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Brian J. Skinner, PhD.

December 15, 1928 August 21, 2019
Brian J. Skinner, PhD.
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Obituary for Brian J. Skinner, PhD.

Brian John Skinner - geologist, professor, and inspiration for generations of students - passed away August 21, 2019 in New Haven, CT. He was 90. The retired Eugene Higgins Professor of Geology & Geophysics at Yale University, Professor Skinner was the author or editor of more than 30 books, including the popular textbooks “The Blue Planet,” and “Dynamic Earth.” He served as president of the Geological Society of America and long-term editor of the journal Economic Geology. Along with his scientific leadership in the field that earned him multiple honors, he always loved teaching the introductory courses to enthuse students through his nearly 50 years at Yale. On campus, Brian was heavily involved with both undergraduate and graduate students, through committees, residential colleges, and as a mentor.
Brian was born the oldest of four boys to Jock and Joyce Skinner in Wallaroo, South Australia on December 15, 1928, and he graduated with honors from the University of Adelaide in 1950. He earned a PhD in 1954 in Geology from Harvard, where he met his wife, H. Catherine Wild, a fellow geologist. After lecturing at the University of Adelaide, he and Cathy returned to the United States in 1958, where he became a Chief of Branch at the U.S. Geological Survey. In 1966 they moved to New Haven, where they both began working at Yale.
While his work was invaluable to the mining industry, Brian also wrote extensively about resource management and sustainability. He performed some of the first analyses on moon rocks returned from the Apollo 11 mission. Before that mission, he explored potential locations for training the astronauts (including memorable trips to Hawaii and the Azores) and assisted in the training to ensure soil and rocks from the moon were collected accurately and without contamination for vital research. Travelling the world for lectures, conferences and studies graduated into leading tours for Yale Alumni Association that were so popular a group of regular travelers began calling themselves “Skinnerites,” after the mineral named for Prof. Skinner. A 2015 retirement tribute from Yale summed up his achievements: “You have deepened our understanding of the geology of the ocean floor, the surface of the moon, the Australian Outback, and nearly everywhere else in between.”
He is survived by his beloved wife and colleague of 65 years, Catherine; daughters Adrienne Skinner, Stephanie Skinner, and Thalassa Skinner; granddaughters Catherine Scott, Didi Scott, Erica Scott, and Alexandra Gordon; great-grandson Elijah Brian Scott-Samber; and his extensive and boisterous Australian family.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Flanders Nature Center & Land Trust (flandersnaturecenter.org). A memorial service to celebrate Brian’s life will take place in New Haven, CT in early October. Arrangements are in care of Beecher & Bennett Funeral Home, Hamden.


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Flanders Nature Center & Land Trust

5 Church Hill Rd.
Woodbury, CT 06798
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