Bert Bally â€œThe remarkable life of a groundbreaking, prolific, brilliant geologist and outstanding mentor to so many.â€? -David Lawrence
ert joined Rice in 1981 as chairman of what was then the Department of Geology and Geophysics. He was appointed the Harry Carothers Wiess Professor of Geology, a position he held until he retired. Born in The Hague, Netherlands, he spent his early years in Indonesia, Italy and Switzerland. He began as a paleontologist at the University of Zurich and mapped in the Central Apennines for his Ph.D.
Prior to his tenure at Rice, he worked for Shell Oil where he rose through the ranks to become chief geologist. He would spend many summers mapping the Canadian Rocky Mountains and foothills of Alberta. Because of this, Bert recognized the importance of combining seismic reflection records with geologic maps to reconstruct the history of mountains and basins. One of his greatest and longest lasting contributions is his two three-volume sets of seismic atlases (1983) that popularized the use of industrial reflection techniques for scientific purposes. Until his death, he was considered the worldâ€™s leading expert in using seismic records to interpret regional geology, particularly in fold and thrust belts.
Harry Carothers Wiess Professor of Geology
Bert had an amazing ability to synthesize regional geologic and geophysical data into a continental-scale framework. He made enduring contributions to the structure and orogenic evolution of the North American Cordillera by demonstrating how regional seismic data could be used to understand fold belts. This included outlining many of the principles for making balanced cross sections, and showing that the fold belts are underlain large decollements, and revealing the intimate relationship between foredeep subsidence with tectonic activity in the fold belt. 2000
In 1990, along with two other Rice structural geologists, John Oldow and the late Hans Ave Lallemant, Bert recognized that there was a severe deep lithosphere mass balance problem in Cordilleran type orogens and was one of the first to suggest the importance of large-scale delamination before it became popularized in the early 2000s. With T. Cook he published the Stratigraphic Atlas for North and Central America (1975), complete with more than 250 maps showing the entire Phanerozoic stratigraphy of North America. As a counselor with the Geological Society of America, it was Bert who proposed the Decade of North American Geology (DNAG) project, a large multivolume encyclopedia on the geology of North America. To this day, the DNAG volumes represent the most comprehensive geologic study of a continent ever done. More impressive than his scholastic achievements were the life-changing impacts he had on his students and anyone who had the fortune of interacting with him. His former students remember him as not just a scientific mentor but a mentor in life. His curiosity was never satiated. It was so contagious that when anyone was around him, everything seemed interesting. He was an encyclopedia of geology, having seen and read so much during his long and productive life. Faculty and students, whenever they wanted to explore a new area (of research or geography), did well to pick Bertâ€™s brain. Going on a ride with Bert, however, meant that sometimes discussions would digress into stories of his life, such as being forced to watch Mussolini march by when he was a boy, or visiting Tibet as one of the first western geologists to enter China. Then it would turn back to some of his favorite unsolved science problems, one of them being the unconformity. In recognition of his contributions, Bert received many honors, including the William Smith medal (Geological Society of London), the Gustav Steinmann Medal (Geologische Vereinigung), the Sidney Powers Medal from the AAPG, the OTC Career Contribution Award for Structural Geology and many others. After retirement, Bert continued at full speed ahead. He engaged with the department, showing students how to look at geologic maps. He gave generously, among many things recently helping us secure a Neoproterozoic mylonitized diamictite slab that now graces an entire wall in the foyer of our department. At the time of his death he was in the final stages of preparing and converting his global geologic maps, with accompanying text, for digital publication with the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Bert never stopped. Cin-Ty Lee, 2019
RECOLLECTIONS FROM BALLY ALUMNI AND COLLEAGUES I met Dr. Bally in 1982 during my first year of graduate school at Rice University.
I could have no idea of the impact of that first step into his office on my life. We were teacher and student, employer and employee, mentor and mentee and most of all, friends. I was puzzled as to why he would agree to be my advisor even though I spoke limited English and could not even identify what research I wanted to do. He said people come to school to learn and to study and he would not expect anyone to know everything or anything at all. He did not believe in an education system that is full of tests and exams. He thought that school should make it easy and not hard for students to learn. As a result, we Bally students sometimes got away with few rules and regulations and were seen by other students with envy that we were fortunate beneficiaries of the Bert Bally University. I once asked Dr. Bally “Will you really do anything for the students?” He smiled and said “No, I will not bail anyone out of jail because they should know better not to be there at the first place.” Fortunately I don’t think anyone has crossed that line yet. Students and visitors came to see him from all around the world. There were people from Italy, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, France, Germany, Switzerland, China, India, Hungary, Taiwan, Argentina, Nigeria, just to name a few. He always welcomed everyone with the same enthusiasm regardless of their nationalities, religions, finances and abilities to learn. That large office at the corner on the first floor in the geology department, we called it the Barrio, was where we would gather. It was a common scene with Dr. Bally sitting next to that huge table in the center of the room with seismic sections laying out in the front and students huddling around. There were discussions and arguments sometimes in multiple languages; there was shouting and laughter; there were fingers pointing from one end of the section to another and color pencils flying across the table. At 5:45 in the afternoon, we would stop and watch Dr. Bally dashing out of the office, followed by his big sky blue sedan spinning out of the parking lot. We all knew that there was a 6pm dinner rule at the Bally’s household that cannot be violated. Of course he would return after dinner and worked until late night. We often ended the night with a gelato at Dolce Freddo in the village.
