Book of Remembrance of


John Graham Ramsay

Professor John Ramsay FRS CBE passed away on 11 January 2021 at 89 years of age. This book collects condolences and remembrances of John Ramsay from his past students,  friends and colleagues in the world of geoscience, upon which he made such a major impact.

The following obituary is provided by Catalina Luneburg and Hermann Lebit, his last PhD students:

Professor Emeritus John Graham Ramsay, a pioneer of Structural Geology – passed peacefully away in Zurich Switzerland on January 12th 2021, only a few months short of his 90th birthday. John’s passing is felt by so many of us with a heavy heart and great sadness. He will be remembered not only as a brilliant scientist and musician, but also a warm-hearted teacher, inspiring mentor, respected colleague, wonderful friend and family man.

John Ramsay leaves an academic legacy that defined the fundamental concepts of Structural Geology as we know it today.  John’s seminal work, “Folding and Fracturing of Rocks” which was published in 1967 laid the foundation for the analysis and mathematical description of rock deformation based on observed structures. Comparable to revolutionary concepts of Plate Tectonics, which were developing in the same era, John’s rigorous approach provided the basis for quantitative structural analyses in context with crustal deformation. The landmark publication was followed by many articles and by three volumes of Modern Structural Geology (1983, 1987, 2000), together with Martin Huber and Richard Lisle. John’s exceptional talent as a tutor and author enabled his work elegantly to connect observations taken from natural outcrop examples with the underlying mechanical theories of rock deformation.

To this day, John’s outstanding scientific citation record exemplifies the profound and lasting impact of his contributions, which continue to influence researchers and students in Earth Sciences and Structural Geology. His achievements were recognized through a multitude of awards and honorary memberships. Among those are the Wollaston Medal of the Geological Society, London, the Prix Lutaud of the Académie de Sciences, Institute de France, the Holmes Medal of the European Union of Geosciences and the Science Excellence Award of the International Union of Geological Sciences. John was elected honorary fellow to the Geological Society of America, the American Geophysical Union and Geological Society London and foreign fellow to the Indian National Science Academy and the United States National Academy of Science. In 1992, H.M. Queen Elizabeth II recognized John Ramsay’s achievements and services to science with the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).

Beyond all John’s contribution to Structural Geology, he leaves a lasting memory for a unique talent and magic in sharing his passion for the observation and analysis of natural rocks with students and colleagues. The enthusiasm that John brought to field excursions is legendary.  His ability and clarity in analyzing structural geometries and connecting these with processes revealed a passionate Geoscientist, simply enjoying and exploring the beauty of nature.

John had a profound sense of mathematical structure and patterns that he deeply admired in nature also in music, – his second passion. Being an outstanding scientist as well as an excellent cello player and music composer, gave him the unique perspective defining him as a professional and as a person.

John was a strong and steady advocate in his scientific causes, though his students and colleagues remember him as a humble and open-minded man. He would listen and give everyone’s argument equivalent respect. There was always room for inspiring discussion and ideas that led to exciting results, which more than 170 students of his enjoyed. All of us are grateful for our time with John and his gentle guidance when sharing his passion for Geology.

John was very loved by his family, his wife Dorothee and his daughters, to whom we extend our sincere condolences.  He has touched so many lives through his work and passion; he will not be forgotten.


For those who wish to honor John’s legacy, in lieu of flowers you can donate to his favorite charity in his name:

Schweizer Patenschaft für Berggemeinden

An initiative that sponsors struggling small mountain communities to remain habitable, cultivated and maintained.

Postkonto: 80-16445-0

IBAN: CH51 0900 0000 8001 6445 0

Book Owner: Ernest Rutter
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Stefano Mazzoli

Dear John, having been a PhD student of yours has been fantastic. You changed my life, and I’m sure you did that with many people. The next generations of geology students will never have the opportunity to spend some time in the field with you. They will miss a lot. We all miss you. …

John Wheeler

I met John Ramsay’s book before I met John Ramsay. I recall the book’s very clear explanations, and the central role of understanding the geometry of rocks on all scales. Our paths crossed then in the 1980s at conferences during and after my PhD: Tectonic Studies Group in the UK, and international conferences. We doubtless discussed strain analysis, and early interest of mine, and I also recall John’s strong views on “model driven” studies of structures – he never lost sight of the actual observational data we must build on. I think he was cautious about shear sense indicators for similar reasons. In the 1990s I was invited by John and Dorothee to Zurich a few times, always stimulating visits. I particularly remember a field trip organised his structure group at Zurich that coincided with one of my visits, where we visited the Central Alps and looked at basement-cover relationships. Later, as part of a 2002 Penrose conference, and overdue for me, he led a trip to examine classic structures: refolded folds (classic because of his work) at Nufenen and Cristallina, and shear zones at Laghetti. Latterly I met John less frequently, but one particular memory is of a …

Grupo de Tectónica de la Universidad de Granada

J. G. Ramsay in the Alpujarras We are sad to hear the passing away of John Ramsay. Several people of the Group of Tectonic in the University of Granada have meet John in several moments of our careers, one exceptional geologist that taught all of us how far Structural Geology can go. He was an inspiration for us as structural geologists, and we want to extend our condolences to all his family. In April 1994, Dr. J. P. Platt organized a seven-day field trip to the eastern part of the Betic Cordilleras to examine the relationships in space and time between extensional and compressional deformations. The field trip ran practically NNE-SSW through the SE of Spain, from the north of the province of Murcia to the south of the province of Almería. The group of participants included Professor John G. Ramsay (then in retreat in the Provenza), D. Dietrich, and their dog. The group also included nearly twenty researchers from the universities of Cambridge, Granada, Neuchatel, Oxford, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. From the Department of Geodynamics of the University of Granada, three participants attended: Jesús Galindo Zaldivar, Francisco González Lodeiro and Antonio Jabaloy Sánchez, who had the …

