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Remembering Bob Speed

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Bob Speed


Geological Society of America Memorials, v. 33, April 2004
Memorial to Robert C. Speed
1933-2003

Richard Sedlock


"The closest I’ve ever been to a real-life Indiana Jones: 
a tough, rugged field geologist with a talent for eloquent lecture.”

“An outstanding field geologist; extremely versatile; physically tough;
disciplined; extremely focused and bright; a great teacher.”

“He expected the best out of you.  Not perfection, but application
of your training and intellect to the best of your ability.”

“He challenged your observations, your assumptions, and your interpretations, and helped turn
you into a critically thinking scientist in the process.  If you were lucky, after looking and talking
over every detail of an outcrop, he’d say, ‘Nicely done; lead on.’”


These testimonials from his past students give some idea of the profound influence Bob Speed had on those around him.  His character clearly reflected his values:  economy of words, trustworthiness, understatement, and loyalty.  He was a leader who quietly but ferociously protected those for whom he had responsibility, with rescue exploits that are legendary among his field companions.  Bob’s quiet self-confidence, his pursuit of understanding, and his high expectations of himself and others inspired his students and colleagues to push their own physical and intellectual limits.  His courses were quantitative, challenging, and thought-provoking, and all of his students remember life-defining experiences on the outcrop, in which Bob’s tenacious insistence on accumulating extraordinarily detailed observations led to unexpected “eureka moments” for each of us.  To his students and many of his colleagues, he seemed a larger-than-life figure who routinely mastered imposing physical and intellectual challenges.

Robert Clarke Speed was born in Los Angeles in 1933. He grew up in southern California.  At age 13, he climbed the Grand Teton and its sister peaks.  At age 16, he held the record for shortest time traversing the John Muir trail between mount Whitney and the Yosemite Valley.  He graduated from the University of Colorado in 1954, received a commission in the Navy, and flew patrol planes over Korea during the Korean War.  After three years in the Navy, Bob attended Stanford University, from which he received his Master’s and Ph.D. degrees by 1962.

During his final two years of graduate school, Bob became senior research scientist of the Earth and Planetary Science group at Cal Tech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory just as JPL emerged as a major center of space exploration using unmanned aircraft.  His thorough understanding of the interplay of chemistry, physics, mineralogy, petrology, and geophysics was critical to the development of planetary geology—a term not even in use at the time.

Bob joined Northwestern University’s Department of Geological Sciences in 1966, where he was promoted to associate professor in 1969 and full professor in 1974.  He was Department Chair from 1981 to 1983 and was appointed William Derring Professor (endowed chair) in 1991.  While at Northwestern, Bob completed and published a formidable body of research that focused on the structural geology and tectonics of active continental margins.  Most of Bob’s early field work was undertaken in Nevada, where he continued to work throughout his career; later, he targeted the eastern Caribbean, particularly Barbados.

Bob profoundly influenced our perception of the geology of the western Great Basin.  For his dissertation at Stanford University, he identified, mapped, and analyzed the igneous rocks of the Early Jurassic Humboldt lopolith in northwestern Nevada.  During his early years at Northwestern University, he and his students evaluated late Paleozoic deformation in the region associated with the Sonoma orogeny.  He also identified and differentiated coeval Mesozoic basin and carbonate platform rocks composing the upper and lower plates of the Fencemaker thrust system.  His eye for detail and his gift for integrating diverse types of data enabled him to construct a regional tectonic framework that still underlies current views of the region’s tectonic history.  During the 1970’s and 1980’s, Bob and his students attacked long-standing stratigraphic and structural problems in west-central Nevada.  He focused his attention on the late Paleozoic history of this region just as the terrane concept was coming of age, and concluded that substantial parts of the western Great Basin are allochthonous, possibly far-traveled, arc complexes that collided in the Paleozoic with the long-standing (late Proterozoic-early Paleozoic) passive margin of western North America.  The clear, cogent logic of his research papers precipitated debate and stimulated research in the western Great Basin for more than three decades.

Bob’s work on the Paleozoic accretionary prism of the Roberts Mountain Allochthon in Nevada stimulated him to investigate the much younger prism on Barbados, West Indies, which hadn’t been affected by much subsequent tectonism.  From the late 1970’s to the 1990’s, Bob and his students and colleagues collected and interpreted data from accreted Tertiary turbidites of the Scotland District, structurally overlying forarc-basin rocks, and even the tilted Quaternary reefs that cover most of the island.  Results of this work included structural and stratigraphic studies of remarkably detailed scope, wider-ranging tectonic syntheses and speculations, and a geologic map of the entire island (expected posthumous publication).

