Obituaries

Home: Salt Lak City, Utah
Death Date: September 30, 2017
Birthdate: October 24, 1943
Place Of Birth: Willits, California
Service Information: Sunday, November 12, 2017 6:00 PM
Service Location: Natural History Museum

Francis H. Brown + Enlarge

Francis (Frank) Harold Brown passed away suddenly in Salt Lake City, Utah, on September 30, 2017, due to heart failure. Frank was born in Willits, California, on October 24, 1943, the oldest of four children born to Francis Edward Brown and Vivien Clarice (Jameson) Brown. They lived on a small family farm in Redwood Valley, California, where he developed a fierce work ethic and learned self-reliance and the value of community. He married Theresa Ann Brown in 1973 in Redwood Valley. They had two daughters, Erica Joy Brown and Elise Bauhs Brown. Frank and Theresa divorced in 1994 but remained friends and rejoiced together in being active parts of the lives of their children and grandchildren. Frank provided them with unique and enriching experiences including international adventures and exploration of all manner of scientific curiosities. He had a near constant desire to teach them and he modeled a strong environmental and humanitarian ethic.

Frank graduated from Ukiah High School and received a bachelor's degree (1965) and a Ph.D. (1971) in Geology from the University of California Berkley. He rowed varsity crew at UC Berkley and, as a field geologist, maintained excellent physical health throughout his life. He joined the faculty of the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Utah in 1971, served as chair of his department from 1988 to 1991, and served as Dean of the College of Mines and Earth Sciences from 1991 to 2016. Frank collaborated with scholars from around the world and had a strong affiliation with the National Museum of Kenya. 

Frank had a sharp sense of humor, legendary generosity, unparalleled intellect, an infectious curiosity and intense love of the natural world, the sciences, languages, cultures, and history. He was a teacher and an indispensable fountain of knowledge to students and colleagues from many disciplines. When he died he was studying Amharic, sharpening his German, pursuing his love of botany, teaching classes and working on his annual batch of quince jelly.

As a graduate student in 1966, Frank was a member of the first International Expedition to the Omo Valley led by Louis B. Leakey (Kenyan), Clark Howell (American), and Camille Arambourg (French). In 1975, in his early years as a professor at the University of Utah, he was a member of the U.S. scientific delegation to China aimed at normalizing relations between the countries. In 1984, Frank played a critical role in dating the Turkana Boy skeleton, the most complete Homo erectus found. Similarly, interpreting the importance of Kenyanthropus in 1999 and other fossils was made possible through Frank's detailed stratigraphic and geological mapping in the Omo-Turkana Basin.

In his academic career, Frank was renowned in the fields of research, teaching, and academic leadership. He loved to be in the field, especially in East Africa, speaking Swahili, which he mastered, and other languages, and working on the soil and with the people he loved. His life's work, affectionately referred to as his great puzzle, was the geology of the Turkana Basin in East Africa where hundreds of hominin fossils have been discovered. Over his 50-year field career, he contributed to the chronologic framework for understanding human evolution by establishing age relationships for different fossil beds in East Africa. His work ranged from meticulous geological mapping under taxing field conditions to high-precision potassium-argon dating in the laboratory. His work is instrumental to paleontologists, archaeologists, geologists, and anthropologists working to piece together the complex story of human origins. He leaves much work unfinished.

His passion for learning knew no bounds; throughout his life he explored geology, botany, linguistics, and history. This breadth and enthusiasm carried into the classroom. A beloved teacher, Frank won the departmental outstanding teaching award five times over a span of two decades. Students young and old lined up to take his classes. And, although Frank never sought administrative or leadership positions at the university, he was appointed to them because he was simply the best person for the job. He led the University of Utah's College of Mines and Earth Sciences as Dean for an unprecedented 25 years, guiding the college by example with long-term vision, excellence in research, an impeccable work ethic, unmatched fund-raising ability, and dedication to students. No academic challenge was too big or too small for Frank, whether it was funding and overseeing the construction of the prize-winning Frederick Albert Sutton Building, compiling long-lost records on the botany of Turkana, or opening his own wallet to assist a student. In 2001, Frank was awarded the Rosenblatt Prize, given annually to the most outstanding professor at the University of Utah for achievements in teaching, research, and academic leadership. Truly, Frank was a unique and much-loved individual who will be missed around the planet he studied.

Frank was preceded in death by his father Francis Edward Brown, mother, Vivien Clarice (Jameson) Brown, brothers Raymond Brown (survived by Meg and daughter Heidi) and James Brown (survived by Ann and children Sarah and Eric), sister Patricia Brown, and half-sister JoAnn Bosanco. He is survived by his daughters Erica Joy Brown Gaddis (Benjamin) of Salt Lake City and Elise Brown Ersoy (Kasim) of Sacramento, California; grandsons Grayson Francis Gaddis, Dylan Ross Gaddis, and Julian Warren Gaddis of Salt Lake City; granddaughter, baby Ayla Theresa Ersoy of Sacramento, born two days after his death; and his many colleagues, honorary children, and students around the world.

Frank had a vision for scientific inquiry in East Africa that comes from his love of the people of the region, the natural history, and landscape, all of which tell an incredible story of humanity's past and prospects for the future. Frank spent a career endeavoring to mentor, fund, and partner with scientists from the region. He has supported, often with his own funds, the educational and research expenses of many African secondary school, undergraduate, and graduate students. Frank established a scholarship fund to carry on this vision for African scholarship after he was gone. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Francis H. Brown African Scholarship Fund that is managed by the Leakey Foundation (www.leakeyfoundation.org/frankbrown) and that will be matched dollar for dollar. 

A memorial service will be held at the Natural History Museum of Utah on November 12, 2017 at 6:00 pm. Details are being finalized and will be posted on the University of Utah's Department of Geology and Geophysics website: http://www.earth.utah.edu

 

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