Geotimes
In Memoriam
Charles S. Content
George Phair

Charles. S. Content

Charles S. Content, a consummate field geologist who was responsible for the early growth of the geology department at Bechtel Corp., died in Danville, Calif., on Feb. 21. He was 94.

Born in 1908, Content grew up in Raton, N.M., where his early interest in nature led him to earn his bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of Colorado in Boulder. He spent his early career at the Bureau of Reclamation, first as a surveyor and later as a geologist. He had risen to district geologist when he joined Bechtel in 1956.

That year, Content was one of four geologists at Bechtel. The company employed nearly 100 geologists when he retired as chief geologist in 1974. We had the good fortune to work with Content while he was at Bechtel.

Content’s passion was field geology. He nurtured two generations of Bechtel geologists to base their conclusions on field observations and measurements. He insisted we climb every peak and crawl into every canyon when mapping an area for an engineering project. He had little patience with those who did not.

Content’s geology staff mapped and collected subsurface geology data for some of the largest, most complex projects in the world. Content often performed the feasibility studies of the toughest, most remote sites himself. If a particularly knotty geology problem cropped up during later site studies, he took the lead, in the field, by showing the field geologist how to solve a similar problem the next time. We mapped in some of the most remote, difficult spots on the planet, and it was glorious.

During Content’s tenure in the 1950s, 1960s and earliest 1970s, Bechtel was involved with the design and construction of many large projects, including dams, tunnels, marine ports, airports, large buildings, power plants (particularly nuclear), industrial plants, mine infrastructure, pipelines and roadways. Bechtel projects spanned the globe and Content traveled the world to review them. He tackled the toughest problems himself. He understood the importance of evolving technology and developed a staff that used the latest technology.

Content’s written and oral recommendations to project managers, vice presidents and clients were each tailored to his audience. He had the talent of a trained artist and used it proficiently to help engineers understand how the geology would affect their engineering and construction. These sketches typically focused the engineer’s attention on those features critical to engineering and construction better than words and photos could. Some of his best engineering geology sketches were published by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Content was a distinguished engineering geologist and a great friend. We are so pleased he chose engineering geology as his life’s work.

Richard Migues, Cole McClure and Michael Beathard


Migues and McClure are both retired from Bechtel and live in California. Beathard is geology manager at Bechtel in Houston.

George Phair

George Phair, a retired research geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Reston, Va., died of cancer at Suburban Hospital on Aug. 5. Phair, a long-time resident of Potomac, Md., was 83.

Phair was born in 1918 in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Lyndhurst, N.J. He received bachelor’s degrees in geology and chemistry from Hamilton College in 1940 and a master’s in structural geology from Rutgers University in 1942. He received a master’s and doctorate in geology and geochemistry in 1947 and 1949 from Princeton University.

During World War II, Phair worked as a chemist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Geophysical Laboratory, where his experimental work on gun design and propellants led to the development of a new erosion-resistant alloy that was used as a liner in 50-caliber machine guns. At high rates of fire, the patented material increased the life of machine-gun barrels tenfold.

In 1949, Phair joined USGS, where he remained a research geologist until his retirement in 1984. He led field and laboratory investigations on uranium and thorium and concentrated his studies in Colorado. His research with Harry Levine on leaching characteristics of uranium, radium and thorium from uranium ore contributed to successful exploration of the Algoma uranium district in Canada, which has one of the largest uranium reserves in North America.

His election to fellow in many professional societies was recognition of his contributions to the field of earth science. Phair was a fellow of the Geological Society of America, Mineralogical Society of America, American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Washington Academy of Science. He was an archivist for the Mineralogical Society of America, a life member of Sigma Xi and a charter member of the Geochemical Society.

Horticulture was one of Phair’s life-long interests. While he was in college, he worked in a horticulture company, a job that developed into a strong avocation throughout his professional career and retirement and resulted in publications in professional journals on shade and rock-garden plants. Phair was an active member of the North American Rock Garden Society and helped organize national meetings on the topic in his retirement.

Judy Back, U.S. Geological Survey



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