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Richard Michael Cardwell Eagar, 1919-2003

Michael Eagar was born on 26 November 1919 at Thornhill near Wakefield. He attended Aysgarth and Shrewsbury schools before winning a place at Magdalen College, Oxford, to read Classics, switching to Geology halfway through his course. He died on 19 February 2003.

The outbreak of the Second World War was suddenly to rewrite the script of his life; whilst in an army camp at the age of 21 he caught cerebrospinal meningitis and, although lucky to live, was left permanently and totally deaf. Michael Eagar was a fighter and in the words of his son "wasn’t going to let his sudden isolation put him in the background". After gaining a First at Oxford he moved to Glasgow where he worked under A E Trueman on the non-marine bivalves of the Upper Carboniferous, being awarded a PhD in 1944.

In October the following year he joined The Manchester Museum as Assistant Keeper of Geology (succeeding Dr J Wilfred Jackson who had held the post since 1907), his title being changed to Keeper in 1957. Michael held this post for 42 years, eventually retiring in July 1987, although often later bemoaning the fact that - had he realised that his contract allowed it - he could have stayed until September!

For all of this time Michael developed his research on freshwater mussels, working initially in northern England, then in South Wales and Ireland, extending into western Europe (Spain and Portugal) and eventually to North America, becoming the world expert in this important field.

Eagar’s name became synonymous with non-marine bivalves and with The Manchester Museum, where his collection now comprises approximately 20,000 specimens - including more than 500 status specimens. From 1976 to 1977 Michael was also Acting Director, and from 1977 until his retirement, Deputy Director of The Manchester Museum.

Michael’s retirement did not mean the end of his research. Right up until his death he continued to publish new research. His final paper (his 101st, and which, he promised us, would be his last !) will be published in the next issue of the Geological Journal and is a monumental work - in many ways a summary of his life’s research.

But Michael will be remembered for much more than his research and for his huge contribution to the University of Manchester. He was the archetypal University eccentric, absent-minded and totally engrossed in his current research. Many anecdotes are related, most of which seem to include an enormous bunch of keys. He was also a charming man and a warm man, full of respect for others and respected by all in return. His particular sense of humour is evinced by his own parody of Carroll’s Father William:

You are old, Dr Eagar, a student can tell,And your hair has become very white.
Yet you work all the day and the evening as well,
And they say you work much of the night.
In my youth, I replied, I examined with care
The dark life of the freshwater clam.
I measured each shell when I came up for air,
And then had it on toast with smoked ham.

Michael received many honours for his work, including the Daniel Pidgeon Fund (1943) and the Lyell Fund (1952) of The Geological Society, the Silver Medal of the Liverpool Geological Society (1962), the John Phillips Medal of the Yorkshire Geological Society (1970) and the degree of DSc from Glasgow University (1969). He was made Life Member of the Manchester Geological Association.

He is survived by his wife Enid, by their two children, Richard and Jennifer, and by four grandchildren.

John Nudds*

(*I am indebted to Michael Bishop’s article published in The Geological Curator, v. 4, 1986, and to his son Richard for providing additional information.)