Product has been added to the basket

Frank John Fitch 1925-2010

FJ Fitch
Frank John Fitch died peacefully at his home in Herne Bay on 29 September 2010 at the age of 85.

Frank, who was born in Croydon, received a National Service Commission in the Royal Engineers shortly after the end of WWII and served in the British Army of the Rhine. After demobilisation in 1948, he studied for a part-time honours degree in Geology at Birkbeck College London. In 1949 he began working for the Atomic Energy Division of HM Geological Survey before resigning in 1952 to complete his degree full time. In 1950, the year in which he married his late wife Stella (1925-2003), he was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of London. He was a founding member of the Volcanic Studies Group.

In 1953 he joined the teaching staff of the Department of Geology at Birkbeck College, and between 1956 and 1964 he also lectured one day a week at Goldsmiths College, London. His special areas of interest were petrographical microscopy, volcanology, igneous petrology, geochronology, glaciology, and geological fieldwork. In the 1950s he was involved, with others, in a renewed understanding of the Ordovician rhyolites of Snowdonia and Lleyn as the products of ignimbrite volcanism. He also actively participated in an internal revolution within the Geological Society that eventually changed its “gentleman’s club” image to that of a vigorous modern scientific society.

In 1959, 1961 and 1963, he undertook geological fieldwork in the Arctic as a leading member of London University expeditions to Jan Mayen Island. He was the sole survivor of a tragic accident that killed five of his companions during the 1961 Beerenberg Expedition. A sudden catabatic windstorm, emerging from one of the glacier-filled valleys on the west face of the Beerenberg volcano, swamped and overturned the small expedition boat. Despite this tragedy, he retained a close interest in volcanic geology; he continued to be active in the Volcanic Studies Group and to use his wide field knowledge of the rocks of Snowdonia, Anglesey and Lleyn in training many undergraduate and postgraduate students.

In the 1960s his research became increasingly shaped by an interest in geochronology, namely potassium-argon, argon-argon, and fission track dating. His long academic research collaboration with the late Jack Miller of Churchill College, Cambridge, began with a paper on the age of the Lundy granites in 1962. He was the author or co author of over 80 scientific papers and books, several published by the Geological Society. From 1965 to 2000 he was the Executive Director of FM Consultants Limited, a successful earth sciences consultancy company. This venture with Jack Miller arose as a result of a suggestion from the late Robert Cummings of Robertson Research International, whose lectures had been an inspiration to Frank as an undergraduate, and encouragement from the late Tom Gaskell when he was at BP. Much of the consultancy work supported the development of the North Sea oil and gas fields.

Through the 1970s he served the Geological Society as the advocate of numerical geochronology on the Stratigraphy Committee, and was appointed Secretary of the International Subcommission on Geochronology. He was a strong advocate of teamwork in scientific research, being at one time convener of the Intercollegiate Co operation Subcommittee of the University of London Board of Studies in Geology, joint leader of a NERC-funded London-Cambridge Inter University rock dating research team, and an executive committee member of the international, interdisciplinary, East Rudolf Research Project in Kenya. In East Africa, he worked mainly with the late Louis Leakey and his son Richard in attempts to date the geological framework of fossil hominids. His geochronological research in southern Africa included the Karoo Igneous Province, the Vredefort Astrobleme, and the Cape Fold Belt. In 1979, Basil Booth and Frank published Earthshock, a popular book, and a first of its kind, describing the geological hazards that continue to confront the globe.

He was appointed a University of London Reader in Geology in 1970. An authority in the fields of volcanology, petrology and geochronology, Frank was a gifted teacher, and many of his students and research assistants were grateful for the enthusiastic support they received at the beginning and throughout their careers. He was an inspiration to me when I was a chemistry student at Oxford to pursue a career in the Earth sciences. He was given the title of Emeritus Reader in Geology when he retired from full-time academic life in 1982 to pursue his consultancy work.

His four children (my wife Caroline, Frank, Peter and Sarah) and four grandchildren survive him.

Paul J Hooker