In Memoriam: Margaret Sites Sheriff

The Department of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences at University of Houston lost a true friend and supporter with the passing of Margaret Sites Sheriff on May 24.

Margaret Sites Sheriff

Margaret and her late husband Robert E. (Bob) Sheriff are well remembered, long-time benefactors of the department. Dr. Sheriff, a professor emeritus who began his service at UH in 1970, passed away in 2014.

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

Obituary – Margaret Sites Sheriff

Margaret Sites Sheriff passed peacefully at her home in Missouri City, Texas, on Sunday, May 24, 2020.

Margaret and Robert Sheriff
Margaret and Robert Sheriff

Margaret was born in Salina, Kansas, on November 28, 1925, to Blaine E. and Mary (Milne) Sites, a high school science teacher and homemaker. The youngest of three children, Margaret was raised in Salina and attended Kansas State University for two years, studying chemistry. She moved to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in 1944 to live with her brother John and family, obtaining a job with the Manhattan Project to save enough money to finish college after the war. In Oak Ridge, Margaret met Robert E. Sheriff, another Project employee and a friend of John’s. They married October 13, 1945.

After the war, Margaret and Bob moved to Ohio, Bob’s home state, to finish their educations at Ohio State University. Margaret completed her B.S. in geology, Phi Beta Kappa, in 1947 and then worked as a chemist for Bechtel Labs while Bob finished graduate school. In 1949, Bob fulfilled his pre-marriage promise to take Margaret to Europe. After steaming overseas, they biked and hitchhiked through Europe from Great Britain to Italy, the first of this couple’s many international travels. In 1950, after Bob received his Ph.D., Margaret and Bob moved to southern California where Bob began his career with Standard of California (Chevron). On the way to California, Margaret stopped at her parents’ home in Kansas to give birth to the couple’s first child.

Margaret thought southern California was the ideal place to live and raise their family, but soon they were moving again, to Miami, Florida; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Palo Alto, California, as the family grew to six children born between 1950 and 1959. Margaret was a devoted and caring mother with a sense of adventure, and the family moved overseas in 1959. From home base in Port of Spain, Trinidad, and then Perth, Western Australia, Margaret and Bob traveled round the world three times on extended home leave trips with their six young children in tow. The family transferred back to New Orleans in 1966 and ultimately settled in Houston in 1970.

Margaret was a member of the League of Women Voters, International Association of University Women, and United Way Allocations Panel. She was a Sunday school teacher and a longtime member of Pines Presbyterian Church in Houston. Margaret was an expert seamstress, embroiderer, and quilter. With a family of eight on a budget, she made many of her own dresses and the children’s clothes. She also created and embroidered quilts for her grandchildren.

Margaret was a Girl Scout as a child, and as her young family moved, she felt a good way to involve her children in new environments was to join the local Boy Scouts and Girl Guides/Scouts. She was a Scout Leader and volunteer for all the children and remained active at the district and council level with the Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council (GSSJC) after her children were grown. Building on her own travel experience, she took her senior troop on trips to Europe. She was a Red Cross swimming instructor, weekend sailing coordinator, and lead camping trainer. Margaret was instrumental in the start of the GSSJC History Committee and chaired the committee for many years, overseeing its growth from a one-room library to space in a new building housing a large array of displays and archived material to educate young Girl Scouts on scouting traditions and history. For many years, she wrote the Moment in History column for the GSSJC magazine.

Margaret received many honors from GSSJC, including the Thanks Badge, Continuing Service Award, Thanks Badge II, the Lifetime Achievement Award, Woman of Distinction honor, and the prestigious Juliette Low Friendship Medal. Margaret earned a 60-year membership pin and 50-year adult service pin. The sailing center at Girl Scout Camp Casa Mare in Seabrook, Texas, was named The Margaret Sheriff Sailing Center in 2012.

She was instrumental in supporting Bob with his geophysical writing, serving as first editor, even writing the first draft of Bob’s book, A First Course in Geophysical Exploration and Interpretation, by transcribing tapes of his lectures and notes. After the children were grown, Margaret joined Bob on his many U.S. and international trips to teach geophysical short courses; these trips took Margaret and Bob all over the world from the 1980s through the 2000s.

Growing up with National Geographic magazines in the house, Margaret developed a passion for adventure and travel, with a similar passion, Bob proved to be the perfect companion. Together they traveled to nearly 100 different countries on six continents. In 1996, they fulfilled a lifelong goal to visit the seventh continent. From New Zealand, they took a small cruise ship to Antarctica and enjoyed walking with penguins, sailing past the Ross Ice Sheet, and touring huts left by early Antarctic explorers. Margaret and Bob were still taking overseas trips in their 80s.

Both Margaret and Bob took an interest in the bright young minds they met overseas, and they endowed several SEG Scholarships for international students wishing to continue their studies in geophysics at the University of Houston. Believing strongly in the value of education they established the endowed Faculty Chair in Applied Seismology, an endowment in Applied Geophysics, an endowed Professorship in Sequence Stratigraphy and an endowed Professorship in Geophysics at the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics of the University of Houston.

Margaret is preceded in death by her parents, her husband Bob of 69 years, brother Paul Sites, brother John Sites and wife Winnie, son Richard K. Sheriff and son-in-law Anthony J. Makowski III. Left to honor and cherish Margaret’s memory are daughter Anne Makowski of Highlands Ranch, Colorado, daughter-in-law Susan Sheriff of Vinton, Virginia, daughters Jeanne Sheriff of Georgetown, Texas, Susan and husband Jim Hunter of Missouri City, Texas, Barbara and husband Bill Barnes of Junction, Texas, and Linda and husband Spencer Barasch of Arlington, Texas. Margaret’s grandchildren: Gen and husband Casey Bennett, Kathy Makowski, Tony Makowski IV, Rachel Patterson, Taylor Sheriff, Bill and wife Lauren Wallberg, Laura Hunter, Jessica Hunter, Stephen Hunter, Alix Barasch and husband Amit Bhattacharjee, Lance Barasch, and Katie and husband Zack Heath. Great-grandchildren: John, Joey and Lorelai Bennett, and Ada, Violet, Harvey, Ivy and Caden Wallberg.

A Memorial Service for Mrs. Margaret S. Sheriff will be held at a future date, arrangements are with The Settegast-Kopf Co. @ Sugar Creek in Sugar Land, Texas.

Memorial donations may be made to the Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council (GSSJC, 3110 Southwest Freeway, Houston, TX 77098) or to the Robert E. & Margaret S. Sheriff Program Endowment—Applied Geophysics at the University of Houston online at (select Search Funds tab, and enter Sheriff) or to P.O. Box 867, Houston, Texas 77001-0867.