Bob recognized that folds and faults of the Barbados accretionary prism are oriented at a high angle to the current Caribbean-Atlantic subduction zone boundary, leading him to propose that the Antilles arc collided obliquely with northern South America in the mid-Tertiary and to undertake field studies in Trinidad and Tobago and in Venezuela.  His ground-breaking efforts in all these areas triggered much additional work by others, including several DSDP and ODP legs on the Barbados Ridge and ongoing investigations of the Caribbean-South America plate boundary.  His Barbados work also is basic reading for anyone studying fossil or modern accretionary prisms anywhere in the world.

In the 1970’s, Bob chaired the panel that developed Northwestern’s Integrated Science Program (ISP) for high-level undergraduates and was its first director from 1975 to 1978.  This program emphasized the interdisciplinary nature of fundamental scientific and mathematical principles and techniques, and the deep-level learning and innovation that could result.  The rigorous mathematical basis of the program reflected Bob’s conviction that advances in science would be obtained only through mathematics as the medium of communication.

Throughout his career, Bob served the earth science community in a variety of roles besides research and education.  For NASA, he was a member of the Scientist Astronaut Selection Board (1966-68) and the Advisory Panel on Lunar Exploration (1967).  For USGS, he was a member of Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (1975-1978) and a Faculty Associate from 1978.  He was an associate editor of Neotectonics from 1984 to 1990 and of the GSA Bulletin from 1985 to 1989.  Bob was chair of the U.S. Geodynamics Committee’s North American Continent-Ocean Transects Program from 1980 to 1992, and he edited the resulting volume of GSA’s Decade of North American Geology, writing several of its sections.  He also chaired several panels of the Ocean Drilling Program from 1980 to 1990 and was principal investigator for an ODP-sponsored well drilled on Barbados in 1992.

At the end of 2001, Bob retired from Northwestern University as Professor Emeritus of Geological Sciences.  Five days later, in January 2002, he took up residence in the Department of Earth System Science at the University of California, Irvine.  Besides teaching introductory geology courses, he began to investigate the western margin of the Santa Ana Mountains of southern California, which he could see from the window of his office at UC Irvine.  There, he identified a previously unrecognized right-lateral strike-slip fault zone that implied active deformation and a seismic hazard.  He began collaborating with Lisa Grant of UC Irvine and first transcribed his field notes onto paper in August 2003.  Bob’s final field excursion was a trip to this site in a wheelchair with his maps on his lap three days before he died at home on Balboa Island of melanoma on September 18, 2003.

Bob leaves behind family, friends and colleagues who treasure and miss his strength, caring and affection.

       “...vital force...heart...that impulse which drives a man to choose one of the innumerable paths of life, and to care only for that one...”

—Tolstoy,  Anna Karenina

       Nicely done, Bob; lead on.



Selected Bibliography of  Robert C. Speed

1974 Evaporite-carbonate rocks of the Jurassic Lovelock Formation, West Humboldt
     Range, Nevada: Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 85, p. 105-118.

1975 Carbonate breccia (Rauhwacke) nappes of the Carson Sink region, Nevada:
Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 86, p. 473-486.

1976 Geologic map of the Humboldt lopolith and surrounding terrane, Nevada, scale
1:81, 050, Geological Society of America Map and Chart Series, MC-14, 1976.

1978 Basin terrane of the early Mesozoic marine province of the western Great Basin, in
Howell, D.G., and McDougall, K.A., eds., Mesozoic Paleogeography of the
western United States:  Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists,
Pacific Section, Pacific Coast Paleogeography Symposium 2, p. 253-270.

1979 Collided Paleozoic microplate in the western United States: Journal of Geology,
v. 87, p. 279-292.

1982 (and Sleep, N.H.) Antler orogeny and foreland basin: A model.  Geological
Society of America Bulletin, v. 93, p. 815-828.

1982 (and Larue, D.K.) Barbados: Architecture and implications for accretion.  Journal of
Geophysical Research, v. 87: p. 3633-3643.

1983 Structure of the accretionary complex of Barbados, I: Chalky Mount.  Geological
Society of America Bulletin, v. 94: p. 92-116.

1985 Cenozoic collision of the Lesser-Antilles arc and continental South America and the
origin of the El Pilar fault.  Tectonics, v.4: p. 41-69.

1988 (and Elison, M.W. and Heck, F.R.) Phanerozoic tectonic evolution of the Great Basin,
in Ernst, W.G., ed., Metamorphism and crustal evolution of the Western United
States (Rubey Volume VII):  Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, Prentice Hall, p. 572-
605.

