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William Owens, 1941 –2007

Dr William Harper Owens, always known as Bill, died on 26 October 2007 from prostate cancer. Although he had formally retired in 2002, he had continued part time to teach, take part in undergraduate fieldwork and to find an increasing amount of time to further his research in rock magnetism, which was centred on the application of magnetic anisotropy measurements to problems in structural geology.

Bill was born in Hong Kong, on 14 April 1941. From December 1941 to December 1945 he and his mother were interned by the Japanese while his father in the Merchant Navy was troop-carrying in the Far East. When he was 12, he was sent "home" to boarding school in Belfast. In 1963, after completing his degree in Physics at Queens University, Belfast, Bill took the MSc course in Geophysics at Birmingham. Following a year teaching with VSO at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, he returned to Birmingham in 1965 for a PhD with a group carrying out laboratory studies of magnetic anisotropy acquired during the deposition of sediments.

It was hoped that this work would make it possible to correct the remanent magnetism of recent sediments for the deflection due to currents during deposition; but it became clear that the ‘magnetic fabric’ was best used to assess the direction and strength of the palaeocurrents. Bill, with Tony Rees and Norman Hamilton, extended the application of the method to lava flows, granite emplacement and the development of tectonic fabrics, and he made particularly important contributions to the analysis of complex fabrics associated with different magnetic minerals present either as isolated grains or as inclusions, and to the statistical analysis of the measurements. He was appointed Lecturer in 1970.

Bill had a wide range of interests including music, literature and swimming (and was an instructor for the University’s Life Saving Club). In his last months he particularly appreciated Roger Deakin’s Waterlog, connecting as it did with his own love of swimming and the countryside. He also enjoyed mountain walking, and all these interests came together at the University’s Priestley Centre by Coniston and in fieldwork, which culminated in an expedition sampling the Theron Mountains in Antarctica only three years before his death. He considered this to have been the greatest and most beautiful experience of his life.

Sadly, he did not live to see his two most recent publications, jointly with his student (and subsequently, colleague) Dr Carl Stevenson, receive awards from this Society. One received the Journal’s Young Author Award for 2007 and the other, a paper in the GSA Bulletin, won the Ramsay Medal for 2008. He will be greatly missed by his colleagues, former students and friends, and particularly by his wife Chris and their sons David and John.

Roy King