When Dr. Bally decided to retire he told me that it’s time for me to get a real job. It is true that I had enjoyed working with him and that I never thought of it as a job. When I was worried about starting a career in industry, he said “use your common sense and you will do great”. When I was having difficulty in a personal relationship, he said “be in the driver’s seat’. This advice helped me overcome many obstacles and struggles over the years.
PHOTO: ANDRÉ DROXLER
Dr. Bally always encouraged us to get out and to enjoy life in America. He took a group of visitors to the Houston Rodeo, he invited us to his beach house at Bolivar to relax and to his house to watch a Democratic convention on TV. He said US politics is an interesting phenomenon that any foreigner should not miss the opportunity to watch. He would take a student for a walk in the zoo during a difficult time and he encouraged anyone to take time off for family. He was never shy of giving his opinions but he always would listen to yours as well. We were always amazed by his knowledge and curiosity of not only geology but of history, culture and much more. I remembered one time, a student from Saudi Arabia, ran back to our shared office full of excitement and with a handful of books. He said “I was so embarrassed! Dr. Bally knows more about my country’s history than I do. He loaned me all these books to read.”
Rice graduate students Heath Hopson and Pankaj Khanna with Bert Bally. 2016
Dr. Bally was always there for me and for anyone that came seeking help. It is hard to image a life without him around and I will miss him dearly. Thank you, Dr. Bally, I will do my best to use my common sense and stay in the driver’s seat. C.J. Liu (Rice M.A., 1985)
If I can tell a story….. I experienced Dr. Bally when I was a Senior taking his graduate seminar with three other people in 1986. My favorite memory, and it definitely left an indelible and important impression on me, was when we were reviewing one of our “Crayola Projects” with him. From what I remember, this one had something that looked like a reef build-up on seismic and it appeared to be breached. Dr. Bally looked at the four of us (and with just four of us there was nowhere to run or hide) and asked whether we would drill this prospect based on what we knew. He tricked us a bit though, and told us how much the well would cost and the risks associated with it. Considering I was living on roughly $300 a month then, the millions it was going to take seemed astronomical – and not just to me, but to everybody. He stared us down waiting a response and none was proffered at which point he stood up and slammed his fist on the table and said (with emphasis) “of course you would!!! You have no other way of knowing what is there!!!!” – Essentially, how else will you discover oil?!!! What a memory!
I am so thankful for that experience with Dr. Bally. I experience a world I could not have otherwise and learned a lot on these Crayola journeys that helped me in my graduate studies and in my career. Lesley Evans (Rice B.A., 1987)
Dr. Bally is beyond a GeoLegend. He was not only my advisor and professor, but my inspirational mentor who believed in me, encouraged me, and bestowed priceless time, support, knowledge, history, and laughter. Between 2001-2003, Dr. Bally was there for me through excitements and tears, through all ups and downs, as a friend and even the ‘grandfather’ I never had. He single-handedly substantially impacted my academic success, career, and development into who I ‘am’ today. He pushed me way beyond my comfort zone, fed my passion for geology, taught me to believe and value myself, to think outside the box, to have faith in myself and in the universe, and so much more. I particularly enjoyed his war stories and our conversations on modern day civilization. To quote, upon completion of my Master of Science thesis 12/2003 at Rice University, “Lanette, you made a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and that is one of your greatest strengths.” Till this day, I often remember his words, quoting him even, to push through the continuous hurdles life throws, and add to the collection of my sows’ ears. On my ‘hopeless’ days during grad school (I look back and laugh now, as he predicted I would), he introduced me to the Rothko Chapel and to the Menil Collection, which I still visit for peace, tranquility, and remembrance of him and the thought that I will get through “this or that,” stronger and wiser. Before I graduated, I had a handful of job offers. According to Dr. Bally, it was a “no brainer.” “Finish your masters and go work for Shell! Come back later in life with all that practical experience to be the best teacher you can be. You will never see so much data as you will in the oil & gas business. Exposure to data is key!” No doubt, “Oh Captain! My Captain!” I followed his orders and never regretted it.