1989 (and Torrini Jr. R., and Smith, P.L.) Tectonic evolution of the Tobago Trough forearc
basin.  Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 94, p. 2913-2936.

1991 (and Larue, D.K.) Extension and transtension in the plate boundary zone of the
northeastern Caribbean.  Geophysical Research Letters, v. 13, p. 573-576.

1991 (and Walker, J.A.) Oceanic crust of the Grenada Basin in the southern Lesser-Antilles
arc platform.  Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 96, p. 3835-3852.

1991 (and Russo, R., Weber, J., and Rowley, K.C.) Evolution of southern Caribbean
plate boundary, vicinity of Trinidad and Tobago: Discussion.  American Association of
Petroleum Geologists Bulletin, v. 75(11), p. 1789-1794.

1993 (and Smith-Horowitz, P.L., Perch-Nielsen, K.v.S., Saunders, J.B., and Sanfilippo,
A.S.)  Southern Lesser Antilles Platform: Pre-Late Miocene Stratigraphy, Structure,
and Tectonic Evolution, Geological Society of America Special Paper 277, p. 98

1993 (and Sedlock, R.L. and Ortega-Gutierrez, F.) Tectonostratigraphic terranes and
tectonic evolution of Mexico, Geological Society of America Special Paper 278, p. 153

1994 Barbados and the Lesser Antilles forearc. In S.K. Donovan and T.A. Jackson
(Editors), Caribbean Geology: An Introduction.  University of the West Indies
Publisher’s Association, Kingston, Jamaica, p. 179-192.

1994 (editor) Phanerozoic Evolution of North America Continent-Ocean Transitions:
Geological Society of America, DNAG Continent-Ocean Transect, Volume CRV-001.

1996 (and Burmester, R.F., Beck, Jr., M.E., and Snoke, A.W.) A preliminary paleo-
magnetic pole for mid-Cretaceous rocks from Tobago:  further evidence for large
clockwise rotations in the Caribbean-South American plate boundary zone: Earth
 and Planetary Science Letters, v. 139, p. 79-90.

1997 (and Sharp, W.D and Foland, K.A.) Late Paleozoic granitoid gneisses of north-eastern
Venezuela and the North America-Gondwana collision zone:  Journal of Geology, v. 105, p. 457-470.

1998 (and Smith-Horowitz, P.L.) The Tobago Terrane. International Geology Review, v. 40, p. 805-830

2004 (and Cheng, H.) Evolution of marine terraces and sea level in the last interglacial:
Cave Hill, Barbados.  Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 116, p. 219-232.

 

Selected Memorial Extracts from "Bob Speed here:"
Memorials and Records of Robert Clarke Speed, 2005


Introduction
Christine Speed

Robert Speed was of medium stature and of great physical fitness.  He had a beautifully shaped head, deep-set brown eyes, a chiseled jaw, noble bearing and a shock of black hair that never thinned but simply variegated into gun metal grey, black and silver over time.  He had a low melodious voice, refined speech, spoke perfect English, and wrote concise prose of huge vocabulary.  Often he invented words when sufficiently precise nouns did not exist.  He produced a comprehensive amount of structural and tectonic theory contributing to the world’s understanding of geology.  The State of Nevada and the Island of Barbados were two major research locations.

He did not draw attention to himself, but people were attracted to him because of his trustworthiness, vitality and his imposing command of science.  ‘His ambition was unselfish.”  He questioned established procedures and created new concepts.  He was a big thinker.  By his inherited character and personal development he empowered himself to excel at his chosen life work and he showed his students how they could do the same if they applied themselves to his rigorous academic and field program. 

Bob's students revered him and were profoundly influenced by him.  Upon his death, they spontaneously came together to create written memorials in his honor.  What the students did not know was that, in so doing, they were reenacting a classical response that has been evoked on behalf of Speed ancestors starting in the 16th century with John Speed, historian at Oxford University.  Generation after generation, over four centuries, such impulses have resulted in the production of finely observed memorials that capture, what at this point, could be called, 'the Speed personality."

Writing in 1892, this is what Thomas Speed III had to say about the Speed family.  Strikingly, all of the traits described below can be attributed to Robert C. Speed.

