Geotimes
In Memoriam
In Memoriam: J. David Love
Wallace Ulrich and Lisa Samford


Aug. 30 Web Extra, In Memoriam: J. David Love, by Kristina Bartlett


Editor's note: A shorter version of this story appeared in the October 2002 Geotimes.

Our kind friend and mentor, J. David Love, died in Laramie, Wyo., on Aug. 23, 2002. He spent the last months of his life wandering the complicated path of collecting strength to battle illness, while making meaningful connections to many of the comrades he had gathered in his long journey on this planet. It is easy to call back David's ready smile and the touch of mischief in his blue eyes. His high passion for Wyoming and its geology flowed out of him and onto anyone nearby.

Following years of tradition, David and Jane, his wife of 62 years, began this spring in migration: leaving their winter home in Laramie and heading northwest to their remote summer sanctuary, high on the inner side of a massive lateral moraine on the east slope of the Wind River Mountains.After David fell gravely ill, he and his family undertook this journey together, with the courage of people who have journeyed long distances before.

David's philosophy, and practice has inspired others -- geologists, other scientists and laypersons alike -- to use the scientific method and data to inform and elevate thinking to impact public policy rather than simply relying on speculation and bias. He has long taught us to think of the "ecosystem" as the sum of the "geosystem and the biosystem." His love of geology was equaled only by his love for humanity, and his study of science intrinsically reflected that duality. For David Love, the breath and heart of scientific discovery lay within its impact on daily human experience.

The great author John McPhee has written about and created a wonderful portrait of David Love in his book, "Rising from the Plains". Anyone with the good fortune to spend time in the field with David Love came away with a clarity of thought and renewed energy and spirit, in many ways reflecting their day of crisp fresh Wyoming air. McPhee's book re-creates some of this, in a way that is intimately familiar to anyone having a personal experience in the field with Dave Love. Lisa called them "Love letters"; David called them field trips. But they are the same: a person who can help us discover our own connection with the earth has a remarkable gift.

David's boyhood life on his parents' pioneered ranch in the geographical center of Wyoming -- the Wind River Basin -- could be a movie complete with Butch Cassidy, monumental blizzards, bone-busting chores, child-consuming wolfhounds, myths, a mother and father of historic quality, and heroic and compelling geologists riding in from the sunrise.

David earned his bachelor's degree (1933) and master's degree (1934) at the University of Wyoming and then went to Yale University to earn his doctorate. Before he left Wyoming, though, he met fellow geology student Jane S. Matteson, with whom he fell completely in love and had the good sense to marry in 1940. He wrote of their relationship: "We decided way back that this was going to be permanent. Jane, with two degrees in geology, is a wonderful partner, mother of our four children and valued critic of all my work".

A scientist emeritus of the U.S. Geological Survey, David is one of the great Rocky Mountain field geologists, studying Wyoming's geology since 1929. From the Love summer home in Dinwoody, visitors look out over his thesis area. He found and named a mountain range and changed accepted views on regional geology. Over the years, he unearthed its character. He loved this land, and in many ways, it became him.

David provided us with a lot more than the two Wyoming Geological Maps, over 300 papers and 43 other geological maps, and he did it in a genuine and individual fashion. "David walked and touched the ground at more places than anyone I have ever encountered," reminisced Wayne Johnson, a rafting company owner and boatman in Wyoming and Idaho. "If I hear people laughing I know my guide is doing a good job, David taught me and I pass it on. He could make you laugh when he taught geology--a twinkle in his eye, a tan shirt with two pockets, pressed pants,--he looked the part and converted it to humorous language we could use as well as attention-branding statements like his description of the giant Teton Fault as 'Ominously silent.' David left a heritage no one can match of students, friends, and colleagues that will carry on."

David had a lot of topics that he felt needed work. That there are so many unanswered and for that matter unasked questions always was a foundation for David to inspire others to the "search".

Always he left something unanswered, a little of a subject unrevealed, a mystery to discovery, and always there was humor and a mischievousness. He always left us wanting more.


Ulrich is a Trustee of the American Geological Institute Foundation and Samford a documentary film producer. They live in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

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