Frederick (Sam) Sawkins: 1935–2016

06 October 2016
Frederick John (Sam) Sawkins, born 15 September 1935, Cape Town, South Africa.
Frederick John (Sam) Sawkins, born 15 September 1935, Cape Town, South Africa.

Sam Sawkins passed away quietly in his home in Urbanna, Virginia on Thursday, October 6. He is survived by his wife, "Ginny", his children, Peter Sawkins (Christine) and Annemarie Sawkins, Ginny’s son, Dan Stephano (Helene), his two beloved grandchildren, Emma and Cate, and his much loved dog and constant companion "Larry", also known as Lawrence of Urbannia.

Born in 1935 in Cape Town, South Africa to Arthur and Louise Sawkins, Sam grew up in Cape Town where he attended Bishops Diocesan College (high school) and the University of Cape Town.

As a young man, Sam travelled from Cape Town to Cairo and lived in the bush for months at a time. From Africa he moved to England where he attended the London School of Mines, and then to Princeton University where he earned his PhD in economic geology. He later earned a post-doctorate degree at the University of Durham, England. Sam later lived in Lima, Peru before moving to Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1968 to raise his family and take a position at the University of Minnesota where he was a Professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics until 1991.

Sam co-authored the influential and critically acclaimed textbook The Evolving Earth, and the highly lauded Metal Deposits in Relation to Plate Tectonics, along with over 50 articles in various professional journals. An avid rugby player and fan, he started the University of Minnesota Rugby Club in 1969, and coached its teams to many championships.

After taking early retirement, Sam moved to Hampton, VA to fulfill his passion for sailing, eventually logging over 26,000 miles of blue water sailing, including a trans-Atlantic sail. While in Hampton, he met Ginny, his true sailing partner, with whom he sailed throughout the Caribbean, Chesapeake and parts of the Pacific. They married in 1998 and moved to Urbanna to live on the banks of the Rappahannock River. While in Urbanna Sam was active with the local Rotary Club and was a Board member of the Deltaville Maritime Museum where he participated in many programs. He took great pleasure attending "Great Decisions", an annual program and lecture series, always contributing to the discussion at hand. He tutored local students, entertained many local organizations with presentations of his sailing adventures and trips to Africa including many his personal accounts of hair-raising safaris. Sam was a fixture at the local library and spent many quiet hours there. Never one to ignore important facts relating to the world’s energy and environmental problems, Sam regularly contributed to local editorial pages of local and regional newspapers. His commitment to science never stopped and his legacy in the field of science and physics will not soon be forgotten.

In August Sam was awarded special recognition by the Geological Society of South Africa (GSSA) at the Geological Society’s 35th International Congress held in Cape Town. In recognition for his lifelong contributions in the field of economic geology and its relation to plate tectonics, he received the Des Pretorius Memorial Medal recognizing his many achievements in economic geology, an award for which he was most proud.

Sam was an adventurer, an intellect full of boundless curiosity, a man of principle and a fierce advocate for the earth and its battle to endure economic, population and climate challenges. As was his wish, his body has been donated to science. A memorial gathering will take place on the Chesapeake Bay aboard the FD Crockett, Deltaville, Virginia in the fall of 2017. Contributions to Rappahannock Community College (for science education), Warsaw, Virginia, the Middlesex County Public Library, Urbanna, Virginia, the Deltaville Maritime Museum, and the Middlesex County Animal Shelter, Saluda, Virginia would please him very much.

He will be greatly missed by all who knew him. In loving memory.

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