"The men were robust manly and independent...They occupied high position among the families of old Virginia...They were generally independent and self-reliant, and depended more upon substantial qualities than upon display.  Some of the family achieved more than ordinary distinction, but ostentation was unknown.  They were men who commanded respect, and that caused them to be recognized as leaders among those with whom their lives were cast.  Their position, intelligence and character called them to bear responsibilities of more than ordinary magnitude, and this gave them reputation and influence.  They were practical men.  They did not assume to be something they were not, but were sincere, unaffected and frank.  While energetic and full of activity, which resulted in all of them being of ample substance, they never showed the slightest desire for notoriety.  They had a lively temperament, and, by inheritance and training, possessed that spring and vivacity of spirit which is not only essential to success, but an agreeable quality as well.  They were not to be cast down by disappointment nor made dizzy by good fortune.  We see heroic lives, intelligence, energy, devotion to duty, and integrity---features of character that have appeared and reappeared with a distinct and noticeable uniformity generation after generation."


Bob was quick witted with a dry sense of humor, yet low-key.  He was a popular colleague, with a grounded maturity that allowed him to work collegially with nearly everyone.  He used intuition to effect good timing in what he did.  When teaching, he reduced complex concepts to clear and simple expression.  He played all the aerobic sports well and he played them with his students.  He displayed personal courage in war and in the Naval Reserve.  Yet he never spoke about himself.  He had personally derived ethical convictions that surpassed conventionality and stood by them.  He was capable of outraging people he saw everyday when it came to a principle.  And he always kept his word.  In nature, he was fearless and rugged.

At the same time, he had a differentiated aesthetic taste in painting, classical music, opera and jazz.  He played the piano and was an excellent dancer.  He followed politics closely and was a liberal Democrat.  He applied habits of environmental conservation in his personal life.  His favorite plants were those of the desert and the alpine regions: sycamore trees, cottonwoods, live oaks, grey-green sage brush, scarlet indian paint brush, orange California poppy, and cobalt blue lupine.  He respected all the wild animals he encountered in the field, including those in the sea while scuba diving.  But he also admired the cat for maintaining a part of its wild nature intact.  And like the cat, he did the same.  This caused an aura of mystery and unpredictability to float about him at times.

Although he would never admit to having a favorite rock, when he spoke of schist a magical quality crept into his voice.  There was no geographical place he did not know.  He knew the stars.  His fame rests on scientific publication spanning forty years.  He was a true and loving husband, deeply touched his friends, had three children and three grandchildren, all to whom he gave generously and tenderly of himself.

(Excerpt from Records and Memorials of The Speed Family, collected and prepared for publication by Thomas Speed III, published by the Louisville and Memphis families for distribution among all the branches, Louisville, Kentucky, 1892.)



Richard Sedlock
Professor, San Jose State University
San Jose, California

To pit yourself against Earth and its complexity as a structural geologist is an endless challenge to one’s intellect and tenacity.  Millions of years of erosion, profound tectonic upheavals, the mixture of separate events occurring at different geological epochs, features that can be produced in multiple ways, vegetation, urban sprawl---all these thwart efforts to understand Earth by direct observation.  One geologist has described field work as casting an intellectual net over a study area.  The better your training, preparation, and mind, the more you’ll catch and the more interesting your catch will be.  Bob Speed had the finest mesh net of anyone I’ve ever known.  He would catch details that others would miss, regard as insignificant, or be unable to process because their intellectual capacity was already at its limit.    All of Bob’s ex-students and colleagues could regale you with tales of inordinate amounts of time spent on a small area of seemingly inconsequential detail.  Bob knew that the history of an area is written in the details, and that one doesn’t know in advance which ones contain the keys to the story.  So, he’d spend months in the field, amassing a stupefying (to the rest of us) array of observations.  Then he would write up his results and publish them in journals, influencing geologists worldwide.

Bob’s early field work focused on Nevada.  One of his most influential articles, written with Norm Sleep suggested an origin for thick sedimentary layers in central Nevada that was a revolutionary departure from the common wisdom of the day.  The Speed and Sleep article resulted not only in the reinterpretation of the rock layers in Nevada but also of similar sequences of rocks in Europe, Asia, South America, and other parts of North America.  The new hypothesis influenced geologists around the world.

Another of Bob’s papers was the earliest and most complete description of what geologists call “terranes”--fragments of lost continents that slowly move across ancient oceans to be added to the margins of other continents.  In fact, much of California, Oregon, Washington and Nevada have come from somewhere else.  The western edge of North America used to lie in eastern Nevada.  Bob recognized that much of central Nevada constituted a distinct entity, exotic with respect to the rest of the continent.  It is still known among geologists by the name Bob gave it---Sonomia--but it could easily be called Speedia, so closely is it linked to him.  One part of Sonomia was an accretionary wedge, a complex, mixed up assemblage of rocks that formed at an ancient subduction zone in the ocean.  Bob was intrigued by this accretionary wedge, but the one in Sonomia was so old that many of its interesting details had been obliterated by later geological events.  So Bob looked for a younger, more pristine accretionary wedge to study and this is how he came to Barbados.  His work on Barbados is fundamental reading to anyone studying ancient or modern accretionary wedges anywhere in the world.

