Eulogy presented by Dr. Mark Cloos at a private service on Saturday, May 31, 2003
I am Mark Cloos. I was Chairman of the Department when Bob was hired.
I take this as a special privilege to talk about Bob the scientist and teacher at the University of Texas.
My contact with Bob Goldhammer began in March 2000. We had a faculty search underway for a carbonate sedimentologist. There were many applicants. A faculty committee picked the group to interview. They told us they selected 3 new PhDs who looked like they matched our needs and there was a fourth, Bob Goldhammer, who had 12 years of experience in the oil world.
I had vague recollection of Bob. He must have visited the Department during his days at the BEG. But my knowledge of him really was a blank slate. I only remembered he was a tall guy and I knew he played the guitar.
Our faculty interviews are two day events. At 8:00 Monday, he walked into my office with a bulging duffel bag and a huge smile.
I started faculty interviews with a half hour office visit where I brief the candidates on the DGS. He listened intently for 15 minutes at which point I asked if he had any questions. Most people ask how many classes am I really going to have to teach or what is the salary?
Bob said: "I've got 20 boxes of rocks, hand samples, polished slabs, and thin sections. I've been saving them from the best places." I immediately realized he was different: a potential geology faculty member who actually likes rocks enough to collect them!
Then he said, "I've got to show you something." Out from the bag came a coiled seismic line. He rolled it out on the floor, it went out of the door into the main office. It must have been 50' long. He said "Look at this line from Angola, the sediment rafts are 50 km long, I can trace time horizons the whole way. Extension was Aptian over here and Oligocene over there. You got to like this, its really dynamic." He then went on to say "What I'm going to really need is a work station, I can get more amazing seismic lines from Angola. The students will love it."
At that point I really knew he was differentin five minutes we went from thin sections to seismic lines 100s of kilometers long. Few can work at such a range of scales.
Then he said "I know an area in Mexico where we can see the effects of salt extension and sediment deposition. It's just like Angola, Mark, but you can see it. It's great, the students will love it, there's so much to do."
And so I learned he also wants to run a field program!
That was my introduction to Bob. In 30 minutes, I knew this was someone special. I could see it in his eyes. He was driven, excited about geology, and above all he wanted to teach at the University of Texas at Austin. He told me he wanted to walk in the footsteps of Bob Folk, Lynton Land and Earle McBride.
When Bob actually started in January 2001, I was no longer chair and became his mentor. What's a mentor?
A few years back, the University ordered departments to appoint mentors for all assistant professors. Most new faculty are 25 to 30 years old; and I guess some get hired who don't know what to do. I thought this was a bit goofy, Bob was experienced professional. I just told him to do what any good faculty member should do. Teach, get some money, publish papers and spend 5% of your time on administration issues for the common good.
In the Department, there are two forms of teaching: undergraduate and graduate. At the undergraduate level, the goal is to teach the basics to create a foundation for the geologists in the making. This can be difficult. There are great researchers who should never be allowed in an undergraduate classroom. This was a key question about Bob when we hired him. We knew the research was there, but what was going to happen when he taught the undergraduates?
I never attended one of Bob's undergraduate classes. But evidence of his success comes in several forms. The core class that Bob had to teach was the carbonate half of GEO 416M, the sedimentology class required for all undergraduate majors. Most of our majors want to learn about sedimentary rocks. The difficult part was the course is also required for Petroleum Engineers. Consequently, the class has a contingent of students that see it as an obstacle towards their degree. We all knew why the teaching evaluations were historically low for this course.
As Bob's mentor, the only real advice I ever gave him was to put some focus on the undergraduate course as graduate classes tend to be easier as they mimic our research interests. Early on, I heard reports from students that Goldhammer's class was good. The proof for the administration sits in a box in my office. I have this box because I was going to work on Bob's promotion dossier over the summer. A few weeks ago I asked Bob to give me his class syllabi, his teaching evaluations, and examples of his handouts. He had developed all of his lectures as PowerPoint presentations so the students could see them on a website. He printed out examples of three entire lectures for each of his class. There also were handouts for each lecture. Clear, concise documents on the fundamentals of sedimentology. You put them all together and the students would have a notebook to carry with them for the rest of their professional career.
