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William Robert Dearman, 1921-2009

Bill Dearman was an applied practical geologist, with early experience of quarrying and railway engineering geotechnics. This formed the basis of a long career teaching geologists, mining and civil engineering students, at Newcastle University.

His introduction to geology began at school in Westminster in London at the start of World War 2, under the guidance of L J Parsons FGS. In 1940, a group of students continued their studies at Imperial College. Under HH Read as Head of Department, he gained a First Class degree in Geology in 1943. After IC, he was appointed to the Engineering Department, Southern Railway Company (SRC) and as Geologist, Chief Engineers Department, based at Meldon Quarry, Devon.

The appointment was arranged by Walter Dinwoodie, consultant to SRC, for a likely geologist to sort out the geology of Meldon Quarry. Bill Dearman had the demanding job of helping to keep the railways on the south coast of England running during a critical time of the last years of the war. His responsibility was to provide hardrock ballast and aggregate for SRC and later British Rail, Southern Region.

Aggregates, landslides (including Folkestone Warren failures), embankments, cutting slips, investigation and design for tunnels, bridge foundations etc. were all also part of his responsibility. He became involved in soil mechanics, rock and aggregate testing - all areas which became incorporated into his teaching and the Engineering Geology courses at Newcastle University.

Work for Southern Railways/British Railways continued after the war up to 1956. Bill was appointed as Lecturer, University of Durham, Kings College, which later became the University of Newcastle. He had gained his PhD from IC in 1951, on Small Scale Tectonic Structures in the SW of England, and in 1967 attended parts of the course run by John Knill at Imperial College.

At Newcastle, he was strongly supported by Stanley Westoll, as Head of Department, also teaching geology to civil and mining engineers. This eventually led to setting up the first undergraduate degree course in Engineering Geology and the MSc, which ran from 1972 to 2004.

Bill gained an early association with the Engineering Group of the Geological Society. Bill attended the First International Congress of the International Association of Engineering Geology in Paris in September 1970, representing UK interests at the Commission on Engineering Geological Mapping. The Commission was very active, producing by 1976, the UNESCO Guide to the Preparation of Engineering Geological Maps.

A report of the Geological Society Engineering Group Working Party on The preparation of maps and plans in terms of engineering geology was published in 1975. This was the first publication in the UK that encompassed the description of soils and rocks “in engineering terms”, and led to BS5930 Code of Practice for Site Investigation.

At Newcastle he was appointed Reader in 1968 and Professor of Engineering Geology in 1972. Also that year Bill Dearman was appointed Chair of the Editorial Board, and then the Editor, Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology and continued in this role until 1977 (Volume 7). He then continued to serve on the QJEG Board, reviewed papers and helped with the publication into the late 1980s.

His work for the IAEG, was recognised in 1990 by the award of the Hans Cloos Medal. In 1991 he was also honoured by the award of the William Smith Medal for involvement in both national and international engineering geology. His seminal book Engineering geology mapping was published in 1991.

Bill Dearman loved to teach – and during his early years of retirement found time to give courses not only in his adopted hometown of Plymouth but in centres as wide as Sao Paulo, Paris, Australia, Brazil and Hong Kong. As member of the Editorial Board, Bulletin of the IAEG, since its inception in 1970, he helped it grow over the years into a major, world-class publication. He was for part of that time, a member of the Editorial Advisory Board for Geotechnique.

Bill retired first to Plymouth, where he kept an active involvement with Plymouth University and the Usher Society. This was near to his early career base and the roots of his wife’s family. They then moved more recently to Guisborough, North Yorkshire where he lived with his daughter, until last August when she tragically died, aged 59.

Bill Dearman died on 6 January 2009 after a short illness, suffering from pneumonia and the effects of a tumour. He was predeceased by his wife, Gertrude (d. 2006) and his daughter Susan Reavill (d. 2008).

George Reeves