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Kenneth Spink, 1921-2004

Ken was born on 31st March 1921. Chronological details of Ken’s life are a little patchy, and have been pieced together from stories he related over many pleasant glasses of wine during the past four decades. This may well account for some of the patchiness but would certainly befit Ken’s sense of humour.

As far as is known Ken spent most of his childhood in Hull, attending the local grammar school and then going on to Durham University to study geology. The outbreak of World War 2 temporarily halted his studies and Ken served in the RAF as a flight navigator. He was trained in Canada and then saw active service in Coastal Command, patrolling the Atlantic, the Norwegian coast and North Sea from a base in Scotland. Peacetime saw Ken complete his degree studies at Durham, where he graduated in geology.

Ken’s professional career commenced as an exploration geologist working for a large mining corporation in South Africa. He returned to UK a few years later to take up employment with the Ministry of Works in opencast coal mining, which was later to become the Opencast Executive of the National Coal Board (NCB). During his time with the NCB he was awarded a Masters degree for his external thesis submission on the exploration of shallow coalfields around Ashy-de-la-Zouch. In 1965 he took up a post as a geology lecturer in Nottingham at the local Regional Technical College, before withdrawing to establish his own exploration consultancy near Ashby-de-la-Zouch in 1967.

A man of considerable intellectual drive and energy, Ken sought commercial funding to research diamond drilling technology at Bristol University, completing a PhD by 1971. Soon afterwards he moved to Derby where he continued as an exploration geological consultant, successfully applying his skill in evaluating commercially viable coal reserves worldwide. He has many millions of tons to his credit.

As a professional Ken was sharp witted, highly principled and enthusiastic and held strong views on the direction and recognition of the geological profession. He was never afraid to stand up and let those views be heard, which certainly earned him mixed receptions in some circles, but he was never deterred. In fact he was often the catalyst to get things moving. He was also highly innovative and typically would develop his exploration strategies based upon his own creative and sometimes unconventional ideas. His knowledge was impressively broad, from the finer academic intricacies of geology to the commercial cut-and-thrust of mining.

Ken had a keen interest in the fine arts and he took a great delight in ‘discovering’ new material, whether a hitherto unrecognised classical musician on a corner-store record label, or an obscure piece of fine porcelain in a junk sale. He was also a green fingered and knowledgeable horticulturalist.

Ken, who remained single, recovered from two heart attacks recently. He finally succumbed to a third on October 31 last year at the age of 83. Despite his age, Ken remained energetic and professionally active to the last. Just weeks before he passed away, he was planning his next exploration foray to Australia, dropping into Hong Kong on the way. He was a most valued friend to those of us who knew him well and he will be greatly missed.

Frank Collar

Louis Lafili adds:

May I add that in the 1970s and 80s, as Counsel for the mining operations of Société Minière de Gosselies et Thimeon s.a., I had the pleasure to work with Ken.  It was Ken who, at the moment the Belgian government was closing the underground coal mines, realised that there was potential for opencast mining in Belgium. He convinced Denis Bell FRICS, to establish a company near to Charleroi.  He also convinced the regional Mining Administration to authorise the exploitation and was instrumental in formulating the conditions under which the exploitation could be done.

Many sites were surveyed by Ken(about 30)and two mines were exploited after a sale of the company to Burnett and Hallamshire.

Ken spent many a week in Belgium and had grown fond of the area and its inhabitants.