09 Mar THOMAS RUSSELL MacLAREN LAWRIE
THOMAS RUSSELL MacLAREN LAWRIE
Russell Lawrie was born at Sillyearn, Grange, Banffshire, on 30th May 1913. He spent most of his early years in Fife, where his father was a schoolmaster at several locations and he himself was thus educated at various schools, latterly at Buckhaven Secondary, where he was Dux Medallist in 1931. From there he gained a Taylour Thomson Bursary to St Andrews University, graduating BSc in 1935 with a First Class Honours in Geology, also being Class Medallist for that year. He had an active extra-curricular life and was a founder member of the University Mountaineering Club, Captain of the Hockey team 1935-36 and a Hockey Blue. In 1937 he took part in a University scientific expedition to NW Iceland, a trip which not only provided valuable experience for his later work in Skye, but stimulated his lifelong interest in the pastime of bird watching, an activity in which he became expert.
He commenced a postgraduate research study of the Ballachulish Granite, but gave this up after a year when offered a post with the Geological Survey of Great Britain (GSGB), some of his work being eventually incorporated in the revised GSGB memoir to Glencoe and Ben Nevis (1960). On joining the GSGB in 1937 he was first appointed to the relatively new Water Department in London and also worked as a field
surveyor in the Chepstow area. In 1939 he was transferred to the Edinburgh office where his Iceland experience was put to good use in the geological survey of North Skye, while he also worked in Fife. These surveys were discontinued on the outbreak of the War, when, in common with most of the GSGB staff, his work was directed to investigations more immediately concerning the War effort.In Lawrie’s case this was the attempt to find alternative sources of strategic minerals and he was especially involved in the Scottish
Highlands in the search for, and the eventual discovery of, small but vital deposits of sheet mica, then needed for the electronics industry whose previously imported supply had been severely interrupted. (Although important at the time, winning this material proved too labour intensive to survive the War.) He was also concerned in the location of new sources of water supply.
Soon after the War ended his broad experience both in field geology and applied studies resulted in his secondment to the Government of Travancore State, India, as Director of Mineral Survey and Research. There he set up a small Geological Survey HQ and trained staff, but most unfortunately this work was much hindered by the transfer of power in India and he found the appointment personally most frustrating. On his departure in 1950 the Indian Central Government took over the work.
Back in Scotland he joined the small Highlands and Islands Unit (HIU). Basically engaged in the primary 6-inch survey of the Locheil (62) Sheet, much of the time of the Unit was taken up with advisory work for the North of Scotland Hydroelectric Board’s construction schemes, at that time an innovative cooperation between geologist and engineer. Lawrie was particularly involved with the Garry-Moriston, Fannich and Strathfarrar projects. He also served as Geological Assessor to the Mineral Resources Panel of the
Scottish Council (Development and Industry).
In 1957 he was appointed District Geologist in charge of HIU, transferring in 1965 to take charge of the North Lowland Unit. He retired in 1973, but was reappointed to the HIU as a temporary Principal Geologist for a further two years, mainly organising records of mineral resources and assisting in an editorial capacity.
Lawrie was Vice-President of the Edinburgh Geological Society 1957-59 and Joint Scientific Editor of its Transactions 1952-59. He was also a Fellow of the Geological Society of London. He was elected FRSE in 1960. Over the period when Russell Lawrie worked in GSGB (now BGS) the emphasis was of course in its cooperative studies on which the maintenance of the National Geological Data Base depended (i.e. Maps, Memoirs, Borehole Records etc). His considerable director input to the science can however be seen in the credits to the 1-inch (or 1-50000) maps of Chepstow (England 250), and Scotland maps (40) Kinross; (41) North Berwick; (52) Tobermory; (53) Ben Nevis (2nd Edn); Northern Skye; (62W) Loch Quoich and (62E) Loch Lochy. He contributed to the Memoirs of Chepstow, Ben Nevis and Stirling, and was a part or main author of six ‘Wartime Pamphlets’, a title which does scant justice to the importance of the work carried out at that time.
When ‘Russ’ joined the HIU it consisted of myself and J E Wright, the 50% increase in staff being most welcome as we were engaged in the rather daunting task of mapping the mountainous area of Lochaber, then only known in the barest geological detail. West of the Great Glen the terrain was wild and inaccessible. It was also wet, and as the only practicable means of operation was working from small hike tents, personally carried, the life was rather rugged. Russell’s early love of wild country of course helped here, but he also had an equable, humorous personality well able to cope with the conditions and we all became personal friends as well as colleagues. The ‘Pioneering’ aspect of the work was stimulating and he subsequently looked back on these days – as we all did – with nostalgia. Not the least of the plus points for him was the opportunity afforded to observe less common birds and he always carried a heavy pair of powerful binoculars to add to the load of rock specimens. I well remember his excitement when for two successive camp sites we inadvertently chose Blackcock ‘Leks’, on which our tents provided impromptu hides.
As DG of the (much enlarged) HIU and latterly of the NLU he was well liked and respected by his staff several of whom have made mention of his unstinting scientific and editorial help in the preparation of papers and reports. For a man who was certainly not extrovert, his rather pawky humour, especially on social occasions, made him very popular office-wide.
On his retiral he ceased to take an active interest in Geology. His wife Berne (MacDonald, whom he married in 1939) was much involved in Club bowling, and he joined her in this activity, which turned out to be a considerable commitment. With her he also continued his interest in birds and in orchestral music.
Suffering rather poor health in his latter years, he died in Edinburgh on 14 July 1993.