David Ross Stoddart died in Berkeley, California on 23 November, 2014. When I first went to Louisiana State University in 1962, I heard tales of “Red Beard” from my supervisor Professor R.J. Russell. At that time there was a good connection between Russell and Professor Alfred Steers of Cambridge who had encouraged David to undertake his PhD field work on coral reefs in the Caribbean. Russell was impressed with the energy and intellectual strengths of this young man who was beginning a career in coral reef research.

Many obituaries have been written about David. But he wanted to get in first by writing his own (Be of good cheer, my weary readers, for I have espied the land, or getting in first before the orbituarists)! It was both sad to have to read those of others, but at the same time rewarding. It was another opportunity to appreciate his many insights and contributions to coastal science in particular and to geography in general. I will not try to repeat what they (and an alive DRS) have said (see for instance, Peter Haggett’s in The Geographical Journal, December, 2015, vol. 181, pp. 437-439), but to offer some personal reflections.

David is one of those rare individuals that can combine scholarship and field science at the highest level. He had a massive personal library, not just as a collector but for the purpose of working out how others saw the physical world and therefore the evolution of natural science. Charles Darwin was one of his great heroes. He read through Darwin’s correspondence to ascertain Darwin’s influence on geography and he researched the history of the Royal Geographic Society. He played a role in the establishment of journals and published prolifically in places such as the Atoll Research Bulletin. His broader interests were captured in a book that I often love to pick up and read, On Geography and its History, Blackwell, 1986.

In the early 70s when I was at Australian National University, I had a visit from David. He was looking for support for an expedition to the northern Great Barrier Reef. His mentor, Steers had been part of an expedition in the late 1920s and he was fascinated by the prospect of returning to Low Isles and other cays and reefs. At the time I was in possession of a drill rig and driller, ANU was the place to do radiocarbon dating, and Roger McLean had just joined the university and was keen to get stuck into reef work in Australia. The Expedition also involved folk from the University of Queensland, James Cook University and scientists from the UK. The main sponsor was the Royal Society. How could I not resist the temptation to drag the drill onto the reefs in 1973 at a time when there was much speculation on the thickness of the Holocene reef growth—that is another story. Stoddart made all this possible. He encouraged a wide range of interests such as coral taxonomy involving Charlie Veron, mangrove ecology on cays, the significance of micro-atolls and other reef sedimentary environments and morphologies. He was into everything as our leader, and in 1976 he gathered us altogether in London for presentations of our respective studies at the Royal Society (later published in the Philosophical Transactions in 1978). It was a marvellous team effort inspired by one man, DRS.

(PC: Department of
Geography, Cambridge)