John Graham Ramsay

One of my first trips as a PhD student in 1980 was an advanced structural geology course in Arcegno, northern Italy. Others followed in Domodossola and Ivrea. John Ramsay was one of several structural geologists on those trips, which included Geoff Milnes, Stefan Schmid, Martin Casey and the newly arrived Niel Mancktelow. However, as the senior member of the group, John was the centre of attention for us novices. The week-long course was held in winter, providing good access to outcrops of spectacular folds and shear zones, otherwise hidden beneath the thorny sub-Mediterranean underbrush which covers the southern Steep Belt of the Alps. John had a special eye for fold interference patterns, so his part involved careful observation and even grid mapping of selected outcrops. After dinner, we split into groups to work on specific aspects; John’s group was always crowded, but when people slowly peeled off before turning in, John would often linger, pondering over his maps for a while longer. I watched him lovingly draw contacts between outcrop markings, gradually transforming a rough field map into a work of art that would be used for later parametrization and fold analysis. He took obvious satisfaction in this, and his lectures always drew on such material as inspiration for understanding the geometry of deformed rocks. To him, structures were an expression of nature’s beauty and his crisp photographs and drawings were testimony not only to his powers of observation, but to his aesthetic side. This also included music; it was over dinner at John and Dorothee’s place in Zürich that we had a lively exchange on Beethoven’s late string quartets, which I was just discovering at the time. To John, geological structures had their place in that broad aesthetic. Part of their beauty lay in their hidden message, what they tell us about how nature works. He informed us at the outset of his basic course in Structural Geology that he would “deal only with strain, because, although stress is also interesting, it is rather non-intuitive because you can’t see it”. For that, we could attend advanced courses at the ETH or in Basel, where Hans Laubscher lectured on force and stress equilibrium on a much larger tectonic scale. I was fortunate to experience both of these older colleagues, but have always owed to John that unique approach of combining observation and rigorous analysis with an appreciation for the beauty of structures. Aside from this, he was a gracious person who gave generously of his time and wisdom. I do hope his gift is passed on to future generations of Earth Scientists.

Mark Handy

Mark Handy

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