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howel francis

Emeritus Professor Edward Howel Francis, BSc, DSc, FRSE, FGS (1924-2014)

Emeritus Professor Howel Francis, former Chairman of the Department of Earth Sciences (now part of the School of Earth & Environment), passed away on 22nd May 2014.

Emeritus Professor Marjorie Wilson, a friend and former colleague, has contributed the following obituary:

Howel was born and raised in South Wales, attending school in Port Talbot. His first career, after three years in the army (1944-47) and graduation from University College, Swansea in 1949, was with the precursor to the British Geological Survey, the Institute of Geological Sciences (IGS), where he rose through the ranks from field geologist in Scotland to Assistant Director for Northern England and Wales, based in Leeds. He became the Head of the IGS Station at Leeds in 1971. He was a member of the NCB-IGS Liaison Committee after the 1973 Lofthouse Colliery disaster, and in 1974 headed a British Government mission to the Philippines to advise on the coal industry there.

Already in his mid-50s, in 1977 Howel began a second career with his appointment as Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Leeds, transforming into an academic leader and enthusiastic lecturer, and serving two terms as Chairman of the Department from 1979-82 and 1985-89. Supported by his late wife Cynthia he immersed himself in academic life to the full, sharing in the problems and successes of students and staff alike. He retired from the Department in 1989.

Howel guided the Department skilfully through the UGC (University Grants Committee) review of the Earth Sciences in the late 1980s and subsequent restructuring of the national Earth Science provision in UK universities, the first such review in the Sciences. The fact that the Department came out of this review enlarged and strengthened and in a leading position in UK Geoscience is lasting testimony to his leadership qualities.

Recognition of his scientific work came via Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1962, award of a DSc by the University of Wales in 1969, and subsequently by the award of the Murchison Fund of the Geological Society of London (1963), the Clough Medal of the Edinburgh Geological Society and Sorby Medal of the Yorkshire Geological Society in 1983, and the Major John Sacheverell A’Deane Coke Medal of the Geological Society of London in 1989. He served as President of the Geological Society of London from 1980-82. In 1989, he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of University College, Swansea upon his retirement from the University and return to his native South Wales.

Howel was a charismatic lecturer, speech-maker and raconteur; he was an adept cricketer in his younger days and continued to pay golf regularly well into his 80s. In retirement he also became a keen bird watcher. He will be remembered by those who knew him as a fair but firm academic leader, for his warm personality and sense of humour, and as an honest man. He is survived by his partner, Edwina Mullens, and daughter, Susan Fowell. His wife, Cynthia, pre-deceased him.

The funeral will take place at Margam Crematorium, Port Talbot, at 2.30pm on Wednesday, June 11th, 2014, when, in Howel’s memory, the flag will be flown at half-mast on the Parkinson Building.