Obituary: Dr Laing Ferguson, geologist and community volunteer

Born: 24 April, 1935, in Dunfermline. Died: 25 December, 2013, in Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada, aged 78.

Dr Laing Ferguson. Picture: Contributed
Dr Laing Ferguson. Picture: Contributed

Laing Ferguson was born in Dunfermline but made a name for himself in his adopted home of Canada, where he played a key role in the establishment of a Unesco world heritage site, and the setting up of that country’s arm of Amnesty International.

Laing, who has died after a long illness, was born in 1935, the son of David and Margaret Ferguson. He graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1957 with a BSc Honours in Geology and in 1960 with a PhD in Palaeoecology. While working on his PhD he met Joyce Kirk. They were married in 1960 in Dunfries and moved to Canada the following month.

After a two-year Postdoctoral Fellowship in Edmonton, Alberta, and time spent working in the Arctic, Laing accepted an Associated Professor position at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada, in 1962.

He became head of the Geology department from 1973 to 1995, holding the Sir James Dunn Chair from 1982 onwards. He was awarded the title of Professor Emeritus from Mount Allison University in 1990.

During his time at Mount Allison he sat on many boards and committees, including the Senate and Board of Regents.

Laing was also a Fellow and member of various geological and palaeoecological societies and associations. He was heavily involved in the Atlantic Geoscience Society, on the executive and acting as president in 1982.

The fossil cliffs in Joggins, Nova Scotia, were a large part of Laing’s life. In 1998 he wrote The Fossil Cliffs of Joggins, a popular book that was reprinted several times. In recognition of Laing’s significant and continued contribution to the Joggins Fossil Institute, he was made an honorary lifetime member and named a “Keeper of the Cliffs” in 2009.

The cliffs became a Unesco world heritage site thanks in part to his efforts.

A human rights activist, Laing helped found the Canadian National Section of Amnesty International in 1973, becoming second president in 1976. He was also very involved in the local Sackville group. Laing was on the Citizens’ Advisory committee of the Dorchester Penitentiary for many years. A long-time Rotarian, he was awarded a Paul Harris Fellowship in 2009.

A lifelong philatelist and gardener, he also appreciated a good single malt.

He is survived by his wife Joyce, sons Neil, Andrew, Krik, four grandchildren, Liam, Caleigh and Hillary, and his brother Bill and family.