Distinguished professor, 94, dies; received numerous geology awards

by Jacqueline Couillard

The “father of modern sedimentology,” distinguished University alumnus and instructor, Francis J. Pettijohn passed away in Glen Arm, Md., on April 23. He was 94.
Recipient of numerous international awards in the field of geology and the first sedimentologist inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, Pettijohn never forgot his alma mater. He planned to attend the geology department’s 125th anniversary celebration later this month as a guest of honor.
Pettijohn earned four degrees from the University. He received a bachelor’s degree in 1924, a master’s degree in 1925 and a doctorate in 1930. In 1986, he was awarded an honorary doctorate, the University’s highest award for alumni. He was also an instructor at the University from 1929 through 1931.
“When I first got here, I was amazed and gratified to find out that Francis Pettijohn was a graduate of this department,” said Bill Seyfried, head of the Department of Geology and Geophysics.
Seyfried said Pettijohn influenced countless geologists worldwide. Most geologists today have heard of and been influenced by his work.
After his work at the University, Pettijohn found his permanent academic home at Johns Hopkins University. He was an instructor from 1952 to 1973 and continued researching after his retirement. He chaired the department at Johns Hopkins from 1963 to 1968.
In an era when geologists were under pressure to focus more on computer modeling and less on fieldwork, Pettijohn held fast to his belief that field relationships are the keys to understanding sedimentary rocks, and his work continually showed the merits of fieldwork, Seyfried said. “He represented good science.”
“There may be one or two people whom one could argue have had a greater impact in developing concepts in sedimentology. There is nobody who, through his books and personality, has had greater overall influence,” said Harold Reading, the then-president of the International Association of Sedimentologists, in a 1986 letter of recommendation.
A memorial service will be held June 26 in Baltimore.