Bureau Director Scott W. Tinker (left) with 2008 Bureau of Economic Geology Alumnus of the Year, William L. Fisher.

William L. Fisher
2008 BEG Alumni of the Year

William L. Fisher, the sixth and longest serving director of the Bureau of Economic Geology, was honored as the Bureau’s alumnus of the year in 2008. Bill Fisher came to the Bureau in 1960 after completing coursework for his doctorate at the University of Kansas. He completed his dissertation and received his Ph.D. in 1961.

In his early work at the Bureau, Fisher conducted research on the Texas Gulf Coast Basin. He published a paper with one of his graduate students in 1967 on depositional systems in the Wilcox Group, a watershed concept in the field of stratigraphy and sedimentology. Fisher was also one of the lead researchers and authors of the seven-volume atlas on the environmental geology of the Texas coastal zone published by the Bureau.

In 1970, Fisher was named director of the Bureau, a post he would hold until 1994. He would also later serve as interim director in 1999–2000.

Fisher led the Bureau through prolific times in research and publication efforts. He also served many professional societies as an officer, distinguished lecturer, and committee member. His service extended across his profession at the national, state, and university level. His influence reached the international level as he promoted the Bureau’s research in a competitive global environment, establishing its reputation in word and deed. A member of the National Academy of Engineering, Fisher also served on many national research boards and held advisory roles in support of the White House. Another measure of his broad influence is found in the careers of the students and colleagues he helped launch.

Although much of Fisher’s career was spent in research administration and policy development, he always maintained contact with students. Fisher received the Knebel Distinguished Teaching Award from the Department of Geological Sciences by student election in 2000. He supervised many graduate students who went home to achieve high-level positions in their native countries, well prepared to meet the challenges of energy and mineral resource management. He also helped staff scientists at the Bureau to advance to leading positions in government and professional organizations, at other state surveys and universities, and in industry, as well as to achieve success as consultants.

In 1975, Fisher accepted a Department of Interior appointment to serve as deputy assistant secretary of energy. In 1976 President Gerald Ford appointed him assistant secretary of energy and minerals, a post he held until January 1977. He took a leave of absence from the Bureau during his two-year stint in Washington. His involvement in national policy issues regarding energy and mineral resources would become a cornerstone of his career. Decades later, in 2003, the American Geological Institute would establish a congressional geoscience fellowship named in honor of Fisher to support the involvement of geoscientists in shaping national policy.

In addition to his administrative responsibilities at the Bureau, Fisher chaired the Department of Geological Sciences from 1984 to 1990. He also directed the Geology Foundation from 1984 to 2006, the longest term in that organization’s history. Fisher developed more than $500 million in endowed and expendable funds during his tenure at the Foundation. His friendship with fellow Advisory Council member Jack Jackson led to a lifelong bond of shared interest in the future of geoscience education at The University of Texas at Austin.

When Jackson donated funds to establish the John A. and Katherine G. Jackson School of Geosciences at the University, it was a natural appointment for Fisher to serve as the first director of the school. He would later be named the inaugural dean of the school in 2005, when it was established at the college level.

Fisher continues to teach and supervise graduate students in the Department of Geological Sciences, where he holds the Leonidas T. Barrow Centennial Chair in Mineral Resources.

To read more about Fisher’s term as Bureau director, see his profile (William L. Fisher) under the Bureau of Economic Geology Directors. For the comprehensive story of his life and career, see his memoir, Leaning Forward, published by the Bureau in 2008.
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