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Frank Howitt, 1922-2004

Frank Howitt was born in Goole in what was the East Riding of Yorkshire on 17 April 1922, the youngest of three boys. His mother died when he was about one year old; Frank and his brothers were brought up by a succession of aunts. Early in the boys’ young lives their father, a carpenter, emigrated to Africa and they had little contact with him after that.

Frank was educated at Drax Grammar School and at the outbreak of World War 2 he joined the RAF. Poor eyesight meant that Frank was unable to fly and he was made a wireless operator, based in Lincolnshire. He would recall later the night the base received an enemy bombing raid, on the night of his 21st birthday. At the end of the war Frank entered University College London to read geology under S E Hollingorth. In 1950 he was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society and was a Senior Fellow at the time of his death.

His first job after graduating was with British Gypsum. This gave him a detailed understanding of the Purbeckian evaporite succession of the Weald, a research topic that formed the basis of the thesis he submitted some years later (1960) for an External PhD of the University of London. He presented this work as a paper to the Society in 1963.

In the early 1950s Frank married Gwen Downer and in August 1955 he joined British Petroleum, with whom he spent the rest of his career. After an initial spell in England he was posted to Libya. Based in Tripoli, he carried out field surveys in the Tarhuna area and over the Hon Graben. It was while living in Tripoli that the first two (of three) daughters were born.

The Howitts left Libya in 1959 and for a number of years Frank was assigned to work in the UK. Exploration for onshore oil and gas was conducted from headquarters at Eakring in Nottinghamshire and it was in nearby Southwell that Frank and Gwen established their home. Their third daughter was born in 1961. The principal habitat of Midlands oil and gas is the sandstones of the Namurian and Westphalian. Over the years that he worked at Eakring Frank undertook detailed correlation studies of all of the wells drilled at that time. These enabled him to produce regional structural and isopach maps for the first time. These became invaluable tools for further exploration of this petroleum province. In the early 1960s exploration for gas was getting under way in the Southern North Sea and Frank was closely involved, based at Yarmouth.

In 1967 he was posted to New Orleans, and over the next six years Frank worked in the USA and, in particular, on the effect of permafrost on Alaskan exploration. On returning to the UK in 1973 he was appointed Assistant Exploration Manager - NW Europe, at Head Office. The North Sea was his principal concern but in addition he oversaw exploration in Norway and in Spain and spent lengthy periods there.
Frank Howitt retired to Southwell in 1982. His was an active retirement. He studied and became qualified in electronic engineering, taught electronics part time, and helped out at the local secondary school. He became a member of the local choral society and helped establish a museum of oil exploration on the site of the abandoned Dukes Wood oilfield.

He died of a heart attack at home on 12 April 2004. Gwen predeceased him and he is survived by his daughters Gillian, Fiona and Vanessa and by three grand-children.

Michael Ridd