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Wallace Spencer Pitcher, 1919-2004

Wally Pitcher, world leader in granite research, former President of the Geological Society and Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Liverpool, was born and had his early education in west London. His interest in geology began, as an amateur, in the fauna of the London Clay - followed, while employed as an apprentice assayer, by enrolment in a part-time course at Chelsea Polytechnic.

War service, during which he was injured in the 1940 Norwegian Campaign, intervened and he returned to Chelsea to graduate in 1947 in Geology and Chemistry. Encouraged by William Fleet of Chelsea and supported by Alan Wood and Gilbert Wilson he was taken on by the great Herbert Harold Read as an assistant lecturer at Imperial College. The interview with Read, the then doyen and scourge of hard-rock research is worthy of record. Having expressed a desire to continue his work on Tertiary palaeontology, Read demurred: “But we don’t specialise in that field here Pitcher- but you are a chemist and you might be interested in the metamorphic and granitic rocks that we study in this department. Would you be interested?” Pitcher, after a long, and in retrospect, life-making decision, replied in the affirmative. He was then confronted with a map of Irish geology.

Pointing at Donegal, Read continued “My colleague, Shackleton, tells me that the granites of Donegal are of the greatest interest; you might go over and see. Good afternoon”. Some months later with Stella, whom he married that year, he found his way to the small village of Dungloe, which had lain under Read’s fingerprint, to begin his epic Donegal granite work. This was at the time of the great magmatist-granitisation debate, and Pitcher’s eventual doctoral magmatic findings had to be diplomatically steered past his mentor’s very public transformist stance. Pitcher eventually took over the Donegal project and supervised numerous studies there - summarised (with co-author A R Berger) in the classic 1972 text The geology of Donegal-a Study of Granite Emplacement and Unroofing. This confirmed the pre-eminence of the magmatic intrusion of granite and also showed that a variety of intrusion styles could occupy the same crustal level - again at odds with much accepted dogma. Also arising from the Donegal work and emphasising his status as a general geologist rather than a granite specialist, were his definitive involvement in seminal works on Precambrian tillites and on a Dalradian stratigraphic framework. While at Imperial he also introduced the first rapid silicate analysis method to the UK.

His efforts were rewarded in 1955 with a readership at King’s College, where he initiated a study of the alkaline granites of the Jos plateau in Nigeria, and his appointment in 1962 to the Jane Herdman Chair of Earth Sciences at Liverpool. The focus of his granite research now moved to Peru where, over the next 20 years a major project, in physically demanding field conditions, was completed with R J Cobbing and many others on the Coastal Batholith. This led to a profound understanding of the temporal, spatial and geochemical organisation of a major continental magmatic arc related to the subduction process.

Wallace Pitcher gave long service to the Geological Society: as a council member (1968-70), Secretary (1970-73), Foreign Secretary (1973-75) and President (1977-78). In the latter office he was responsible for devising the Constituted and Affiliated Group scheme, for redefining the role of the Executive Secretary and for initiating the search for, and establishment of, a professional status within the learned society. During this period WSP also served on the prestigious Research Grants Committee of the NERC, first as a committee member and then as chairman.

With retirement in 1981 and a Leverhulme Fellowship (1982-83) he began his magnum opus, published in 1993 - The Nature and Origin of Granites, in which some 50 years of research and discussion over granites were brought together in a superbly readable and definitive text: now the touchstone in the field. Wallace Pitcher was a recipient of the Lyell Fund (1956), the Bigsby Medal (1963), and the Murchison Medal (1979) and was elected to fellowships of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1983), and the Royal Irish Academy (1977). He was also awarded: a DSc from the University of London (1964); the University of Helsinki Medal (1986); honorary doctorates from the University of Paris-Sud (1983) and Trinity College Dublin (1983) and a silver medal from the Liverpool Geological Society (1969).

Wallace Pitcher was a courteous gentleman, indulgent husband and father and an extremely talented and enthusiastic scientist, geologist and teacher. He gave much to all around him.

Donny Hutton