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People News

Farewell to Janine Benn

In an interview with our long-standing Fellowship Secretary, Sarah Day discovers how the Society has evolved over the past 40 years

Janine BennJanine Benn will be a familiar name to many readers—whether you’ve met in person at Burlington House, attended a chartership interview or one of our external events, or exchanged emails about your membership. From taking bookings for the Fellows’ Bedroom (the stuff of legend, now the post room) to administering Chartership applications, Jan has been a pivotal member of the Society’s growing team of staff for almost 40 years—and this year, she’s moving on.

‘It has been like a family. I’ve loved being with the Society, and wish the organisation all the best for the future—I do hope to continue being associated with it.’

Jan arrived at a very different Geological Society in September 1979.

‘I had finished my secretarial course and had started another job, which wasn’t what I wanted. My mother knew I liked geography and geology so looked through the telephone directory for the Geographical Society. She hadn’t realised the Geological Society existed, but when she saw it she decided to ring. They asked me to come along for an interview.’
‘The salary was around £3,000 per year. The job was doing some secretarial work for the Executive Secretary (then David Clayton), looking after room bookings, membership duties, reception duties and selling publications.’

Jan still has her original 1979 job description. Carefully bound in a black folder, it extends to more than twenty pages, covering such topics as opening mail (‘every day, by the two girls in the office’), Fellowship elections, the monthly newsletter (an early version of this publication), the Christmas lecture for children of Fellows (‘refreshments, usually coke and sticky buns’) and the annual President’s Evening – now President’s Day.

‘All the staff attended. We had a reception in the Lower Library, followed by the presentation of the Awards, then everyone went to the Royal Academy for a private viewing of the Summer Exhibition. Then back to the Society for another reception, and dinner in the main Library. It was a very grand event; everyone wore long dresses or lounge suits.’

‘Things are more remote now; staff and members used to have more contact. But, I think that’s just the age we’re in, rather than the Society. And we’ve grown so much—when I joined there were twelve members of staff and around 6,000 members. Now there are 55 members of staff and just over 12,000 members. The activities and projects we’re doing now need that number of people—possibly more.

‘There used to be excitement once a year when we published one book; now there are so many, and the number of journals has increased, Geoscientist Magazine has developed, we’ve got a complete Education Department, the conference team; it’s all on a different scale. 

‘And in wider society as well—people are recognising what geology is all about. There are TV and radio programmes and the public are getting to know the subject. I think we’ve played a part in that.’

Like many of the Society’s staff, Jan arrived with an enthusiasm for geology that started in early childhood.
‘My family had a jewellery business, so I think an interest in gemstones and rocks was in the blood. My parents told me that when I was five, on a family holiday, I spent all my time collecting pebbles and rocks, and threw a tantrum when we couldn’t take them home.

‘I liked geology in school, and I was very lucky; at sixth form the timetabling meant I was the only student in the class, with a teacher to myself.’

Over almost 40 years at the Society, Jan has worked with five Executive Secretaries and seen numerous key dates and anniversaries—the bicentennial in 2007, the merging of the Geological Society with the Institution of Geologists in 1991, the founding of the Publishing House in Bath in 1988. Unlike the events of 2007, the Society’s 175th anniversary in 1982 wasn’t met with as much fanfare as might have been expected.

‘I thought we should do something. We used to have coffee and tea twice a day in the Lower Library, so on April 1st I sent a memo in the Executive Secretary’s name (then Richard Bateman) to invite everyone to the 175th anniversary of the Society at the morning coffee break. Then I filled an old sherry bottle with cold tea and lined up the glasses.’

Practical jokes aside, of her time at the Society Jan is most proud of having been able to help people; both Fellows and colleagues. ‘I have a passion to help people so it’s nice to have been able to do that and to have been part of the Society. It’s a unique place, and it’s not often you like a subject and get to work with it.

‘Lots of people were going on to University but I decided to go straight into secretarial work. I told my geography teacher I wanted to work with geography and geology and she said I had no chance. I’d love to have told her—I got a job at the Geological Society.’

Staff Matters

John Talbot (Vice-President, Chartership) announces the retirement of our Chartership Officer, Bill Gaskarth

Bill GaskarthIt is with not a little sadness that we announce the retirement of Dr Bill Gaskarth this spring, having completed 10 years as our first Chartership Officer, before which he had served on both the IG and GSL Councils and, until very recently, was the Chair of the Accreditation Committee. I would like to take this opportunity, on behalf of literally thousands of Chartered Fellows, to thank him most sincerely for his unstinting and loyal service to the Society in furthering professionalism in Geoscience. Over the last 10 years, Bill has been pivotal in the development and strengthening of the Chartership process within the Geological Society, with the annual rate of successful chartership applications having more than doubled to just short of 200 per year. Mainly as a result of Bill’s encouragement (or should that be inveigling?) we now have 25 companies with accredited training schemes for Geoscientists, several of which are in Hong Kong, with more lined up to submit their training programme in the very near future.

I feel sure that many Fellows, especially Scrutineers and Chartered Fellows, will want to send Bill their best wishes. There is a card in the Library, but if you are not visiting Burlington House before the end of April, please write them on plain paper and attach to an email to, or send by post to Stephanie at Burlington House and they will be included in a bound book. If you wish to contribute towards a gift, please send a cheque, payable to the Geological Society, to Stephanie Jones before the end of April.


Mark PickettDr Mark Pickett has moved from WJ Groundwater to join Stuart Wells Limited as Technical Director.