In Memoriam: Robert E. Sheriff, 1922-2014

In Memoriam: Robert E. Sheriff, 1922-2014
Mentor, Teacher, Friend, Benefactor

Robert E. Sheriff
Courtesy of the Robert Sheriff Collection
Read Sheriff’s Profile in Sept. 2014 GEO ExPro
Obituary in Houston Chronicle
Robert E. Sheriff, professor emeritus in the University of Houston’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and long-time departmental benefactor, passed away in Missouri City on November 19. The department mourns the loss of such an admirable, selfless man.

Dr. Sheriff had an illustrious career both in industry and academia impacting the lives of many colleagues, students, and the geophysics community worldwide. Those who knew Bob Sheriff share a common set of descriptions for him – mentor, teacher, friend, and role model.

After starting graduate school in physics at Ohio State University, Dr. Sheriff interrupted his education to work for The Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. It was there that he met his wife, Margaret. They married in 1945, and he returned to Ohio State to complete his Ph.D. in physics. Through the course of their marriage, they had six children – Anne, Rick, Jeanne, Susan, Barbara, and Linda.

Dr. Sheriff began working for Chevron in California in 1950. Geophysics research was in its infancy, and he was eager to learn.

Throughout the course of his career at Chevron, he traveled the world supervising work in numerous locations and relocating his family to Trinidad and Australia.

Dr. Sheriff may be best known in the geophysics community for writing the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Applied Geophysics. What started out as a short booklet describing terms related to the rapidly growing geophysics industry grew to more than 400 pages. First published by the Society for Exploration Geophysicists in 1973, it is in its 4th edition. It is still the SEG’s best seller, with 7,500 copies sold in 2014.

“It has been translated into at least 75 languages, maybe more,” said Hua-wei Zhou, chair of the UH Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. “It is the exploration geophysicist’s bible; people refer to it all the time.”

Dr. Sheriff came to Houston in 1970 and began serving as an adjunct professor of geophysics at UH. After retiring from Chevron, he was the vice president of development at Seiscom-Delta.

In 1980, he became a full tenured professor at UH. He was a gifted teacher and cared deeply about his students. Dr. Sheriff would share his opinions without any reluctance and pointed out weaknesses of students, telling them how to improve. His input and guidance helped his students learn to be able to find issues and solve them later on in their careers.

“Bob is the reason why I joined UH,” said Zhou, who holds the Margaret S. Sheriff College Professorship in Geophysics. “I read his books while I was in graduate school. When I finally became a colleague of Bob’s, he was bigger than anyone I had known before. He was so unselfish, helping people any way he could.”

Over the years, Robert and Margaret Sheriff established four endowments at the University of Houston, giving almost $2 million in support of the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. The endowments are the Margaret S. Sheriff College Professorships in Geophysics, the Robert E. Sheriff College Professorship in Sequence Stratigraphy, the Robert and Margaret Sheriff Faculty Chair in Applied Seismology, and the Sheriff Endowment in Applied Geophysics.

The Sheriffs also set up a scholarship through the Society of Exploration Geophysicists for international graduate students coming to UH to study geophysics. More than 100 students have been funded through their generosity.

“Bob Sheriff was a huge figure, a guru in his field. He was much more than just a good and generous person. He was academically a giant,” Zhou said.

To make a gift in Dr. Sheriff’s memory, the family has requested that contributions be made to the Robert and Margaret Sheriff Endowment in Applied Geophysics at the University of Houston.

A memorial service for Dr. Sheriff will be held at 2 p.m., December 13 at the Settegast-Kopf Co. at Sugar Creek, 15015 Southwest Freeway, Sugar Land, Texas. A reception will follow.