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Alan Charles Higgins, 1936 – 2004

Alan Charles Higgins was born in Burslem, Staffordshire on 16 December 1936; the youngest of three children of Wilfred, a colliery worker, and Hilda, a schoolteacher. He attended Hanley High School, Burslem and would have left aged 16 when his father died, were it not for his geography teacher (Mr. Miller) who encouraged him to continue.

Alan was thus able to enter the Geology Department at Sheffield University, graduating in 1958. Under the influence of Prof Leslie Moore, he developed an interest in conodonts and stayed on to undertake postgraduate research (PhD, 1962). From 1961 to 1963 Alan held a DSIR fellowship, which enabled him to extend his studies at the Belgian Geological Survey. He was soon to demonstrate the importance of conodonts in understanding Palaeozoic stratigraphy: first in Britain, later throughout Europe and then globally.

In 1963 Alan joined the lecturing staff of the Sheffield Geology Department. Thus began a very productive time, and in recognition of his research achievements he was awarded the Daniel Pigeon Fund of the Geological Society (1964). He was promoted to Reader and awarded a DSc in 1982. It was during this period that Alan married June (née Carr), a schoolteacher with whom he had two daughters, Rachel (b. 29 August 1969) and Caroline (b. 7 July 1971).

In 1983 Alan moved to Calgary as Head of Palaeontology for the Institute of Sedimentary & Petroleum Geology. There he continued to make important contributions to biostratigraphy. Alan joined a team of stratigraphers at the BP Research Centre in Sunbury-on-Thames, Middlesex in 1986. Here he was influential in developing an expert system for microfossil recognition, responsible for the building of a Sr-isotope database to aid absolute dating of rocks, and for the stratigraphic application of chemical element analysis.

In 1992 Alan took early retirement and, with two ex-BP colleagues, John Athersuch and Paul Britton, founded a stratigraphic consultancy, StrataData Ltd, through which he was able to pursue the application of isotopic and geochemical techniques. From 1999 Alan continued to work as an independent consultant.

Alan was a founder member of (what is now) The Micropalaeontological Society, serving as an officer on several occasions. In 2002 he was elected an Honorary Member of that society. Alan also served as an Honorary Secretary of the Geological Society (1994-95), and was Honorary Visiting Research Fellow of the Geology Department, University of Southampton (1987-2002). Alan was an active member of the Pander Society and was involved in the activities of the IUGS sub-commission on Carboniferous Stratigraphy.

On New Year’s Day 2004, following the end of his marriage to June, Alan wed Barbara (née Acker). Alan had been previously treated for stomach cancer and appeared to be responding well to surgery, but barely 3 months after his wedding he was again taken ill and died soon afterwards on 2 April 2004. Those who knew Alan will remember his calm and friendly personality and his dignified and polite manner.

John Athersuch