Bob’s scientific legacy comprises a prodigious scientific output of astounding comprehensiveness with his geological maps of Barbados and Nevada among the finest examples.  However, his legacy also comprises those of us he trained--his graduate and post-doctoral colleagues.  We have all internalized the value of the techniques and approach he taught us and have passed these on to our students and colleagues.  Bob stretched our intellectual and physical limits the way only the best teachers do.  Working with him was extraordinarily challenging.  He expected your best---not perfection, but your best.




Dave Larue
Geologist, Chevron Texaco Oil Company
San Ramon, California

No one really knew Bob Speed.  This minor point aside, that did not stop his students from trying to be like him.  “Hi, I’m Bob Speed” sounded closer to “Bond, James Bond” than anything imaginable.  His use of language was unique.  Bob’s idea of sleep was four hours, after which he’d finish that paper he was writing.  In Barbados, a good meal on the outcrop was a bag of Crix crackers and water.  Any more than that and he’d have to take a nap.  “Just wake me up in an hour,” as he put his hat on his face and stretched out on the outcrop.   Evening started at midnight at some damn night club where we were forced, FORCED, I tell you, to dance and swill rum punches until 2:00 A.M..  We’d all feel like death the next morning except Bob who was chipper and fresh. 

The man lived, ate and breathed his science, which is why we revered him.  I first met Bob in the late summer of 1974.  I remember the meeting well.  Bob pointed out that I lacked primary calculus skills.  Although I had taken two undergraduate calculus courses, I learned that I would need to take an additional seven classes in calculus.   This was numbing to me.  I sat in on Part I of Bob’s two -part geophysics class, C-01.  On the first day of class, he derived the gravitational field of the rotating fluid earth.  The lecture was filled with differential equations and triple integrals.  Like that comedian who screams:  “I JUST DON’T GET IT!”  That’s how my first experience with Bob left me.

After that, I avoided Bob's classes. At the end of the first year, all the first year students had to take an exam. I got the second highest grade. Armed with this result, I argued that I shouldn't EVER have to take any of Bob's classes. I was unsuccessful.

Mike Lane was an undergraduate student who had spent at least one summer with Bob in Nevada.  Mike thought Bob was so cool and could do great imitations of him but of course was completely intimidated by him at the same time.  Kind of like being close to a brush fire, exciting but kind of scary.  Mike tells the story about how he was
studying his outcrop in the field and Bob showed up.  That's how he did it.  Bob would just show up and you were required to update him on what you had learned.

In addition to his work on Barbados, I believe Bob’s two most major contributions to science were these:  He presented a new model to explain the creation of the large basins in the western United States.  He argued that the Golconda Allochthon (thrust belt) and other thrust belts, were “beached” accretionary prisms.  The weight of this beached submarine mountain range on the land’s surface caused it to subside significantly in giant low spots or basins.  The paper was called: “Antler Orogeny and Foreland Basin: A Model.”

In a second paper, he demonstrated that western North America did not consist of a simple mountain belt, like the Andes but was rather an amalgam of chunks of mountain belts.  The substantiation of this hypothesis occurred when he actually discovered the most ancient terrane in the western Cordillera whose existence he had predicted.  He called it ‘Sonomia’ in his “Collided Paleozoic Microplate in the Western United States.”  These are the most cited of  Bob Speed’s papers.




Pamela Jansma
Professor of Geology, Department of Geosciences
University of Arkansas

My first introduction with Bob was on the telephone.  He called me at work at the U.S. Geological Service to let me know that I had been accepted into the graduate program at Northwestern and would I be interested in coming to Barbados in the summer prior to enrolling in the fall.  I was away from my desk at the time so everyone knew who was on the telephone and it caused quite a stir.  It was “The Voice.”  Over the years after leaving Northwestern, the telephone rang and sometimes a voice would say:  “Pam...Bob Speed here.”  I’d just smile and say, “I know....”

