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Robert Arthur Eden, 1920-2009

Robert had remarkable career spanning six decades. An early interest in the natural sciences led to a first class degree in geology in 1941. Scientists were needed in the war effort and Robert was trained in army radar. He saw four years’ service in the UK, East Africa and Madagascar, where he met Lucette, who in 1946 became his wife. As Robert had been posted to Ethiopia at the end of the war they were married by proxy and he had the unusual experience “not knowing ... I was married until a month after the event”.

In 1946 he started a 34-year career in the Geological Survey and was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society. Initially he worked in the East Midlands Coalfield. He produced the Sheffield Memoir and cooperated with the National Coal Board at a time when coal was the primary UK fuel. Following a move to Edinburgh as District Geologist of the South Lowland Unit in 1960, Robert was scientific editor of the Scottish Journal of Geology from 1963 to 1968 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1965. It was symptomatic of his quiet determination that, encountering a mapping problem on the Berwickshire coast, he used his diving skills to find the solution offshore.

By the late 1960s, activities on the UK continental shelf had increased and, when the Geological Survey initiated offshore mapping, Robert was selected to lead the Scottish unit. Based in Edinburgh, he organised the geological mapping in Scottish waters, whilst mentoring and encouraging his young staff. This laid the foundations of an organisation which still operates today, undertaking for the government sea bed geological mapping and the evaluation and curation of commercial data from the North Sea. Not all his time was spent in the office. Robert was active in survey vessels, as a scuba diver and in research submersibles: “One of my peak life experiences was approaching the cobalt blue of the sea surface as we rose from the depths in the Rockall area”.

In 1973 Robert was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Grant Institute of Geology, University of Edinburgh and in 1975 became Assistant Director of the Geological Survey in Scotland. By his retirement in 1980, he had completed the commissioning of Murchison House, the new headquarters of the Survey in Edinburgh. In 1981 Robert was awarded the CBE and in 1982 he took a two-year commission with the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation, working for the Fiji Government Mineral Resources Department. There his expertise led him to offshore and coastal geological and geophysical surveys and to collaboration with oil companies and scientists from the Committee for Coordination of Offshore Prospecting, South Pacific and the Fiji Mineral Resources Department. Robert spearheaded the first publication on the petroleum potential of Fiji.

After Fiji, Robert applied his enormous energy to many activities. He became a consultant in landfill site and contaminated land investigation, he continued studying, became an accomplished sailor and still found time for the publication of short stories and poetry. To the end of his life he maintained the pragmatism and quiet sense of humour, which had earned him affection and respect throughout his life.

Robert Eden CBE was born 14 August 1920 and died 15 January 2009. He leaves behind Lucette, his wife of 62 years and his four children, Arthur, Robert David, Christopher and Nicole and 12 grandchildren.

Paul Binns, Richard Holmes