Prof Gordon Craig FRSE

Prof Gordon Craig FRSE: Geology professor with a passion for communicating earth science stories

Prof Gordon Craig FRSE: Geology professor with a passion for communicating earth science stories

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n Professor Gordon Younger Craig, geology professor. 
Born: 17 January, 1925, in Milngavie. Died: 3 October, 2014, aged 89.

Gordon Craig was born in 1925 in Milngavie, the only son of James and Emily Maud Craig. His father was an accountant with what was then the Zanaco Sugar Company and though in a relatively humble position was a self-taught man, reading novels in their original language. Gordon’s mother was a teacher and when his father died when Gordon was only 16, a strong relationship developed between them he always wished that he had known his father better.

Gordon attended Hillhead High School and Bearsden Academy before entering Glasgow University, the period of study interrupted by wartime naval service.

He was a bit of an entrepreneur, instigating Saturday night University Union Palais dances, which boosted the funds of the University Geological Society and made it possible for them to bring prestigious speakers to joint meetings with the Glasgow Geological Society.

He graduated in 1946 with a first-class honours degree and was a demonstrator in the Glasgow department from 1946-47.

Prof T Neville George recommended Gordon for a lectureship in palaeontology at the University of Edinburgh and in 1947 he took up that position at the princely salary of £500 per annum.

He arrived in Edinburgh as a babe-in-arms at the age of 22 to rub shoulders with rather older colleagues Dr Campbell (petrology), Dr Craig (economic geology), a more youthful Dr Cockburn (stratigraphy) an extremely youthful Bob Beveridge, all under the leadership of Prof Arthur Holmes and, above all, Miss Berry, the redoubtable departmental secretary.

He went on to become senior lecturer and Reader in 1960 and the first James Hutton Professor of Geology at Edinburgh University in 1967. From 1981 to 84 he headed the Department of Geology.

Gordon counted himself very fortunate to have been a member of staff at Edinburgh University under both Holmes and subsequently, Fred Stewart, two very different personalities. Each supported Gordon in his research in the emerging topic of palaeoecology, taking a holistic view of the geological environment and the species therein linking the fossils with the sedimentary environment.

However, Gordon’s main contribution to the geological world was in his ability to see the “big picture”. In the same way that students over the years have treasured Holmes’ Principles of Physical Geology, so has Craig’s Geology of Scotland become one of those books that both sums up and gives a contemporary view of the diverse geology of Scotland.

This bible of Scottish geological interpretation ran to three editions under the editorial guidance of Gordon Craig with a fourth edition published in 2002, edited by Nigel Trewin.

Gordon had the gift of being able to communicate important ideas in the most succinct way. In 1969, his presidential address to the Edinburgh Geological Society was published in the Scottish Journal of Geology on “Communication in Geology”. In this paper he sums up his early research into the paleoecology of Lingula as follows: “Lingula burrows vertically, anterior end uppermost and always did.”

Gordon, the James Hutton Professor of Geology together with Fred Stewart as Regius Professor, made a formidable team. The term hard man/soft man has been used, Fred the stiletto, Gordon the velvet glove; Fred on what should be done and Gordon on how to do it.

Gordon was always enthusiastic about ensuring that the science done in geology departments throughout Scotland and elsewhere was accessible to a global audience.

He was a prime mover in the merging of the Transactions of the Geological Societies of Glasgow and Edinburgh into a single, prestigious journal, the Scottish Journal of Geology. Today this journal stands pre-eminent as the vehicle for the academic communication of contemporary Scottish geological thought.

Gordon’s broad perspective on geology was fostered by engagement with departments across the world, in Los Angeles, British Columbia, Canberra and Texas.

He became interested in the work of the International Commission on the History of Geological Sciences (INHIGEO) and was its president from 1984-89. He was keen to share the importance of the heritage aspects of the geological sciences and was involved in setting up international conferences for the Commission in Moscow, Pisa, Washington, Edinburgh and Budapest.

Through this engagement, he promoted the significance of Edinburgh as the home of the father of Modern Geology, James Hutton. The Mary C Rabbitt History of Geology Award is presented annually by the Geological Society of America’s History of Geology Division to an individual for exceptional scholarly contributions of fundamental importance to our understanding of the history of the geological sciences; in 1990 Gordon Craig was its recipient.

When the Clerk family of Penicuik House were researching their own family papers they found drawings by Sir John Clerk of Eldin, which looked geological. They took them to the National Museum of Scotland where Charles Waterston was in charge of the Geology Department.

They made this pilgrimage and left the drawings with Charles, in shock, in his office! Just as they were leaving, they passed Prof Donald McIntyre, on sabbatical leave from Pomona College, California on the stairs on his way to visit Charles about something else. Together Charles and Donald shared their astonishment and pleasure over this remarkable discovery and, of course, identified immediately what they were and of their importance.

Together with Gordon Craig they researched the localities, and The Lost Drawings, which were meant to illustrate Hutton’s second volume of the Theory of the Earth, were published with Gordon as editor in 1978.

Subsequently, in 1997, Gordon was involved in the organisation of an Edinburgh and London-based symposium to celebrate the bicentenary of Hutton’s death and the birth of Charles Lyell.

One of the highlights of the Edinburgh part was a pilgrimage to Siccar Point where Hutton had revealed to Sir James Hall and John Playfair the evidence for the enormity of geological time. In typical Gordon style, he also organised a substantial lunch of beer and sandwiches in the nearby swede-packing factory, at the cost, apparently of some rather expensive rugby club raffle tickets!

One of Gordon’s most successful publications was the book, A Geological Miscellany, which is a wonderful compilation of stories by Gordon and Jean Jones about geology and geologists and is a “potpourri of adventure, anecdote, epigram, autobiography, discovery, hypothesis and bureaucratic absurdity”.

Gordon’s concern for the effective communication of earth science stories is exemplified in his role as one of the founding trustees of Our Dynamic Earth, a position he held from 1995 till 2001.

This was a project which was a long time in gestation, triggered by the generous donation of land by the late Sir Alick Rankin, then chairman of Scottish and Newcastle Brewers Ltd.

He saw it through all the turbulent early years and the final successful bid to the Millennium Commission for funding but continued to take a keen interest in its development right up until his death.

It was Gordon who involved me in Dynamic Earth, assisting Sandy Crosbie in the writing of the scientific story and working with the designers to produce the initial exhibition. I owe Gordon a great deal.

Despite all of these contributions to earth science, all of us who knew Gordon will remember a man who gave us all that most precious of gifts: the gift of time. He had time for all of his academic colleagues, he had time for his students, and he had time for his wide circle of friends, neighbours and family.

His family life had its ups and downs. Losing his first wife, Molly was a devastating experience but his later years were enriched by Mary, with whom he had many years of happiness and laughter as visitors from around the world came to visit him in Lasswade.

He was a keen golfer and was captain of the Mortonhall Golf Club from 1972-73. His garden meant so much to him and he enjoyed its ever-changing vista to the very end. He was a man who meant so much to so many. He will be sorely missed.

Prof Stuart K Monro, OBE, DUniv, DSc, FRSE

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