Professor Roderick Brown (1962 - 2022)
It is with deep sadness that we share the news that our dear colleague Roderick Brown died on 11 August 2022. Rod has been with the University of Glasgow for nearly twenty years, and was an internationally renowned researcher in Earth Science. He was also an inspiring and innovative teacher for the undergraduate students, and a highly respected friend and mentor to many colleagues in the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Center, and other Universities including Melbourne where he spent many years. Rod was a wonderful character, entertaining and erudite with his stories and teachings, and sharing his passion for the outdoors and his running and sailing adventures. His kindness, generosity and dedication to helping others were renowned. He is a great loss, and will be sorely missed.
Tributes to Rod
I was deeply honoured to be asked by Rod's family to deliver a eulogy to Rod at his funeral. The tribute below was delivered following a brief history of Rod's life, written by his partner Sue. "Thank you Susan for that beautiful history. There are so many incredible stories and anecdotes about Rod, and it was always a great pleasure to hear him recounting his past adventures, which typically involved some sort of disaster or misfortune, but were resolved by Rod charming or blagging his way out of the situation. He was a wonderful character and storyteller, whether recounting a past adventure, teaching students, or putting the world to rights. Rod was incredibly eloquent – always constructing his words thoughtfully and carefully. However, he was straight-talking when need be: at University, countless meandering pointless meetings were brought back into line by decisive words and actions. At times his passion got the better of him and his words could be accompanied by, let’s just say, “colourful” language. A simple curse could enliven any story or thought. However, we all loved and respected him for that. Rod was an outstanding scientist. His brain worked in an incredible way, combining the rigour of science, with beautiful art and language. He was hugely innovative in his field of research, one of the pioneers of the technique, and hugely respected by the community. I knew Rod best as an educator, teaching alongside him for many years. Students loved him – on the news of his passing, so many of them paid tribute. The theme was always the same – a fantastic lecturer and such a kind, wonderful man. Rod’s teaching was innovative. He took complex topics and explained them to students in a creative way. He loved his stereonets, a cruel geological device used to visualise planes and lines in rocks in three dimensions – but he made it accessible to students using cake, swiss roll and cocktail sticks. Field trip itineraries were always planned around stops for tea and scones to enliven debate. Rod could solve any geological problem through a series of elaborate hand gestures. Whether explaining to a student, or in a quiet moment of personal meditation, you could observe him deconstructing a problem…and suddenly it all made sense. In later years, the iPad became a key part of his armoury too. We gently ribbed him, but staff and students loved him for it. He often took on teaching that nobody else wanted to do, such as Geophysics…and it amuses me greatly to hear that he failed physics twice in his first year at University!!! Rod championed numerous quantitative and computational techniques in geology and he leaves a great legacy in teaching and research in these areas. Time spent in the field with Rod was a true pleasure. He loved being outdoors and this passion shone through to all. Field classes were always a joy. Endless debates with Tim about whether we were seeing deformation event 2, or deformation event 3, and then telling the students the opposite of what Tim thought. His unique ability to find a perfect spot for a snooze, safe from the gaze of inquisitive students. Evenings engaged in all manner of discussions - geological, political and emotional - with staff. One highlight of any field class with Rod was the inevitable barbeque, or “brai” to give it it’s proper name, with copious amounts of beautifully cooked food. My last time in Rod’s company was on his beloved Kerrera, stood over the barbeque, flames and smoke everywhere, and enjoying an illicit beer. In the last few years of the pandemic, it was a great privilege to spend a week with Rod on Mull and Kerrera, preparing videos for a virtual field class. He was in his element. Having been “imprisoned” in Glasgow for 18 months, it was one of the most beautiful weeks of my life, which I will never forget. I think what we will all remember most about Rod however, is his kindness and generosity. He would go out of his way to help anyone. As a Senior Adviser he helped so many students with problems, particularly in the testing times of the pandemic. He would happily invite anyone into his home, making them feel like part of the family. This could be new PhD students settling in the country, or new staff moving to Glasgow that he would take into the hills. He regularly paid for dinner, travel, and even accommodation for those in need out of his own pocket. I’ll never forget the beautiful meal the geology staff had at his house – an evening where discussion of Rod’s impending study leave came up in conversation – study leave that Rod had forgotten to inform his family of! Rod dearly loved his family and friends, and as you will hear they loved him too. He was a beautiful, wonderful, funny, entertaining, eloquent, erudite, kind and generous soul. Above all he was a true gentleman. We will all deeply miss you Rod, but we are so glad to have shared such wonderful times and memories with you."