So what did the students think?
On class evaluations numerous students simply wrote "Great job" "Great teacher" "Awesome teacher"
Others were more detailed.
Dr. Goldhammer relating to us his real-life experiences"
And one that I'm sure really charged Bob up.
"After taking your class I am really excited about majoring in geology"
And as always there were the "More on petroleum" and "Less on oil" comments. As I found about the same number of both types of comments, I'm sure he had the right mix.
The Department has an award for outstanding teaching. It is based solely upon a vote of the students at the end of the year. Bob Goldhammer won the Knebel Teaching Award at the end of his first full year of teaching. The College of Natural Sciences has a teaching award based upon evaluations and nomination by the Chairman. Bob won the CNS Outstanding Teaching Award at the end of this, his second full year of teaching.
But there's a story here related to his last class. At the last class meeting of spring semester, Bob wanted to make sure the students knew what was going to be on the final exam. So this is what he did. He showed them the test. The idea was to use the computer projector to flash a couple of pages on the screen so they could see the style of the questions. In order to do this, he put the exam in a folder on the Departmental server that he accessed from the podium. He flashed a few pages. Sounds straightforward doesn't it.
But we have technology in our new addition. Unbeknownst to Bob, there was a student at the back of the classroom who had a laptop computer. As Bob was flashing the pages by, the student used a wireless connection and downloaded the entire exam to his computer. And another student who didn't come so well prepared slipped out of the room, dashed to the library and downloaded the test. After hearing about the incident, I stopped by Bob's office and found him at the computer making a new final exam. He said "I was just trying to be nice. I wanted to help them study."
Bob approached teaching his graduate courses in carbonate rocks with vigor. He had the 20 boxes of rocks to use in the Friday lab that was an affair that went on for hours.
I'm sure this is where Bob really excelled. Here's three graduate student evaluations, and these are direct quotes:
is the best I've ever had. I was lucky to have such a great teacher"
Keep in mind that all of these students had already completed degrees and their perspective comes after taking dozens of geology classes.
Bob was really proud that he had 4 students give presentations at the last AAPG meeting. He was excited for them. When I saw him after the meeting he said "Mark, you should have seen the crowds at their posters."
He was really proud of Barb Tillotson and Tina Foster. He came up to my office to show me the bound copy of Barb's thesis when it was hot off the press. "This is my first one!" Last week he brought me a copy of Tina's thesis to put it in my Goldhammer box. He first apologized that it wasn't the official bound copy, then he showed me a few figures saying "look at what she did!" He was so proud of these two.
But Bob was rooted in the field. He wanted to "get the kids out." I don't know how he did this, but he managed to find ways to get companies to pay for things. During his short time here, Bob led four field trips to Mexico, two to the Arbuckles in Oklahoma, one to west Texas and one to Italy. He also arranged for students to go to Belize where the legendary attack of the jellyfish occurred.
One of the Mexico trips had another student story worth telling. I know some of my details are not quite right, but this is the gist of the story. Bob had a company lined up to pay the costs so they were able to stay for 4 days in a fairly nice hotel. The group was checking out. The person at the front desk said the bill was $1500. Bob said "there must be some mistake, the bill should only be something like $800." The person said "Dr. Goldhammer, your minibar bill is $700." It turned out that two of the students had cleaned out the minibar in their room each day and had the beer, sodas, peanuts, and crackers in their luggage. Bob told me "you should have been there, the stuff was falling out when they opened their bags." He then said "It never occurred to me I should have told them not to empty the minibar."