A couple of summers after that, I was working in central Nevada with Glen Mattioli, my future husband, and veteran of a Bob summer in Barbados.  We had loaded our rental truck with a week’s worth of groceries, ice and beer and had headed for the Antelope Range, the farthest point of the research area.  On our return descent, we hit a sand rut and rolled the truck.  After a few rolls, it landed on the passenger side---very smashed, with equipment and food flung everywhere.  After an ordeal, we righted the truck and drove it back to Reno, on the “the loneliest road in America,” Highway 50, to have it fixed.  Bob’s voice registered some intensity at the fact that we had done something as stupid as rolling the truck, that we had rolled it 20 miles from the nearest paved road, and that we had gotten such a defective Chevy Blazer as a replacement.  With that feedback concluded, we made arrangements to meet in the Cortez Range in a few weeks.

Arriving at the Cortez Range a few weeks later, Glen and I staked out an advantageous spot with a view of the valley.  Eventually, we spotted a vehicle coming up the road.  As it approached, it looked remarkably familiar.  Coming over the last rise, we realized it was the defective Chevy Blazer.  It parked and Bob stepped out.  “I rolled my truck,” he announced.

Another event that caused a lasting impression involved James Joyce.  Jim was at Northwestern for a few months finishing his dissertation.  On one page of the draft, in the final, arm-waving chapter, Bob had scribbled in red pencil:  “What does this mean?  Whatever it is, it’s wrong.”  Jim proudly taped the page on his office door.  It became our mantra.  A few years later, it was my turn on my dissertation draft.  Bob’s red pencil read:  “I forbid you to use any other verb than is.”

A memorable Bob quotation is this piece of advice:  “Every graduate student needs to live in an attic garret for a while and sit under a tree reading one hundred geological articles.”  Also, eating instant coffee right out of the jar with a piece of shale sticks in my mind...




Frederick Heck
Professor of Geology, Ferris State University
Big Rapids, Michigan

I was one of Bob’s “Nevada students” from 1982-1987.  He was one of those “larger-than-life” people for me.  Some mix of love and fear, approachability and distance.  He was always there for questions but rarely had a direct answer, preferring to question you to the limit and then refer you to an appropriate journal article to figure it out for yourself...after which he’d talk with you about it as long as needed.  In that sense, he’s been a model for me ever since.

I think his first love was being in the field, looking at the rocks, figuring out the story they had to tell, seeing significance in every detail, tying every outcrop into a larger picture.

Stepping up to an outcrop with him was always enlightening...and a bit worrisome.  He challenged your observations, your assumptions, your interpretations and of course, turned you into a critically thinking scientist in the process.  If you were lucky, after looking and talking over every detail of an outcrop, he’d say, “Nicely done, lead on,” and you’d be off to the next exposure.

I will always remember him that way and can think of nothing more appropriate to say than, “Thanks Bob.  Nicely done, lead on.”




Jeffrey Nunn
Earnest and Alice Neal Professor, Department of Geology and Geophysics
Louisiana State University

Locy Hall was just a short walk to Northwestern’s concert hall and many concerts were free for students.  A group of us went over to hear the Chicago Symphony play.  Approximately 20 seats over and a couple of rows down from us was Speed.  He was totally absorbed plotting points on a stereonet while waiting for the concert to begin.

My favorite story is second hand from James Joyce.  Bob told Jim that if he didn’t finish his project within 24 hours that Bob would pull his heart out and stomp on it.  Jim just laughed his big, hearty laugh and all Bob could do was smile.

I also greatly enjoyed listening to Bob play the piano in a bar in Mina, Nevada.  He was very, very good.  It must have been difficult for him not to pursue a career in music.




Rudy Torrini
Senior Project Scientist
URS Corporation
Saint Louis, Missouri

Not to put him on a pedestal or anything, but Bob was definitely a larger than life figure...an amazing scientist, an amazing teacher, and an amazing human being.  He’s the closest I’ve ever seen to a real-life Indiana Jones... a tough, rugged field geologist with a talent for eloquent lecture.

Bob taught the power of observation and deduction.  A field geologist from another university once confided that he couldn’t understand why Bob spent so much time analyzing rock at what seemed to be an unwarranted level of detail.  But Bob believed that every outcrop held valuable information about the geologic history of an area.  I learned to appreciate this philosophy.

Bob would push his students to perform at 120% of their capacity.  It would not be an exaggeration to say that he exhibited super-human stamina in his work habits.  After our first full day of field work in Barbados, I returned to our rental house in Sunset Crest with several other graduate students.  We were sunburned, tired and hungry.  Just then, Bob pulled up in his car and announced that he would drop by “around 9 o’clock” to look at our stereonets.  We thought he meant 9 o’clock the next morning.  When it became clear that he intended to return later that night, there was a collective sigh.

