologists.

Mike and I met regularly thereafter, usually for lunch, collaborating on geological stories for the Express, Independent, the Daily & Sunday Mail and Telegraph, all of which employed him at one time or another.  It was at such a lunch, in 2011, not far from the Kensington HQ of the Mail (“I’ll meet you outside the Death Star – fly casual!”), that our conversation helped me out with an idea for an Editorial.

Published in Geoscientist 21.03 (April 2011), and entitled ‘Dorset’s Olympic Dream’, I floated (his) idea for a new, exciting mass visitor attraction – a portal to the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, on Portland – effectively a large brownfield site in a deprived area of high unemployment, which was then about to host the sailing bits of the 2012 Olympics.

As yet, this idea had no name.  ‘Shard’ architect Renzo Piano had not designed it a building.  Sir David Attenborough had not become Patron, and so on.  But what I had witnessed was the birth in Mike’s mind of the project that became Jurassica.  Mike was, after all, a Dorset boy with a passion for fossil collecting that led, eventually, to his geology degree from the University of Dundee.  Jurassica brought him home, not only to Dorset but to geology.

Under his charismatic leadership the project grew fast, and Mike gave up full-time journalism to direct it.  In fact, he suffered his fatal heart attack just moments after concluding a meeting of Jurassica’s trustees.  He was, as many have said, a force of nature; but he was also a force for nature.  With his passing, the future of Jurassica (still scheduled to open in 2021) inevitably looks less certain.  We hope that those who remain will carry on his magnificent vision, and build what would have been his crowning achievement: as a fitting memorial to a wonderful writer and great ambassador for geology.

DR TED NIELD, EDITOR , @TedNield @geoscientistmag