David Brown - University of Glasgow
I am extremely saddened by the loss of Rod. While my friendship with Rod was developed during only a handful of conferences and academic visits, his kindness and encouragement meant a great deal to me, particularly as a young aspiring scientist. His warm, supporting nature was a rare respite in what can otherwise often be a lonely academic world. I will particularly cherish the memory of when he and Sue hosted me at their home during a visit to the University of Glasgow in 2018. The international thermochronology and geological communities are poorer for the loss of his joyful and passionate character. My deepest condolences to his family and friends.
Samuel Boone - University of Melbourne
Rod Brown was a wonderfully kind and generous man, an outstanding scientist and a great friend. He was one of the very best of the PhD students I have supervised, always thinking deeply about his research and what it meant. As a result, the student-supervisor relationship went very much in both directions – I am quite sure I learned more from him than he did from me. It has been an extraordinary privilege to have known and worked with Rod over so many years and I have always looked forward to meeting up, talking and having a laugh with him in various parts of the world. I will miss him terribly as will everyone in our group in Melbourne and his many friends around the world. My heartfelt thoughts and condolences go out to Sue and Ruairidh and their extended family.
Andy Gleadow - Emeritus Professor of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne
I was very saddened to hear of Rob's passing. I have many fond memories of chatting to Rob and especially sharing fieldwork stories during my time at Glasgow. He was a gentle and erudite man.
James Bendle - University of Birmingham
It was very sad to hear of the passing of Rod. Although I didn’t end up following a career in Earth Science, Rod definitely made my time at Glasgow a memorable and fun experience, both in the classroom and on fieldtrips. I know that many of his colleagues, students and former students hold him in the highest regard, and will truly miss him. May he rest in peace, and be raised in glory.
Louis Fields - St. Columb’s School of Music
Where to start with Rod? Such a terrible loss for family, colleagues, and friends and to say again to Sue, Ruairidh and everyone, he was a great gentleman, and everyone is so sorry – we are all gutted. I would sum him up at university and as a friend as always having a clever idea, being a dreamer, exuberant, loud, and forthright. He carried a cheeky grin with him, was thoroughly supportive, a great champion of people and causes. Rod spoke from his heart without fear or favour (or clean language) and left so many laugh-out-loud moments in the wake of his adventures. Just the thought of a trip without the best BBQ antics. A conversation without something to break down giggling over. A day in the field without octopus-like waving and wiggling of limbs to mark out what the rocks were trying to say. A ubiquitous iPad, a crafty field nap, a firm hand to remove an errant colleague from the Tesco Value selection before untold damage was done to our culinary offerings. Such a miss, we can only hope to emulate a wee part of his character.
Iain Neill - Lecturer, School of Geographical and Earth Sciences
Rod became my advisor of studies when I changed from Biology to Earth Science, and he has been incredibly supportive throughout my entire degree. When I needed to take a break from my studies, he was extremely helpful and compassionate. I valued him greatly both as an advisor and as a teacher who sparked my enthusiasm for metamorphism and structural geology. My time at Glasgow University would not have been the same without him, and I cannot say how grateful I am to him, and how sad I was to hear of his passing. I know that he will be sorely missed, and my thoughts are with his family and friends.
Phi - Student at University of Glasgow
It isn't an overstatement to say that I owe my career as an academic in part to Rod. His vision and influence were instrumental in creating the position of Lecturer in Computational Geosciences at GES I ended up getting after a couple dozen previous applications around the world had failed. He believed in and advocated for me at a time when it felt I wasn't getting anywhere. I was very glad that Rod became my academic mentor for the two years I worked alongside him. Our conversations were always insightful, stimulating, and enjoyable. Even though our lives overlapped for much too short a time, his generosity, sharp wit, and visionary mind left a deep impression on me. I will miss Rod terribly and will always remember him with much fondness and gratitude for the lasting and positive influence he had on my life as an academic. My heartfelt condolences go out to Rod's family and close friends.
Tobias Keller - Honorary Lecturer, University of Glasgow
Rod was an incredibly kind, thoughtful and insightful person. He encouraged me and provided guidance at key points in my career and for that, I will be forever grateful. His warmth and joyful nature were infectious. My most sincere condolences to his family and friends.
Vhairi Mackintosh - University of Melbourne
I would like to express my sincere condolences to the family of Dr Roderick Brown. Rod was my personal advisor and he was the first lecturer to greet me when I first started my career. He helped me a lot with both academic and personal issues, and will sometimes email me to see if I needed any help. This is a great loss to everyone who knew him, and he will be truly missed.