Bob will go down in history as the foremost authority on the geology of Barbados.  His work has led to the recognition of Barbados as a textbook example of accreted submarine fan and deep-sea sediments.  A memorable quotation from R.C. Speed:  On the importance of being humble upon receiving the Ph.D.:  “Whatever you do, don’t ever use the title ‘Doctor’ before your name.”




Branch Russell
Geologist
The Woodlands, Texas

In the spirit of partial disclosure, I confess that I, too wanted to be like Bob.  Man he had the power.  Once at a Geological Society of America conference in front of 400 persons he challenged a competitive colleague with a straight face and the following phrase:  “So what?”  This wasn’t just any geologist, it was a representative of the Stanford/MIT axis.  My big dog had just faced down the other big dog at the gathering.  But Bob didn’t see it that way.  He simply felt it was necessary, as a public service, to clear the air and identify for others what he felt was science-lite.

I imagine that each of his students had their special moment with Bob on the outcrop.  One of mine will always be remembered.  Bob and John Oldow joined me in the Jackson Mountains in northwestern Nevada near the end of my second year of field work for what I thought was going to be the show and tell.  I had worked hard that summer and thought I had a good handle on the geology of the Jackson Mountains and the Black Rock Desert area.  I was ready to begin the compilation-organization-synthesis-writing phase of my dissertation.  My thoughts were blending together so easily.  This equated to nearing the final portion of my very fine studies, if I did not say so myself.  And yes, I would be done, move on to more and greater science.  Well that was not Bob’s vision that day.

He had some issues with the ‘good-handle-on-the-geology’ part.  As I began to explain my theories, I was suddenly confronted with a barrage of uncomfortable questions and comments including: “How do you know?” “Show me.”  “Show me more evidence.”  “Perhaps it could be this but it could also be that.”  And of course, “So what?”  Then he delivered the connecting blow.  “Do you think you might need some more work here?”  This was followed by a very long period of the familiar and infinite silence of the Black Rock Desert.

John was of no help.  He hung off about a hundred feet and entertained himself by throwing rocks at other rocks.  He exhibited only the natural curiosity of watching as the prison judge extended the sentence of the inmate.  He’d been there.  In retrospect, I had the data, I just did not know how to efficiently use and build on it.  This is what Bob saw and this is what he tried to teach me.  Years later, he admitted that his “ambush” was one of his last chances to teach me to continue to ask questions of my answers and never stop questioning my own work.  I thought he would live forever.




Bob Langan
Senior Staff Research Geophysicist
Chevron Texaco Energy Technology Company
San Ramon, California

Can I do justice to a man who: a) single-handedly was responsible for me becoming an earth scientist; and b) had more positive influence on me than anyone in my first 30 years of life, outside of my parents?

Right from the start, I developed a high level of respect for Bob’s intellect and discipline as a scientist.  Over time, I added a sense of awe, and then a twinge of fear, because his intellect was so intimidating.  Like many of the graduate students influenced by Bob, I wanted to “Be Like Bob,” long before the phrase praising basketball star, Michael Jordan, “Be Like Mike.” became popular.

I spent my first  field summer with Bob in the Toiyabe Range of Nevada.  He explained that his philosophy for “raising” graduate students was patterned after the east German swim program.  He said they would take babies and throw them into a pool.  A few would swim naturally and those were immediately shunted to the State Swim Program.  The rest were returned to their parents for more mundane futures.  This was scary stuff.

Among other things while out at the Toiyabe Range, Bob was always looking for the Golconda Thrust.  In several years of field research on this thrust, he had never actually seen it.  He had inferred its existence from the differing structural styles of the subthrust rocks and the thrust plate itself, while covering a significant piece of Nevada real estate.  After several weeks of tromping around, we came across a small but distinctive outcrop.  Suddenly Bob grew silent.  He became transfixed, as if he were on Holy Ground for the first time.  He pulled out a cigar, put it in his mouth, but didn’t light it.  And he just stared at the outcrop, not taking any measurement, and not taking any samples.  After about an hour of both silence and little movement on his part, I said something like, “Is this The Thrust”?  He had forgotten that I had been standing next to him this whole time.  He quickly gave me a mapping assignment somewhere to get rid of me.  Now, he could do what he needed at “The Outcrop.”  He spent two weeks there.

