OBITUARY: Professor Stanley Westoll

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The Independent Online
Stanley Westoll was an outstanding palaeontologist, particularly of the vertebrates, and a world authority on fossil fish.

His early work on the cosmine-covering of the scales and head bones of Osteolepis and Dipterus, which led to the clarification of taxonomic difficulties in these fish, and his later studies on the evolution of the lung fishes, the paired fins of placoderms, the anatomy, taxonomy and evolution of coelocanths, and then a major publication on the Haplolepidae, a family of late Carboniferous bony fish, could have led to his being labelled absolutely as a palaeoichthyologist.

But he made equally substantial contributions to our anatomical knowledge of the evolution of the middle ear, the homology of the mammalian palate, the origin of the primitive tetrapod limb, as well as defining the ancestry of the tetrapods and the captorhinomorph reptiles.

His geological interests were also much wider than only those within and immediately surrounding vertebrate palaeontology. With his research students he unravelled the stratigraphy and correlation of the Old Red Sandstone, particularly around the Moray Firth area and in Caithness, a part of the country of which he was especially fond.

His other authoritative writings extended over a broad spectrum, from continental drift through Carboniferous cyclothems and the biosphere as an agent in the concentration of elements, to the academic background of undergraduates and the training of postgraduates. In all these writings he showed a focused approach and attention to detail that characterised his scientific work.

Stanley Westoll was born in 1912 and entered Armstrong College (later King's College and then the University of Newcastle upon Tyne) at the young age of 17 as the holder of an Open Entrance Scholarship, after his early education at the grammar school in his native West Hartlepool. During the following five years he obtained a First Class honours degree in Geology (with subsidiary Zoology and Metallurgy) and completed a PhD on the Permian fishes of England.

A DSIR Senior Research Award took him for three years to London, where he came under the influence of the distinguished vertebrate palaeontologist D.M.S. Watson, then the Jodrell Professor of Zoology at University College. So began Westoll's researches on the fossil fishes of the Old Red Sandstone, which were to remain as a central focus of his multifarious research interests. His time at University College culminated with the award of an 1851 Exhibition Research Fellowship which he soon had to relinquish on his appointment to a Lectureship in Geology at Aberdeen University, where for several years he was also in charge of Metallurgy. His inevitable appointment to a professorship followed in 1948, when he moved to the J.B. Simpson Chair of Geology at King's College, Newcastle.

Honours fell on Stanley Westoll. He was elected to the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Edinburgh; he was the recipient of the Murchison Medal of the Geological Society of London, the Medal of the Linnean Society for Zoology and the Clough Medal of the Geological Society of Edinburgh. He was President of the Palaeontological Society and the Geological Society of London.

Within his own university he was Head of Department from his appointment to the chair until his retirement 29 years later - a most unlikely event these days. He was a fluent speaker and persuasive teacher who carried a heavy teaching load for many years. Most supportive of his students, many of whom have prospered as a result of his guidance, he will be remembered not least for his unrivalled fund of anecdotes.

Duncan Murchison

Thomas Stanley Westoll, palaeontologist: born West Hartlepool, Co Durham 3 July 1912; Lecturer in Geology, Aberdeen University 1937-48; FRSE 1943; J.B. Simpson Professor of Geology, University of Newcastle upon Tyne (formerly King's College, Newcastle upon Tyne, Durham University) 1948-77 (Emeritus); FRS 1952; married 1939 Dorothy Wood (one son; marriage dissolved 1951), 1952 Barbara McAdie; died Newcastle upon Tyne 19 September 1995.