Some people wonder why old faculty become the way they are. Well, we work with students and every year things like this happen. Over time, the list gets long. But if there was anyone I have known who would have kept the spirit of always trying to first think the best of students, it was going to be Bob.
Now, I do have some personal experience. Bob gave two lectures in my graduate tectonics course the past two years. This year, one was on the origin of the Gulf of Mexico. The other was on the geology of offshore Angola. Good topics for a tectonics course.
But how does a RKG research presentation begin? There is an unveiling of maps, charts, and seismic cross sections that students must hold while the supermagnets are stuck on them to hold them on the wallnot just one wall, every wall if possible. I think Bob had collected a set of the strongest magnets at each of the companies he had worked at because getting the stuff down at the end was also part of the experience. (I actually wrote this before I saw the poster!)
But the real point is that his setup made the students get up close to the figures before he even starts. While they holding the map and placing magnets, they notice things. By the time the stuff is up, the lecture room has become a scene of full immersion geology. And during his lectures, the movement from slides to the wall hangings created a dynamic that was invigorating.
I've been here for 22 years. In 90 minutes, I learned more new things about the Gulf of Mexico than I had learned from reading papers and going to talks for the past decade. His Angola presentation on the movement of salt while sediment was accumulating on top was riveting. Essentially all was new and unpublished. What the students got was exactly what should happen at a top tier research university. They were seeing cutting-edge research results before the rest of the world!
But the biggest thing of all was the sense of how fascinating sedimentary rocks are. He made it so you wanted to be a sedimentologist. A carbonate sedimentologist!
So what was Bob Goldhammer to the world of geology? I could list his papers, but this has limited meaning. And later you will hear from others at the memorial ceremony. But I have one example.
John Grotzinger a faculty member at MIT e-mailed me on Thursday from Oman. He said that word of Bob's death had reached the ongoing Geological Society of Oman meeting. There's a lot of carbonate rocks in Oman. I don't know if Bob ever visited, but I know he would have been excited to be there. The Grotz, that's what Bob always called him, told me that word of Bob had spread fast through the crowd. The Omani's stopped their session for a moment of silence in Bob's memory. I suspect that every geologist in Oman knew about R. K. Goldhammer from his papers. Bob made a real difference in the world of science. And his loss was felt instantly.
So what was Bob to the Department?
About 15 years ago, one of my students referred to herself as one of my satellites. I asked her what she meant? She said the faculty are like orbiting planets in a solar system. Graduate students are like satellites orbiting their advisors.
This analogy has stuck with me. Every department is a different solar system. Some have many planets, some have few. Some planets are big, others small. Some are near the center of activity, others at the fringes. Some have many satellites, some have few.
But Bob was different. Bob was more like a meteor streaking into our solar system. So bright that everyone had turned to look. But we didn't know how big he was or really where he was going. Satellites were being attracted but where was Bob's place going to be in the UT system?
All of us faculty will have a different picture of what may have been. But some parts are crystal clear.
First, I am certain, the undergraduates who took his classes will never forget the teacher who cared enough to show them the final exam.
Second, Bob left his mark on a group of very special graduate students.
I mentioned Barb and Tina.
But there's Matt Davis, Jose Delgado, Younis Altobi, Rob Forkner, Matt Campbell, Ned Frost, John Hooker and Brook Riley.
For me, I will never forget my first meeting with the big guy. The 20 boxes of rocks he was saving for THIS job and the 50' seismic profile. The guy who thought about thin sections and mountain belts.
Almost everything we talked about was science, students and the affairs of the department. Most of my chats with Bob were in the early evening when most people had already gone home. Because of this, I got to see the sparkle in his eyes when he said, "I gotta go, Uschi wants me home."
And I also saw his special look of wonderment when we talked of his little ones, Nora and Max.
Bob, you were the geologists' geologist. And I suspect you would say to us something like "you got to rock on."
But most of all, you were the son, brother, husband, and father. Bob, we miss you.