Obituary: Professor R. J. G. Savage

Richard E. Leakey
Thursday 28 May 1998 23:02

R.J.G. SAVAGE held the position of Professor of Vertebrate Palaeontology at Bristol University for ten years. His knowledge of his field was vast. His interests in fossils extended from the Cretaceous to the Pleistocene, the diversity of life from ammonites to carnivores, and he worked a huge variety of sites ranging from Australia to Skye.

Bob Savage first went to Africa to work on some Kenyan Miocene sites in 1955. From then on, seldom a year passed without his travelling abroad either to work on museum collections or to make collections himself. His first visit to North Africa was in 1957, and his succeeding field expeditions to Libya in the Sixties were perhaps his most successful.

In 1971 he began working on the Mid-Jurassic in Skye where he discovered Britain's earliest mammals. He continued this field work through the Seventies, taking three field seasons off (1974-76) to work a Miocene site at East Turkana in Kenya. His field work took him to many other countries and continents including Venezuela, Australia, India, Pakistan, Persia (now Iran), Israel, southern Europe, and Soviet Central Asia. His museum visits included research trips to Moscow, western Australia and the United States.

Savage published extensively on his work. As well as editing a number of symposia reports, he was the editor of an excellent series, Fossil Vertebrates of Africa (1970-76), that he started with his wife Shirley and my father, L.S.B. Leakey. Savage married Shirley Coryndon - an expert in fossil hippopotami - in 1969, having met her in Kenya.

He was born in Northern Ireland in 1927 and educated at Methodist College, Belfast and Welsey College, Dublin. He graduated in 1948 with a BSc in Zoology from Queen's University, Belfast and the following year obtained a First in Geology, also at Queen's. His PhD was awarded by University College London in 1953, a year after he had taken up his first academic position as Assistant Lecturer in Geology at Queen's University, Belfast.

In 1954 he moved to Bristol University as Lecturer in Geology and Curator of the Geology Museum. Nineteen sixty-six saw his promotion to Reader in Vertebrate Palaeontology and in 1982 he was promoted to Professor of the same department. He remained there until his retirement in 1992.

During his years at Bristol, Savage was actively engaged with numerous organisations and committees both within the university and the country. His enthusiasm for field work gave him opportunity to work closely with the University's Expeditions Committee (1963-77) and he was the President of Bristol University's Speleological Society from 1977 to 1989. His enthusiasm and excitement for palaeontology, in particular, left a lasting impression on all his associates.

Bob Savage had a superb sense of humour and was seldom without a twinkle in his eye that belied his rather severe exterior. Nothing pleased him more than to set his guests before his fireplace after dinner and then test their knowledge of oddities - fragments of fossils that were not easy to identify even to body part, let alone taxon! He was always delighted if his guests failed the test but equally excited should they take a wild guess and identify his specimen.

After his retirement, Savage took an increasing interest in the work of the National Trust, to which he devoted considerable time between his election as a member of the Council in 1980 until his death when he was President of the Bristol Centre. He was acutely concerned and well informed about the challenges of conservation strategies both in the UK and abroad.

Bob Savage's exuberance and enthusiasm for life influenced all who knew him, particularly the many students he taught during 40 years. He was one of a vanishing breed: a quintessential scientist, a teacher, a naturalist and a gentleman.

Robert Joseph Gay Savage, palaeontologist: born Belfast 2 July 1927; Assistant Lecturer in Geology, Queen's University, Belfast 1952-54; Lecturer in Geology and Curator of the Geology Museum, Bristol University 1954- 66, Reader in Vertebrate Palaeontology 1966-82, Professor of Vertebrate Palaeontology 1982-92; married 1969 Shirley Coryndon (nee Wilson; died 1976; two stepdaughters); died Bristol 9 May 1998.

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