Zeyad - Environmental Geoscience student
I worked with Rod at GES between 2010 and 2013. Those were my lucky years. He was my “colleague”, never quite comfortable with me presenting him as my supervisor or him presenting me as his “postdoc”. I was not an exception, that was just who he was: deeply caring and considerate towards the people he worked with. We quickly became good friends and that relationship only deepened with time. Rod IS my mentor, my best friend, a father, the best colleague I ever had. His role in my work and personal life is enormous. He was always there when I needed him. We shared the best and worst times together, visiting each other between Norway, Scotland and Australia, spending long hours on the phone. We shared a passion for Science, long runs, philosophical discussions about life and how things should be… Rod was a catalyst, his way of thinking and talking to people had the power to trigger new thoughts, and simply made people better. He initiated so many great relationships, and still does, still will. I can’t fathom not having him in my life and will always cherish the time we shared together. I had the opportunity to see him and say goodbye a few days before he passed and I am very thankful for that. Our last discussion meant the World to me. The more I think about him, the more I realise how lucky I am to have met him. Thank you Rod. Lots of love from Australia. I will take you on my long runs under the blue sky.
Romain Beucher - The Australian National University
I was so sad to hear about Rod's passing. I worked with Rod in recent years as the Academic Development contact for the College of Science and Engineering, when Rod was part of the Flexible Learning Leads group, representing Geographic and Earth Sciences, providing leadership in the pivot to online during the pandemic. It was a privilege to work with Rod; it was evident he was a man of intellect and integrity, and cared very much about the learning experiences of his students. As part of the Flexible Learning Leads group, Rod co-authored a paper entitled "Togetherness: The central tenet of an effective institutional online pivot" and I think this captured perfectly his collaborative approach for the benefit of his students and colleagues. Thoughts with his family, friends, colleagues and students at this difficult time.
Vicki Dale - The University of Glasgow, Senior Academic and Digital Development Adviser
I was deeply saddened and shocked to hear about Rod's passing. I have many fond memories of him over some many years, both when he was based here in Melbourne and beyond. He was a thoroughly decent and generous human being, with a great sense of humour and an infectious smile. Rod was an outstanding scientist. We collaborated on several research projects and I was always amazed at his great capacity for thinking outside the box. He left us far too soon and it all seems so grossly unjust. My sincerest condolences to Sue and the family, and all his colleagues at the University of Glasgow.
Professor Barry Kohn - University of Melbourne
The everlasting endearing memory I will have of Rod is that his entire persona was shaped by two things; his deep passion and intrigue for Earth Sciences and his genuine interest and heartfelt concern for other people. I don’t think I have ever met anyone quite like Rod and I doubt I ever will again. He will be sorely missed.
Former undergraduate student - The University of Edinburgh
The thermochronology group at Birkbeck and University College London wishes to pass on its sincere condolences to Rod’s family, friends and colleagues. When Rod came to London to spend time with us as a postdoctoral researcher between 1992 and 1994, it soon became apparent that he was a special person, who was not only kind and patient but was someone who put a lot of thought into his science. Throughout the years we continued to collaborate with Rod, and pursued collaborative research grant funding with him. We will remember Rod as a creative and serious scientist, who upheld extremely high standards for his research, and whose work will have a lasting impact on the field of thermochronology. But most of all, we will remember Rod as a warm, generous, supportive, and humble colleague who will be sadly missed.
Andy Carter, Pieter Vermeesch and Matt Fox - University College London
I will always remember Rod as the friendly face, he always had a smile for you. I always asked him where his boat was when it was traveling from Australia to Helensburgh ( what a guy!) and it ended up a conversation about his running and as my daughter, Emily, was a runner he asked after her and what race she was doing next. In Ardnamurchan when I came up to drop of the luggage and equipment the dinners were full of laughter and stories. He was an amazing man telling me of all the travels he had done through the world and the many friends he made in these trips. No one could walk away from him without admiration for his great nature and friendship. I am a better man in myself for having met Rod and I have great memories that will last my lifetime. I will never forget him and he will always be a big part of Helensburgh where I was born, and where my wife, cathie, and i visit regularly.
John Gilleece - University of Glasgow (I worked along side Rod as techician in GES until i retired in 2018)
Thank you very much for the guidance, assistance, kindness and generosity in paving my way to become a part of the School. I’m sad that I and my family could not thank you in person since you played a major role in this process. To me you are still the first person I associate with the University of Glasgow. I only glimpsed tiny bits of the wonderful person that you are while meeting you online only. We will continue your vision and legacy at the School. Godspeed and farewell!
