Sad news: Alumnus Charles Collinson passed away November 25, 2011

By , January 20, 2012 9:31 am

Charles W. Collinson

Charles Collinson

An outstanding departmental alumnus, Charles W. Collinson, a long-time resident of Champaign, Illinois, passed away on November 25, 2011, shortly before his 88th birthday. Charlie, as he was known to all, was a graduate student at Iowa in the late 1940s – early 1950s, completing an M.S. degree in 1950 and a Ph.D. degree in 1952, studying under paleontology professor A. K. Miller.  Charlie did his undergraduate work at Augustana College, after serving in the Army Air Corps in World War II.  He grew up and went to high school in Moline, Illinois.

Charlie spent his entire post-academic career at the Illinois State Geological Survey starting in 1952, where he was for many years the chief of the Stratigraphy and Areal Geology section. In the 1950s and early 1960s he led an active research program on Silurian, Devonian, and Mississippian conodonts, developing new laboratory techniques and mentoring colleagues and students of conodonts including among others, Carl Rexroad, another Iowa Ph.D. and long-time conodont specialist at the Indiana Geological Survey, Alan J. Scott who received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois working under Charlie’s direction and who later taught at the University of Texas, and Bill Orr, whose graduate degrees were from the Universities of Texas and Indiana, but whose research was largely accomplished at the Illinois Survey. H. Richard (Rich) Lane, M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Iowa and now NSF Program Director for Sedimentary Geology and Paleobiology, was one of Charlie’s research assistants at the Survey throughout his undergraduate years at Illinois.  Rich wrote recently:

“Charlie certainly had a major impact on my early career choice. He cycled us through full conodont laboratory process training, including acidization, heavy liquid separation, picking, identification, specimen coating, photography of these microfossils, 35mm film processing, printing, and developing. Charlie was also editor of the Journal of Paleontology for SEPM (later he was President of the society) and I was able to view and later participate in the editorial process first hand. Where would one ever have obtained that kind of training in a job as an undergraduate? What a charmed beginning for me and Charlie made all of this possible in a jovial and relaxed atmosphere.”

I also had the good fortune to work with Charlie during an NSF-sponsored post-doctoral fellowship at the Illinois Survey in the academic year 1962-63.  It was a significant learning experience for me, as Charlie immeasurably helped me get started on a long-term project on Middle Devonian conodonts in upstate New York, Iowa, and Illinois.

Charlie received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1963, which allowed him to continue his conodont research at the University of Wales in Swansea. In addition to the research emphasis on conodonts, in the 1950s he wrote and edited the first edition of the Survey’s educational publication “Guide for Beginning Fossil Hunters,” which has gone through 10 printings and is still widely available.

In the 1980s, Charlie was the Survey’s principal scientist dealing with the shore erosion of Lake Michigan and was the leader of the Chicago Lakeshore Erosion Commission. As an active researcher, he was the author of more than a hundred publications. After “official” retirement he devoted some of his time to the reconstruction and illustration of Illinois fossils with emphasis on Pleistocene mammals. He had been in good health until recently and was still active at the Survey going in there almost every day. Charlie Collinson will be deeply missed by his family, friends, and colleagues.


Gilbert Klapper

January, 2012