Product has been added to the basket

Derek Flinn 1922-2012

Derek Flinn 1922-2012Distinguished and colourful structural geologist who spent his career at Liverpool University and specialised in the geology of Shetland.

Derek Flinn was born in Harrow and educated at Dr Challoner’s Grammar School, Amersham. He had a distinguished wartime career, serving between 1941 and 1946 as a sergeant (refusing a commission) in the Royal Marines (Special Boat Service, Ceylon). The story goes that he and a senior officer who was a geologist became stranded behind Japanese lines and spent their time looking at the rocks. It was this experience that attracted Derek to geology.

In1947 he began to study geology at Imperial College, London, graduating in 1950 with a first class honours degree and three prestigious undergraduate prizes. Professor Janet Watson FRS once remarked that Derek had been one of the brightest students of his generation. In 1952 he completed his PhD before spending a year as an Imperial College Exchange Student at ETH, Zurich. Later he would obtain additional qualifications in mathematics, computing and statistics, and he spoke German and Russian.

In 1953 Derek was appointed lecturer at the University of Liverpool, where he spent the rest of his career. He was promoted to Reader in 1965 and awarded a personal chair in 1975, acting as Head of Department between 1978 and 1983. Derek was a brilliant structural geologist and it was said that in the 1950s and 1960s, John Ramsay, (now Professor John Ramsay CBE FRS) and Derek Flinn were the only people who could understand each other’s publications. His outstanding work was recognised internationally, and in 1957 he was awarded a fellowship at the University of Chicago and in 1960 spent a year as a Royal Society Exchange Fellow at the Institute of Geology and Mineral Deposits in Moscow. In 1962 he toured Norway and Sweden at the expense of the King of Sweden and between 1964 and 1979 delivered several lectures in America sponsored by the USGS. In the 1980s he did field work and lectured in Libya.

Derek’s work always centred on his beloved Shetland. As part of his final-year dissertation at Imperial College he had spent two months mapping in Unst under the direction of H H Read. He went on to map the Delting area of Shetland for his PhD. His aim since that time was to determine the geological history of the highly complex Shetland Island Group using all appropriate Earth sciences, whether geomorphological, glaciological, geophysical, geochemical, structural, or petrographical. The excellence of his geological mapping was reflected in the award of contracts from the British Geological Survey to map large areas of the Shetland Islands. This work has been published in a one-inch-to-the-mile map of Shetland south of Lerwick, two one-inch-to-the-mile maps of Central Shetland, and 1:50 000 maps and memoirs of Yell and Unst and Fetlar. The maps are not only aesthetically pleasing but are an example of how to represent complex geology clearly. In addition, he published many research papers in peer-reviewed journals, 58 of which were about Shetland.

In 1986 Derek retired from teaching and was appointed Emeritus Professor and Honorary Senior Research Fellow at Liverpool University, where he continued his research on the geology of Shetland until shortly before his death. He developed a great interest in Shetland local history and wrote a book in 1989 "Travellers in a bygone Shetland". He also assembled a collection of Shetland minerals for the county museum. He had many close friends in Shetland, including Ruby Lindsay, of Lunna House where Derek took parties of students to stay while they carried out their fieldwork under his supervision. He was an outstanding teacher in the field, and in the laboratory where he taught mineralogy, using both optical and reflected-light microscopy.

Derek is remembered with great affection and respect by his former students. Whenever those of us who were students in Liverpool get together, it is not long before we begin to exchange Derek Flinn stories: how he overturned a Landrover in Shetland, and then simply got all the students out, had them turn the vehicle back up, and drove off as if nothing had happened – and never mentioned the incident again; and how he awarded 160% to one student who had fully understood that the simple question ‘How do you measure birefringence’ involved a discussion of different indicatrices with different symmetries, not just a simple jewellers’ device.

In 1974 Derek Flinn obtained a DSc from the University of London. In 1982 he was awarded the Murchison Medal of the Geological Society of London, followed in 1996 by the award of the Clough Medal of the Geological Society of Edinburgh.

Derek married Glenys Williams, the University Librarian in 1956.The wedding was in Lerwick to fit in with his fieldwork and they spent their honeymoon documenting the Funzie conglomerate. He was a devoted husband and family man and always acknowledged Glenys’s support, which included help in editing his writings. Glenys died in 1996. He is survived by their two daughters, Nesta and Janet, and five grandchildren. Derek Flinn DSC FGS, 24 December 1922 – 4 June 2012.

Jane Plant