Dr. Paul R. Eizenhöfer - Lecturer at the University of Glasgow
I am privileged to have known and worked with Rod. From our first meeting in Berne, Switzerland to working together in the UCL lab Rod was a greatly valued colleague, a great scientist, a good friend and a caring person. I will miss him.
Tony Hurford - Emeritus Professor of Geology, UCL
Rod has been one of the undeniable legends of the school. From vague memories of early uni days to some very memorable fieldtrip moments, the rich mosaic of the Earth Science experience would not be so vivid without him. It always makes me smile when I recall his mock scientific arguments with the other lecturers whilst standing next to a damp rock face in the field on a typical Scottish day. Or his inseparable iPad full of geological measurements and photos of scenic landscapes with scenic fieldwork efforts of us scattered over the hillside. Or how he simply wouldn’t believe me that I don’t understand how to draw a certain element on a geological cross section, but would tirelessly explain nevertheless. Rod, thank you. I am grateful for the honour of having been one of your students.
Marta Kalabová - University of Strathclyde
I feel incredibly honoured to have had the opportunity to work and learn from Prof Brown. Rod was an inspiring and supportive mentor when I did my undergraduate dissertation with him 8 years ago. Working with him was the main reason I chose to do a PhD and work in academia - he was curious, passionate, and extremely kind. When I cried in his office over the stress of finishing my project he said life was far too short to get upset about some statistics, a piece of advice that has saved me a lot of stress in the coming years! I'm thankful for the time I got to spend with him and his thoughtful mentorship during a formative time of my life. I will always remember him for his inspiring brilliance and exceptional kindness.
Ruta Karolyte - University of Oxford
It was heavy sadness I learned of Rod's passing. He was an extremely collegiate and dedicated colleague with a wry sense of humour that enlivened departmental meetings and other aspects of our jobs. As an example, he kindly jumped in to cover some of my student liaison role when I was a victim of a serious crime during term time - his willingness to take on this extra task was incredibly supportive and will not be forgotten. I hope this memory helps brighten spirits of his close loved ones and friends.
Larissa Naylor - University of Glasgow, School of Geographical and Earth Sciences
Rod was a lovely colleague. I appreciated his humour and kindness. He was not afraid of speaking his mind and often came to meetings with distinctive and original ideas. I first encountered Rod in a Mental Health First Aid course and was struck by his gentle and nuanced engagement regarding questions of mental health and illness. The fact that he was there showed that he was clearly someone who cared about others and he demonstrated this in many ways. Recently we had a really nice exchange on email, and although he was ill, he was making suggestions and contributions even from the hospital. He will be missed by many of us in the School. Thoughts are with his family and friends and other professional colleagues across the world.
Hester Parr - Professor of Human Geography, University of Glasgow, School of Geographical and Earth Sciences
Sorry to hear of the loss of Rod. A true gentleman and a scholar. It was always great to catch up with him for a chat and a beer since we first met back in the early 90's at Mawson station. My deepest condolences to his family and colleagues.
Richard White - University of St Andrews
Shocked and saddened by Rod's passing away. Would remember him as a thorough gentleman.
Namrata - University of Glasgow
Rod was an excellent lecturer and a great energy out in the field. I remember arriving at Rod’s office door one day in a panic, throughly confused about stereonets. He was so calm and patient when explaining them further to me, which I think is a great sentiment to the person he was. Rod’s attitude and passion for his work has left a long lasting impact on me, and I will not forget the effort he put into his great teaching. Although, I don’t remember too much about stereonets anymore.
Christine I - previous Earth Science student
Very sad to hear of the passing of Rod. Rod was one of my undergrad research project supervisors and lecturers. He always had great humour and I remember him from being incredibly blunt, but helpful, in his feedback. My favourite memory was in the field with rod during an undergrad trip. I asked for feedback on a field sketch. He replied: "I'd rather be honest, it's shit". He then gave some great advice and feedback that did greatly improve my outcrop sketches. I also fondly remember him wandering around the field with his iPad while debating the geological history. Perhaps the funniest field moment was when he nonchalantly placed my whole weatherwriter under a small waterfall to provide a better surface to take a strike and dip. He taught me lots about how to work in a lab and was always willing to take the time to help me understand. The skills he helped me to develop in those first stages of independent research have helped me to get to where I am today.
Christopher McMahon - PhD Researcher - University of Strathclyde
Thanks for being one of my lecturers. You were such a calming force especially on field trips when I had no idea what was going on.
