Francis John Turner, Geology and Geophysics: Berkeley

Professor of Geology, Emeritus

Frank Turner, Professor of Geology Emeritus, died on December 21, 1985, at the age of 81 after a 40-year association with the University of California at Berkeley. He is survived by his wife, Esme, and his daughter, Mrs. Gillian McKercher.

Turner was born on April 10, 1904, in Auckland, New Zealand, the son of a classics teacher at Auckland grammar school. In 1921, he entered the University College of Auckland for the study of geology where, under the influence of J.A. Bartrum, he acquired a background in virtually all branches of the science. After graduating, he worked briefly for the New Zealand Geological Survey while completing his master's thesis. In 1926, at age 21, he became lecturer in the Department of Geology at Otago University, Dunedin. Here his interests in the petrology of metamorphic and igneous rocks matured and he developed the skills with the polarizing microscope that were to place him amongst the world's great petrographers. In 1930 he married Esme Bentham, who became his lifelong companion.

At Otago University Turner conducted intensive field and laboratory investigations of metamorphic regions of South Island, culminating in his study of the Otago schist. This treatise still stands as one of the best petrographic studies of low-grade metamorphism ever published. His many publications, while in Dunedin earned him the D.Sc. degree from the University of New Zealand in 1934.

In the late 1930s, Turner developed an interest in the new field of structural petrology which had had its birth in Europe a decade before. This interest led to his first journey outside New Zealand, when, in 1938, he was awarded a Sterling Fellowship to work with E.B. Knopf, then at Yale University, on the structural petrology of metamorphic rocks. Although cut short by the outbreak of war in Europe, this period overseas opened new horizons to him--scientific, cultural, and personal. He became acquainted with many of the foremost American earth scientists of the day and met the young David Griggs, then at Harvard, with whom he later formed a

close professional relationship that produced some of his most important work.

Back in New Zealand for the war years, he continued teaching and research at Otago and began work on what was to become a comprehensive treatise on the petrology and structure of metamorphic rocks. This work, when published by the Geological Society of America in 1946, quickly established him internationally as a leader in the interpretation of metamorphic rocks and strongly influenced a whole post-war generation of young geologists.

Also in 1946, Howel Williams, foresighted chairman of the Department of Geology at Berkeley, invited Turner to join the faculty of the University of California. This appointment and those that followed--many of them stimulated by Turner's presence--changed the face of geology at Berkeley and paved the way for the early introduction into the department of the analytical, experimental, and theoretical tools that were to explode into post-war earth science.

For 25 years, until his retirement in 1971, Turner was an active and inspiring member of the faculty at Berkeley. As a teacher, he was exceptionally gifted, speaking clearly and forcefully, organizing the material he taught with admirable lucidity, and presenting it with enthusiasm. In his career he published 84 scholarly articles as well as eight book-length monographs or textbooks, most written with colleagues at Berkeley, but all distinguished by Turner's characteristic clarity of thought and expression. Noteworthy among these is the long series of collaborative papers with D.T. Griggs (then at UCLA) and others on the experimental deformation of rocks, studies that form the roots of almost all present-day work in that field. The high quality of his research was acknowledged by the Berkeley campus in 1970 when he was appointed Faculty Research Lecturer.

Turner's personal contribution to the Department of Geology and Geophysics at Berkeley was profound. His sound judgment and advice were widely sought by students and colleagues alike. He was always available for discussions, suggestions, and candid criticism; and his broad knowledge and interests and quick mind invariably made such sessions helpful, often memorable. He served with distinction as chairman of the department for five years, from 1954 to 1959. Outside the department, he served effectively on a number of administrative bodies, including the Graduate Council, the Committee on Research, the Library Committee, and the Executive Committee of the College of Letters and Science.

Frank and Esme Turner were great travellers, partly because Frank believed that all geologists should see as much of the earth as possible, and partly because he enjoyed travel for its own sake, for the flavors of different lands, and for the people. In his travels he met geologists from all over the world, many of whom visited Berkeley in some capacity, some staying for extended periods for study or research, thereby enriching both themselves and the Berkeley campus.


In his long career, Turner received many academic honors, including the Hector Medal of the Royal Society of New Zealand (1951), Guggenheim Fellowships (1952 and 1960), election to the National Academy of Sciences (1956), the Lyell Award of the Geological Society of London (1969), and the Roebling Medal of the Mineralogical Society of America (1985). The Berkeley campus honored him with the Berkeley Citation on his retirement in 1971.

If his scientific and academic eminence had been all that Turner had given to the Berkeley campus, his contribution would have been outstanding enough. But the effect of his presence went far beyond his professional role. He was a whole man, with breadth of interest and learning that transcended the confines of his science, encompassing deep and enduring knowledge and love of the arts, particularly painting, literature, and music. He once remarked to a colleague that one reason he and his wife left New Zealand was “because of the music”: they yearned for the great musical performances to be found only in the populated cities of the world and for the other cultural amenities, such as art galleries and museums, from which they drew so much joy.

During his time at Berkeley--both as faculty member and as emeritus--Turner performed a signal service to the University community, one that is by no means particularly common. Many new faculty members in both his own and other departments soon found, although they were not always sure how, that a staunch friend had materialized in their lives, a friend who invited them to convivial parties in his hospitable home where the wine, food, and conversation were always memorable. Atthe Turner's house, visiting scholars, new and old faculty members, and townspeople from totally different callings were brought together. Artists were mixed with scientists, writers with musicians or physicians, and by the evening's end were strangers no more. In the warmest and most creative way, people were the Turner's hobby.

Frank was a liberal, compassionate and wise; a marvelous conversationalist and raconteur, with great humanity and warmth; a sagacious and penetrating critic of academic folly, who cared little for personal possessions and wealth and who enriched the lives of those around him with his extraordinary qualities of humanity. And he is sorely missed. His legacy is the joy given to his friends and the commitment given to his science. The vivid memory of the jaunty figure with the seaman's gait and the sharp wit and wisdom will be ever with us.

J.D. Clark C.M. Gilbert H. May J.L. Reynolds L.E. Weiss