Earth and Planetary Science
EPS Planetary Science

Charles Merwin Gilbert

Charles Merwin Gilbert (1910 - 1988)

Charles Gilbert, geologist, teacher and citizen of the University passed away on February 26, 1988. Gil was born in Washington, D.C. He came to California to Deep Springs School, earned an A.B. at Cornell in 1933, and a Ph.D. at Berkeley in 1938. He was appointed to the faculty of the Geology Department in 1938 and remained vigorously active in the department after his retirement in 1977 until his sudden death. He was awarded the Berkeley Citation at the time of his retirement.

Gil approached life, professional and personal, with an air of solid, dependable competence. His manner seemed reserved and at times a bit gruff. That reserve and gruffness masked a basic shyness and a heart of gold.

From 1943 to 1946 Gil worked with the U.S. Geological Survey, assigned to the Globe-Miami mining district in Arizona. He worked for Shell Oil company in Arizona and New Mexico in the summers of 1951 and 1952. Also during the 1950s he worked as a consultant to the Golden Gate Bridge District, served on the Council of the Geological Society of America, and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for study in the Apennine Mountains of Italy.

Gil was active in University service: chair of the department from 1958 to 1962, chair of the faculty of the College of Letters and Science in 1964-65, member of the College Committee on Academic Programs in the late 1960s and numerous departmental committees throughout his career.

Gil's scientific work covered volcanism, ore deposits, stratigraphy and sedimentary petrography. His early experience in eastern California deeply influenced his career. While he was at Deep Springs School he got to know the Owens Valley and became interested in the Bishop Tuff and the Long Valley caldera; the volcanism of Long Valley became the subject of his dissertation. That work became a classic. Subsequently he supervised the work of numerous graduate students in unraveling the geology of that region, which is of continuing interest for the interplay of seismicity, volcanism, and geothermal energy. While his work took him far afield, Long Valley and adjacent areas were where he found his greatest long-standing happiness as a geologist. In 1991, Gilbert Peak, which overlooks the Long Valley caldera, was, suitably, named in his honor.

Gil came to be widely known as the consummate field geologist and microscopic petrographer. His scientific writing was notable for clarity of thought, scrupulous attention to detail, and lucid and concise expression. Those exceptional qualities shine forth in two textbooks that have survived the test of time: Petrography, co-authored with Howel Williams and Frank Turner, originally published in 1954, translated into several languages, and revised in 1982, and Physical Geology Laboratory Manual, published in 1962. Both are still in print.

The excellence and longevity of those textbooks are an expression of Gil's more general devotion to teaching. As a teacher he was creative, competent, thorough, and committed, rather than charismatic. He worked with exceptional imagination and diligence on substance, pedagogy, and exposition alike, and refined his courses and honed his presentation to near perfection. The qualities that have survived so long in his textbooks were his everyday standard of excellence in his courses. He gave much time and energy to critical reading and commentary on students' reports from field geology classes; he taught a generation of students the meaning of clear scientific thinking and concise exposition.

Gil's service to the University demonstrated the same qualities. As chair of the department he devoted an immense amount of thought and energy to the planning of the new Earth Sciences Building, completed in 1960. The department long benefited from those efforts. He gave freely of his time and energy to the career development of junior members. While he was chair, the department ran smoothly; during the early Sixties it attained the highest national standing.

He was chair of the college faculty during the tumultuous years of the middle Sixties. In those days several hundred faculty members would turn out for meetings, which were often contentious. As chair of those meetings, Gil, with sober, businesslike mien, managed to harness the florid polemics of faculty discourse to the practical business of making choices.

Gil remained active in the department long after his retirement. He continued to serve on dissertation committees (as a favorite of students) and published papers on volcanism in Mexico. Characteristically he was making plans for the undergraduate summer field-geology camp only a few days before his death. He is sorely missed--as a colleague, teacher, friend, and fishing partner.

He is survived by his wife Lora, three sons, David, Douglas, and Steve, and a daughter, Jane Luther.

To preserve his memory, interested individuals may direct contributions to graduate student fellowships in the UC Berkeley Earth & Planetary Science Department. Checks should be made out to "The Regents of the University of California" and addressed to Judith Coyote, Department of Earth and Planetary Science, 307 McCone Hall, University of California, Berkeley, CA, 94720-4767.

In Memoriam written by George Brimhall, Mark Christensen, Garniss Curtis and Mitchell Reynolds