Lauren - Earth science alumni
‘Tectonic geomorphology of the eastern South African-Mozambique Passive Margin,’ is a mouthful of a title that introduced me to Rod Brown. Over the course of my dissertation, I would spend many an hour with Rod discussing South African geology and thermochronology. Our meetings would regularly overrun – I remember in one instance continuing our conversation after a fire alarm had gone off. We walked down the stairs, talked in front of the building and then continued in his office. His knowledge and passion was infectious, and I was eager to learn from him. He became my first mentor. Not only in the sense that he encouraged me for who I was, but also for what I could be. In one meeting, I was asking plenty of questions. After one too many, he looked at me and said ‘Jack, you need to do some more reading.’ I felt the immediate pang of letting someone down. I left the meeting and came back the following week armed with more knowledge. I learned a valuable lesson that day – that people who want the best for you are not the ones who will always tell you how great you are. They are the ones who push you. Who drive you on to be better. The thing that I will always be most thankful for is Rod opening the door to my current life. He taught an infamous Geophysics module in my final year at Glasgow – infamous because most Geologists are terrible at Maths/Physics (including my fiancée). So, when Rod started lecturing about Free Air Anomalies, Geoids and Magnetic field calculations, some of my classmates started wondering if they had taken the wrong degree. I had taken Advanced Higher Physics at school and was enjoying the combination. In one of my first meetings with him I asked about what kind of career this subject could lead to. He told me to apply for the Geophysics Masters at Leeds University. I did, and asked him to be a referee. He did, and I was lucky enough to be accepted and receive a full scholarship. That lead to me becoming a Geophysicist working in Aberdeen today. I now have a house, a fiancée and a 2 year old lab who loves running around fields close to my house. And I owe all of this to Rod’s advice. I never got to tell Rod how thankful I was for the kindness he showed me. I hope he knew. I hope he knew how much he meant to me. How much he taught me. Not only about Geology, or Geophysics - but about life. About the importance of mentoring. As I go about my daily life, I think about those people who take a shine to me and try to teach me something. And I try to listen as much as I can. Because they have spotted something within me, some spirit or spark. And they want to foster it – to encourage the good and burn off the bad. Rod was the first person to do that for me. I’ll never forget our graduate ball – I told him that I was accepted to Leeds with a full scholarship from Shell and a smile flashed across his face. He shook my hand and congratulated me. He didn’t need to say anything else – I knew he was happy for me. Thank you for everything Rod. In the short time we knew each other, you taught me so much and I’m so grateful that you came into my life. I hope you know how much of an impact you made on me. I wish that in the future I can be the transfer of knowledge to the next generation, as you were to me.
Jack Rushton - Geophysicist, Shell
Remember Rod fondly from my time as a student at GES. Always friendly, approachable and, of course, knowledgeable in the classroom and the field (Ardnamurchan being a highlight). Thanks Rod, will always remember your infectious enthusiasm for geology.
Neil Burnside - University of Strathclyde
So saddened to hear this news. Rod was a much valued colleague and friend over many years in GES, and he will be sorely missed not only by his family, but also by his many friends and colleagues in Glasgow and beyond.
Professor John Briggs - GES, University of Glasgow
Over the years of our degree, my birthday always landed on one of our field trips. During the 3rd year trip to Oban & Ardnamurchan, Rod was demonstrating using Swiss rolls and skewers. I was brought out (along with the classic song) my own birthday candle edition to celebrate the day. Such a calm, kind and incredibly intelligent man who I'm so sorry to hear of his passing. The next generation of Glasgow Earth Scientists are missing out on a real gem.
Laura Thompson - Glasgow Uni Alumni
It cuts to my heart to hear about the loss that your family has experienced. Words cannot express my condolences. I will always remember the crazy ideas on tectonics that we discussed while in Glasgow as your PhD student. I am sending my tributes from Tanzania, East Africa. R.IP. Rod.
Dr. Charles Happe Kasanzu - Senior Lecturer of Geology, University of Dar es Salaam, School of Mines and Geosciences, Tanzania
Rod was a very kind person, always very friendly and helpful. He was one of the most straightforward people I've ever met - always genuine and honest. I was very fond of his personality and for his passion for work. Rod's absence is already being felt in the School. My thoughts and prayers are with his family in this difficult time.
Ali - University of Glasgow
The brilliancy of Rod's work will radiate more powerfully and will illuminate thousands of young minds in the time to come. He will always be missed but his contributions will always be with us. God Bless You Soul, Rod!
Mohammed Faraz - National Foundation for India
First published: 5 September 2022