Robert L. Bates Bio

Bates Bio

The Passing of a Renaissance Man

An Appreciation by Peter W. Harben

On the morning of 21 June 1994, three days after his 82nd birthday, Robert Latimer Bates died at Riverside Hospital, Columbus, Ohio. This followed a heart attack at his home in Columbus on June 14.

Bob Bates was a communicator his entire life. Born in Brookings, South Dakota, he was educated at Cornell University and the University of Iowa. Although he started as a junior geologist with the Texas Co. (1938-40), he soon became a teacher as well as a geologist with the New Mexico Bureau of Mines/New Mexico State School of Mines (1941-47). He taught at Newark College, Rutgers University (1947-51) and, from 1951 until his retirement in 1977, Bob taught at Ohio State University after which he became professor emeritus.

In 1950 he began writing a column on geology in Geotimes, the magazine of the American Geological Institute. This column developed into the ever popular “Geological Column” kindly described as “a light-hearted forum for information, opinion, and amusement on science writing and speaking: the use and abuse of English by geologists, engineers, and government agencies”. Fear of being named in that devilish column singlehandedly did more for the nation’s writing skills than any school could ever achieve!! Pandora’s Bauxite: The Best of Bates, a book-length selection from the column, was published by AGI in 1986.

During the 1950s Bob began to teach a class on non-metallic mineral deposits at OSU. The lack of a relevant text on the subject encouraged the production of Geology of the Industrial Rocks and Minerals in 1960, which was reprinted in paperback in 1969 and remained available until quite recently. In 1984 Bob and I co-authored Geology of the Nonmetallics, followed by a second edition in 1990 entitled Industrial Minerals – Geology and World Deposits. Working with Bob was an experience to remember. He had a magic touch with words which would transform a rambling five sentence paragraph into a punchy single sentence that said it all; and this only with a red pen and a furrowed brow. In fact, I still see Bob’s disapproving face every time I use the computer’s spell checker!

Without it he was a prolific writer and devoted to geology. With Julia A. Jackson, he compiled and edited much enlarged editions of the American Geological Institute’s Glossary of Geology (1980, 1987). Work for the next edition was underway when he died. In contrast, he also wrote four books on geology and minerals for younger and nonspecialist readers; a fifth with Julia Jackson entitled Our Modern Stone Age was awarded a prize by the New York Academy of Sciences. As one leafs through his many books, articles, and even Christmas verse it is clear that he was a true Renaissance man; his was a literary as well as scientific intellect that loved wit in words, sting in a sentence, and precision in a paragraph. He once described the English language as “. . . an enormously adaptable means of transmitting a ‘cerebral itch’ from one mind to another . . . ” While his list of honours is long and impressive — Hardinge Award of SME, Parker Memorial Award of AIPG, Association of Earth Science Editors’ Award for Outstanding Editorial or Publishing Contributions, and AGI Award for Outstanding Contributions to Public Understanding of Geology to mention some — it is this written legacy that will prove a lasting and useful one and an international resource for years to come.

So will his sense of professional community. In 1965 Bob founded the now annual Forum on the Geology of Industrial Minerals and was the last to have attended all of the conferences including the 30th in Halifax, Nova Scotia, last May. The spirit of these meetings reflects his style — great fun, highly educational, and totally without pretense. Both he and his wife Marion were a familiar and fond sight at this and many conferences.

How characteristic that the title of his paper at the First Industrial Minerals Congress in London in 1974 was “Channels of communication in the industrial minerals field”. In retrospect it seems that its message would be a cornerstone of his career. He noted then that “In the last 15 years or so, the field of industrial minerals has emerged as a world community.”

No individual has done more than Bob Bates to promote this ideal in his teaching, writing, and speeches. In early June we discussed his involvement in a third edition of our joint geology book. His reply was . . . “As for me, I’d better not be included. I’ll be 82 next week, Peter — and am not looking for extensive editorial jobs”. However, the real reason came in the next sentence — “There is some talk at AGI about another edition of the Glossary of Geology, and I may be involved in that.” I feel sure he could have been persuaded to give the third edition a go!

Bob was married to Marion Hoftyzer Bates for 58 years. He is survived by his son Steven of Evanston, Illinois, his daughter Helen McDermott and his granddaughter Emily Anna McDermott of Rochester, Minnesota.

Bob will be missed by everybody who has ever met him, and by many more who have read him. Bob once observed, “It’s been said that the language is the only natural resource that can be mined indefinitely without depletion. I enjoy mining it.” Mining with Bates will always be enjoyable.

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