Mary Hubbard

John was an amazing and compassionate geoscientist and mentor.  His contribution to our field will endure forever.  Perhaps just as important to that contribution in terms of his books, papers, and wisdom, was his ability to encourage young people.  In a quiet and unassuming way, John had the ability to give advice, inspire, and encourage students and young professionals around him.  This gift of his appeared in the classroom, on the outcrop, at professional meetings, and around the department.  Thank you John, for your kind words when I was a graduate student attending the first HKT meeting in Leicester in 1985.  Thank you also for all of the mentoring during my post doc in Zurich in 1988-89 and for yours and Dorothee’s friendship thereafter.  You are greatly missed already. …

Hermann Lebit

It was a heart-breaking message we received on January 12th. One of the greatest geologists has passed away. John was more than an exceptional structural geologist, teacher and mentor for so many of us and we will remember all the wonderful moments with him. I recall vividly his first visit to my field area, studying fold interference patterns in Sardinia. John presumably closed there a cycle that started with his own mapping on the superposed folds in the Scottish Highlands. Then some of his very first students worked in SW Sardinia and methods of strain measurements evolved from there. Now here I was the last in a long line of students and eager to show John my first and of course pretty complicated outcrop. He looked at it for a moment and responded; lets continue and see what is around the corner. We repeated that for a while until he stopped to analyze one outcrop. With our observations in mind we returned to the passed places and the structural geometries became so clear.  We had mapped a refolded fold system. I learned a lot from him (not only) that day! First, don’t waste time at complicated locations, rather look …

Mark Cooper

I was sad to hear of John’s passing. I was lucky enough to be taught Structural Geology by him as a second year student at Imperial College in the early 1970’s. He was a superb teacher and had the gift of being able to explain complicated concepts with great clarity. The legacy he leaves behind through his teaching and research is simply amazing and had and will continue to have a significant impact on the study of structural geology. My sincere condolences to his family. …

John Angus McM Moore

I first encountered John Ramsay in November 1961 as a member of the interview panel for applicants to the Geology ARCS/BSc course at Imperial College. My recollections of the interview are  that it centred on the writings  of George Orwell and  history of the Spanish Civil War.  This was my introduction to John’s eclectic  interests and breadth of intellect.  In 1963-64, with Gilbert Wilson, John taught the, for its  time, innovative  second year structural geology course module, which involved  a wonderful minor/major fold structure mapping exercise of the Rhoscolyn fold complex, Anglesey. I encountered John again as one of the leaders  of the BP  western Alps, student tour  during the summer of 1964.   With Robert Shackleton, he organised and supervised our  field mapping project, focussing on structures in the Helvetic nappe complex south of Chamonix. We could not have wished for a more enthusiastic or inspiring mentor for the kind of field work which has left me with a lifelong interest in Alpine tectonics.  I encountered John again in Sardinia, as supervisor of a fellow research student Doug Dunnet in our overlapping field areas – location  of the elegant banded slate fold which adorns John’s   seminal textbook.  After  we …

John Cosgrove

Like with so many of John’s students, my contact with him was truly life changing. I first met the great man in 1968 when I came to Imperial College as a fresh, young, graduate to attend the extraordinary M.Sc. course in Structural Geology & Rock Mechanics that had just been started by John, Neville Price and John Hudson – three giants in their fields. Many of my fellow students became life-long friends and on completing the course I was lucky enough to be taken on by John as a PhD student. His enthusiasm, encouragement and support during those heady days were inspirational. During my academic career I invariably sent John copies of papers or books I had written or co-authored and his response was always appreciative and encouraging. He seemed in his busy life to have time for everyone who approached him, and all his students felt a close and personal relationship with him. Times spent with him and Dorothee in Zurich when examining his Ph.D. students or presenting lectures, were always a joy – a mixture of geology, good food, drink and of course music. The picture I include was taken on a field trip to the Alps …

Alastair Beach

Well John, you have passed away and now we write some words that will be part of the collective memory of your life and work. I am sure in due course of time, when lockdown is over, we will have a proper celebration, like the memorable parties you hosted in London and in Leeds and the fieldtrips in Scotland, the Alps and elsewhere, liberally lubricated with whisky, wine, grappa. You gathered geologists around you from all over the world and I am flattered and honoured to be one of them. I was lucky enough to get a place on your structural geology MSc at Imperial College in 1968 – your book Folding and Fracturing of Rocks had been published the previous year before and became our bible. You challenged us with your teaching and enthusiasm, and I remember evenings in the library almost in tears trying to keep up with the challenge. Then came your landmark paper on shear zones and that started a revolution of research and new work. I was swept up in that as I embarked on a PhD looking at shear zones in the Lewisian of NW Scotland under the direction of yourself, Janet Watson …

Munir Ghazanfar

I am one of John Ramsay’s many admirers. I came to Switzerland as a coworker of David Spencer when he was doing his PhD to attend the Himalaya, Karakoram, Tibet conference John also came to work with David Spencer, his PhD student, and introduce two younger students to the Kaghan Valley in Northwest Himalaya, Pakistan. We were there in Upper Kaghan for a few days together. I had a very short association with John’s wife Dorothee, too while in Switzerland. I remember a bit of conversation with her – when she drove us in a van on a field trip. I am extremely sad and sorry to learn of John’s demise. He was an icon, a great scholar and teacher of structural geology. Even more he was a great and a loveable person, modest, simple, hardworking and hard living (when he came to Kaghan). We were David’s local coworkers in Kaghan and he was very encouraging to us as well. His demise is a great loss to geology and to those who knew him, worked with him, and benefitted from his research and knowledge. …