A few weeks later, we set off to search for the Golconda Thrust in the Yosemite area, a good six hour drive away.  Larry Sloss and Arthur Geddes joined us in the field for a few days.  Postdoc, John MacMillian, was there too.  After tromping around in the Toiyabe Range for a few days we headed West  in the late afternoon.  About 10:00 P.M., we pulled into a little hotel in western Nevada for the night.  We planned to get up at 4:00 or 5:00 A.M. in order to be at the Yosemite Park Gate at 8:00 A.M.  But first, Bob insisted that we have some beers in the hotel bar and play some pool.  I was willing to do that for a short period of time but Bob wouldn’t let me leave until about 2:00 A.M.  When I left, the entire group was still there and I, the youngest, cratered for the night.

Over the years, I think Bob mellowed a bit and became more nurturing.  I saw less of the East German swim team approach.  But I wouldn’t exchange those early years, what I will call, “Late, Early, Speedian time,” for anything.  They transformed me:  red marks all over the drafts of my thesis, full contact basketball, dreaded meetings in his office, intense sessions on the outcrop and incredible seminars that blew me away.  Those were heady years.  Creative intellectual power, and physical vigor, intensity interspersed with utter composure and heart.




Hassan Babaie
Professor of Geology, Department of Geology
Georgia State University

I was working on my Ph.D. dissertation under Bob’s supervision in Nevada during the early 1980’s.  As a foreign student, I was thrilled to be out West.  One day, he arrived to check on my work and give me new leads.  We hiked and worked all day.  Then at 5:00 P.M., we set a rendezvous.  He would cross a mountain on the northern side of the Range in the Toiyabe National Forest and I would pick him up on the other side in about two hours time deep in Ophir Canyon.  After opening a gate to exit the forest, I noticed that my truck had stopped running and it would not restart.  i was worried about Bob but there was nothing I could do.  I slept in the truck and then walked to the nearest farm house in the valley the next morning.  I hoped no one would shoot first and ask questions later.  Instead, I found a wonderful family who fed me pancakes while their children showed me a bottle full of rattles from rattle snakes they had killed.  In those days, Americans had been taken hostage in Iran, the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan, and CNN was beaming the news into this farm kitchen in Nevada.

What did Bob do?  Not seeing me, he walked for many hours out of the canyon and made it to the highway in the Monitor Valley by about 10:30 P.M..  He then hitchhiked to Round Mountain and found the sheriff at about midnight.  Bob told him that I was lost and that he needed a posse to go look for me.  The next day was Sunday but Bob convinced the sheriff there was no time to lose.  So off they started at the break of day.  The rescue group reached the other side of the mountain about 11:00 A.M. just about the time the farmer and I reached the truck with jumper cables.  Bob was relieved to see me and got to me fast.  He said that to get the posse to come out, he had told them that I was from Afghanistan.  The posse was sympathetic to the Afghans because they were fighting the Communists.  So I did not mention that I was Iranian.  Instead, I thanked each one of them individually as Bob suggested--according to the code of the West.

During that trip, I realized how deeply Bob internalized responsibility for the safety of his students.  He had the appearance of being casual but was actually alert and decisive.  Only when it was required did he uncloak another level of grit and fortitude.  Immediately upon resolution, that capacity melted back under wraps to ‘normal’ fortitude.  We returned to the top of the mountain and worked hard until dark.  I was absolutely drained by these events.  But Bob had this capacity to return to the task at hand with a calm focus as though nothing had happened.  He was the most efficient field geologist I have ever seen.  His example has affected and inspired me to this day.


Christine Speed
Plants


In general, Bob was not a fan of plants --they got in the way of seeing the rock.  Just to make his position clear, he referred to green vegetation as a “layer of slime that covered the beautiful rock.”  He called every flower a daisy, whether it grew on a tree, a bush or directly from the ground as further proof of indifference.  But native plants were a different matter.  Growing in different ecological zones, they helped him determine his altitude.  He was accurate in their names.  He respected their indigenous or at least old history.  They affirmed him.  “Yes you are in the high desert!”  “Yes, you are in the mountains!”  And they carried a nostalgia.  He had seen them growing wild in beloved places all his life.  Seeing these plants was like greeting old friends.  He loved the way sage smelled after the rain.  And we both liked the way it smelled on his clothes after a field day.

Parts of a poem recited to me by wrangler, Sallie Joseph of Hunewill Ranch, as we rode below Matterhorn Peak.

“Rain on the Sage”

There’s a little something extra here
That’s no match for any job’s wage---
The sound of the wind through the juniper trees,
And the smell of the rain on the sage.

There’s a feeling of having no boundaries,
Of being able to go as far as you please--
Of being lured toward distant horizons
Where freedom floats on the breeze....


Some treasures have value beyond any price.
They can’t be measured by weight, space or age--
The freshness of color, the warmth of the spring,
And the smell of the rain on the sage.

by Sallie Joseph