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Bertram George Woodland (1922 – 2020)

Curator Emeritus of Petrology with expertise in the development of rock microstructure during diagenesis and metamorphism

Bertram WoodlandBertram George Woodland was born in Mountain Ash, Wales, to William and Sarah (Butler) Woodland. He received an honours degree in geology from the University College of Wales, Cardiff in 1942.

Bert worked as an aerial photo interpreter during the Second World War, assessing bomb damage for the Ministry of Home Security and  Air Ministry. After the war, he worked in mineral resource planning in Manchester and then London for the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. Bert also periodically aided his geologist brother with his field studies in Wales and England.

Bert met his future (American) wife on a geological excursion to the French Massif Central organised by the Geologists’ Association in 1951. At the time, Mary was a Fulbright Scholar working towards her PhD in geology at the University of Glasgow. They married in 1952.

Life in the United States

Bert and Mary immigrated to the United States in 1954. Bert taught geology at the University of Massachusetts and Mount Holyoke College, and carried out extensive geological mapping for the State of Vermont geological survey. It was his work in Vermont, which focused on the relationships between rock deformation and metamorphic recrystallization, that earned him a PhD from the University of Chicago in 1962. By this time, Bert had already been appointed Associate Curator of Petrology at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, subsequently being promoted to full Curator upon receiving his PhD. He was Curator for nearly 30 years, until his retirement.

Bert pursued his studies of rock microstructure and metamorphism, with particular interest in the incipient development of cleavage in low-grade rocks. This led to work on the genesis of concretions in sedimentary rocks and the formation of cone-in-cone structure. His study of concretions dovetailed with palaeontological investigations by Field Museum colleagues Rainer Zangerl, Eugene Richardson and Matthew Nitecki, who were describing the classic Pennsylvanian-age Mazon Creek fauna from Illinois. Bert also carried out extensive field studies in the Black Hills of South Dakota, along with investigating rocks that had undergone differing degrees of low-grade metamorphism from Wales and numerous localities across North America.

Outreach and retirement

Bert brought the excitement of geological discovery to non-professionals by leading visits to local limestone quarries for school groups. He organised and led museum-sponsored tours to Spitsbergen, Norway, and to England and Wales, and led geologically oriented raft trips down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

In retirement, Bert spent much time gardening and studying local flora. He and his wife were instrumental in documenting the biodiversity of a remnant of native prairie in their community, contributing to its subsequent incorporation as a local preserve. As a result, he and Mary were elected to the village’s “Hall of Fame” in 2009.

Bert passed away on 24 March 2020, five weeks to the day after the passing of his wife of 67 years, Mary Cameron Vogt Woodland. He is survived by his two sons Trevor and Alan, as well as three loving grandsons, and a number of nieces and nephews. Bert and Mary were devoted to each other up to the very end; his cause of death being essentially due to a broken heart.

By Alan Woodland