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Robin Gilbert Charles Bathurst, 1920-2006

Robin Bathurst was born in Chelsea, London, on 21 March 1920, and died at Derwen Dêg Fawr, North Wales on the 24 May 2006, with Diana, his alter ego and wife of 57 years, at his side.

At 16 Robin was beguiled by “a picture of a volcano with red lava running down the side.” This nascent interest in geology was interrupted by war service as an anti-aircraft gunner (1939-43), but rekindled at Chelsea Polytechnic and Imperial College (B Sc, 1948). Honours mapping took Robin to Connemara, where he chanced upon beautiful Kylemore Abbey and resolved “to honeymoon there, if I should find anyone foolish enough to marry me”. That person was Diana Warren Piper, and the year 1949. Sons arrived at two-year intervals: James Charles, July 1952, Paul Warren, June 1954, Mark David, June 1956. Meanwhile, "three exciting years" at Cambridge studying Wealden sands under Perce Allen ended in disappointment with an MSc.

Appointed by Robert Shackleton to teach sedimentology at Liverpool in 1951, he “…was faced with the Department’s collection of thin sections of Carboniferous limestones and, finding these largely incomprehensible, I resolved to take a year off…to unravel their complexities. I am still unravelling”. Bathurst picked up carbonate petrology pretty much as Lucien Cayeux and Bruno Sander had left it decades earlier and soon revolutionised our understanding of limestones. Adapting crystal-fabric research from metallurgy, he recognised two fundamental types of calcite, pore-occluding cement and recrystallised spar, and developed criteria for their differentiation. A related paper established Stromatactis as cavities filled by sediment and cement, including “radiaxial fibrous calcite” (RFC), described for the first time.

This work propelled Robin onto the world stage, into a visiting professorship at Cal Tech and a lecture/discussion tour of North American university and industrial research laboratories. In these five months in 1960 “the whole field of carbonate sedimentology was turned on its ear” (American Scientist, 1972). Fieldwork with Bahaman carbonate sediment (1961-63) led to recognition of micrite envelopes, formed by boring cyanobacteria, as a key process in the conversion of aragonitic shells and ooids into limestone. His valedictory research in the 1980s elucidated the origin of bedding in argillaceous limestone during burial. Robin introduced a 1964 lecture with: “I’m studying the processes that convert carbonates from sediment that tickles your toes to rocks that ring under your hammer” - a one-sentence summary of his life’s work.

That is the theme of Carbonate Sediments and their Diagenesis (1971); “this book is the work of a master in the field, standing on firm ground, surveying its boundaries, examining its content, and scanning new horizons” (American Scientist, 1972) “He was a joyous guide in our midst….one of the key ‘fathers’ of modern carbonate sedimentology. His great and enduring legacy was the body of his written work, crowned by his book…not only in the quality of scientific thought, but in the exceptional elegance of his language, he was a standard bearer.” (Phil Choquette, 2006) Diana, the only other person to have read Carbonate Sediments… cover-to-cover four times, helped polish that language. As Robin wrote in 1978: “I still do not comprehend how unmarried geologists write books”.

Robin’s honours include: Best Paper Award, Journal Sedimentary Petrology, 1959; Ph.D. Liverpool, 1966; D.Sc. London, 1974; Personal Chair, Liverpool, 1978; Lyell Medal, Geological Society, 1978; Twenhofel Medal, SEPM, 1983; Sorby Medal, IAS, 1986; Inaugural Special Lecture Tour, IAS, 1992-3; One of 20 sedimentologists (two living) to have a biographical entry in the Encyclopedia of Sediments and Sedimentary Rocks (2003, Kluwer); Bathurst Laboratory, Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Liverpool University, named for him in 2006.

Teaching is an important part of Robin’s legacy. Research students remember him for enthusiasm, inspiration, acute but gentle criticism, and for listening! During a visit with Noel James at Queen's University, Ontario, Robin asked: "May I be your assistant in lab?" Noel told the third-year students: “A Dr Bathurst from the United Kingdom will be helping us this afternoon”. Robin zoomed around the lab teaching as only he could and entrancing the students as to what was down the microscope. Next morning two students burst into Noel’s room holding "The Book" crying: "Was that the guy who wrote our book? Can we get his autograph?"… But alas, he was gone! As so often, he touched lives of those who only later recognised what he had done.

Communication and teaching sensu lato continues through the quadrennial informal meetings of carbonate workers, now known internationally as the Bathurst Meetings, begun in 1959. "…the unique blend of forefront science and fraternal pleasure that was their hallmark…. actively stemmed from Robin’s unerring ability to attract and relax people, imbuing events with a sense of both purpose and fun" (Robert Riding, 2006). Tony Dickson recalls “The (2nd) Limestone Meeting in Liverpool was a revelation for me and I have attended every one since. Robin urged all participants at his meetings, particularly those who had ‘a box of thin sections,’ to extend their stay in Liverpool and meet at his microscope. I gratefully accepted and Robin kindly offered me a room in his house. [Other] young limestone workers have also benefited enormously from Robin’s generosity and overriding enthusiasm for anything to do with limestones. His analysis and clarity of thought were second to none, and his generous and warm nature made one feel very humble.” Considered “perhaps the most exciting teaching I had ever done”, were the in-service training courses organised with Julia Hubbard, wherein teachers and students from industry and academe interacted in talks, seminars, and laboratory work.

Robin, with Johannes Schroeder, helped forge links among carbonate sedimentologists long separated by the Berlin Wall, by extending a pre-planned visit to Berlin to include workshops and lectures at Potsdam Academy of Science three months after the Wall came down. “The excited faces of the newly released young…were reward enough.”

Such was Robin’s focus on geology that, after watching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, he could discourse on the rocks, but had to be briefed by family members on the plot. Robin’s passions extended beyond geology, however. As he traveled the globe, he introduced his lectures in the audience’s native language whenever possible. His skill in representing nature in watercolour, pursued after retirement in 1987, led to invitations into professional societies and exhibitions.
Lloyd Pray said it for us all: “…the finest English gentleman and geologic scholar I’ve had the pleasure to know.”

Paul Enos, with grateful acknowledgement to many contributors and the Bathurst family.