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David Ronald Arthur (Dai) Ponsford, 1915-2000

David Ponsford (“Dai” to his colleagues) was a miner’s son. Born and educated in Gower, South Wales, he graduated from University College, Swansea with first class honours in geology. In his youth both a sportsman and a linguist, he was briefly a teacher; but geology was to be his life’s work.

Naturally his early interests were in Gower stratigraphy; his first publication (1935) was an important paper with Prof. T. Neville George on mid-Avonian goniatites. Oil geology came later. A year with BP in Borneo prospecting in incoherent sands with rather primitive drilling rigs was brought to an end by the outbreak of WW2, and he returned to Britain on the last ship through the Suez Canal.

During the War he was a major in the Royal Engineers. His geological knowledge proved invaluable as he studied ground conditions for construction projects, and eventually for the planning of military operations in Europe.

His career with the Geological Survey of Great Britain began in 1946. His first post was as a geologist in Special Operations – which became the Atomic Energy Division in 1951. Dai assessed British sedimentary rocks for their radioactive content, and a useful paper on these studies followed. Colleagues of the time recall Dai as an inveterate bargain-hunter with a love of old, fast cars. As an established civil servant he lived in a hostel in South Kensington, where he met Joan – who became his wife in 1947.

When the Atomic Energy Division was slimmed down, Dai was transferred to the South Western District (1954) and mapped Jurassic and Cretaceous rocks on the Bath, Wells and Frome one-inch sheets. In the field he slept in a caravan, hauled by a huge Sunbeam Talbot.

In 1960 he was called to the new Leeds office, taking over the post of District Geologist of the Yorkshire and East Midlands Unit. He proved to be a good line manager. Those fortunate enough to work with him describe him as a “decent man” or a “gentleman”, who took the trouble to help his staff when they were under stress. In his time, the Unit had 15 productive years when fieldwork was done on the Chapel, East Retford, Doncaster, Goole, Harrogate, Masham, Thirsk, Hull and Brigg one-inch sheets. It also dealt with the peak years for borehole cores and samples, and several major advisory projects. The Unit priority was the collection of data, rather than immediate publication.

Dai retired in April 1975. Thereafter he and Joan lived in Poole, Dorset. He travelled widely in retirement, once returning to Borneo. There was time for woodcarving, which he loved. The sportsman in him reappeared; his retirement presentation had been a set of flat-green bowls. Sadly, Joan predeceased him (1996), but he retained some independence until his peaceful death on 27 June 2000.

He is survived by two sons and a daughter. His epitaph might be “a good all-rounder”.

Cedric Godwin