Harold Garnar Reading (1924–2019)

Harold Garnar Reading (1924–2019)

The Department announces with sadness that Harold Reading passed away peacefully last week.  His legacy in the world of sedimentology is immense, having inspired many generations of Oxford undergraduates and postgraduates alike, particularly in the sixties, seventies and eighties, in the field of facies analysis and the reconstruction of ancient sedimentary environments.  During this period, he spearheaded extensive field-based programmes in Finnmark, northern Norway and the Cantabrian Mountains of northern Spain.  The theme of this research, based on highly detailed investigations of clastic sediments, gradually evolved from three-dimensional reconstructions of sedimentary environments to the interplay between tectonics and sedimentation, a topic that was to become a lasting interest.  Unlike in the academic world of today, Harold hardly ever appeared as a co-author on papers produced by his graduate students, even through he had conceived the project in the first place and undertaken joint field-work.  He saw ~40 students from 10 countries through to successful higher degrees.  This spirit of generosity and selflessness characterized his career throughout and was duly recognized by his being awarded the Prestwich Medal from the Geological Society of London (in 1981) and the Twenhofel Medal from SEPM (Society for Sedimentary Geology: an American organization) in 1994, this latter award being the highest form of recognition offered by this society.  In 1997 Harold was awarded the Grover E Murray Memorial Distinguished Educator Award by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists at the Denver Meeting. He received a further medal from the Geological Society, the Coke Medal, in 2001 as well as the Silver Medal of the Society’s Petroleum Group in the same year.

Harold Reading with students in the Cantabrian Mountains, northern Spain, 1974

He was one of the founder members of the British Sedimentological Research Group, which has since taken on a life of its own, and there now exists a Harold Reading Medal given by this organization and awarded annually to the postgraduate judged to have produced the best publication arising from a soft-rock PhD project during the previous year.  Harold was equally influential in the early days of the International Association of Sedimentologists, which provided a more Euro-centric balance to SEPM, still publishes the journal Sedimentology and now sponsors highly successful annual meetings.  He was President of the organization over the years 1982 to 1986 and, in 1999, was its international lecturer, giving courses in many parts of Eastern Europe, Jordan, as well as India and Pakistan (returning to a part of the world in which he had served during the Second World War).



Harold had graduated from Oxford (University College) in 1951, having switched from forestry to geology by the end of his first year, and subsequently undertook a PhD at Durham University on the Carboniferous Yoredale Group of the Stainmore Trough, northern Pennines supervised by Kingsley Dunham, which introduced him to the world of clastic deposits and sedimentary cycles.  After leaving Durham he worked for Shell in Venezuela for three years until appointed by Lawrence Wager to a lectureship  (notionally for a vertebrate palaeontologist) at Oxford in 1957.  Harold began teaching his course on sedimentary environments soon after his return to Oxford but it was not until some twenty years later that he brought together a group of former students and colleagues to write his state-of-the art textbook Sedimentary Environments and Facies, the first edition of which was published, to considerable acclaim, in 1978.  The fact that the book was reprinted in1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1984 is testament enough to its popularity and editions appeared in several other languages.  A second edition followed in 1986 and was again reprinted.  It remains a benchmark for the subject and is still widely cited today.  A third edition, with a change in title, content and authorship, appeared in 1996.

Harold Reading, graduation photograph, 1951, Department of Geology and Mineralogy. Harold is second from right in the back row.

Although Harold’s enjoyment of his later years was curtailed by illness, he continued to take an interest in the Department and attend alumni events whenever possible.  He is remembered with great affection by his former students, many of whom he taught in his role as tutorial fellow in St Peter’s College.  His wife, Bobbie, having pre-deceased him, he is survived by his children John, Peter, Caroline and Simon and his 11 grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held in St. Peter’s College chapel in early 2020.

Harold (right) with his former student Prof. Bruce Levell (centre) and Prof. John Underhill (left) at the Natural History Museum, London.