Bert Bally , the Maiella massif, Central Apennines, Italy. 1946
Dr. Bally you are more than a GeoLegend: you’re an amazing man with a fascinating life history who has impacted the lives of so many at so many fronts and levels. I am eternally grateful, and you will always be remembered. Lanette Marcha (RiceM.S., 2003)
Thanks to all of you on these pages for your recollections of Bert. As a scientist, teacher, and explorer of new frontiers he was unique in the breadth of his contributions. He was also generous and candid, which made him a great mentor. I benefited from his advice as a grad student at Rice and MIT. Then my passion was tectonics, and Bert advised me to go to work for industry because “that’s where the data is”. I joined Shell’s Global Geology organization that Bert helped establish and have never regretted that decision during the subsequent 38 years in industry. So thank you Bert, you were right (of course). Thanks too for setting high expectations, for yourself and those of us you worked with. We became better for it. Scott Cameron (Rice M.A., 1978)
More than twenty comments were posted about Bert Bally. All of them were wonderfully detailed, heartfelt, and conveyed the depth of the impact Bert had on their lives and careers.
David Lawrence sums them all up nicely in one sentence: “Beautiful history of the remarkable life of a groundbreaking, prolific, brilliant geologist and outstanding mentor to so many.” All of them can be read here:
Caro Maestro, It seems to me that, with your passing, Geology has lost some of its poetry: The stories, the fun to tell them; the maps, the space to keep them; the books, the time to read them; the field campaigns, the will to organize them. I feel I hear you… “Fly me over the rocky mountains. I need to know the regional context” “Don’t specialize too much, be a generalist” “Remember the importance of common sense” “Communicate with your colleague directly, not in a meeting” “Avoid bamboozling managers by too much information, simplify the message” “We need information, no hypotheses” “Drilling a dry hole is the most important experience you can have, it is important to be wrong” “Learn to forgive” “Enjoy people and respect people” “La vita del geologo e’ una vita santa: si mangia, beve e canta!”
Structure, seismic data and orogenic evolution of the Southern Canadian Rocky Mountains. A.W. Bally, P.L. Gordy, G.A. Stewart 1966
Many of us lost a dear friend and colleague with Bert’s passing. He was a generous man and esteemed scientist. I am one of the few remaining faculty who was here when Bert took over as Department Head. At that time the department had lost some of its most prominent faculty and was struggling to get back on track. Bert wasted no time in negotiating with the administration for new faculty positions and funding that allowed us to avoid what could have been a downward spiral. He did so by uniting every member of the department and convincing us that our department was destined to be one of the best in the country. I have many fond memories of Bert and our time together. One of my most vivid memories is the time we drove to the Woodlands together for a meeting at the Houston Area Research Center. On our trip to the Woodlands I could not help but notice a loud bumping sound. Bert insisted on continuing to the Woodlands because we were running late. When we arrived I was amazed to observe a large knot on the tire easily half a football in size. When the meeting ended I offered to replace the tire only to discover that there was no spare or jack. Bert insisted that we drive back to Houston by avoiding the interstate. I did not know that you could drive from the Woodlands to Houston mostly on back roads, but we managed to make it back to Rice after what was a long but enjoyable trip of storytelling and reassurances from Bert that we would be fine. Being Bert, I never doubted. I wonder if he ever got a spare or jack after that incident. The man simply did not have the time for mundane things like changing tires. Our department has many new faculty and students who never had the opportunity to know Bert well. He was a kind and gentle giant within our field. His legacy will live on through his work and his students. Rest in peace Bert, we will miss you. John Anderson Emeritus Maurice Ewing Professor of Oceanography Rice University Geology & Geophysics faculty: Seated , left to right- John Valley, Jean-Claude DeBremaeker, Hans Avé Lallemant, John A. S. Adams, John Anderson, Robert Dunbar, and Albert Bally (Chair of Department). Standing behind the seated group, left to right- William Leeman, Richard Casey, Donald Baker, John Oldow, and H. C. Clark. 1983
With the passing of Bert Bally, we have lost one of the truly great geologists of our generation. In reviewing testimonials here, one cannot but be profoundly impressed by the impact this man has had on so many individuals in our profession. After his academic years at the University of Zurich and Lamont, Bert’s unique and incredibly productive career began in the petroleum industry, moved to academia, and then “retirement,” which in reality was devoted to continuing his passion of geology on a global scale. During the course of his remarkable career, he authored, co-authored, or edited well over 100 publications which, according to Google Scholar have been cited in other scientific publications over 6000 times! I feel very fortunate to have known Bert as a friend and colleague for almost 60 years. We first met in North Alaska during Shell’s summer field season in 1960. Bert was working for Shell Canada at that time, and had completed the field work and subsurface integration that led to the classic paper with Gordy and Stewart, “Structure, Seismic Data, and Orogenic Evolution of the Southern Canadian Rockies.” Traversing the region in a small float plane over many days, Bert and I compared and shared geologic insights from our respective areas. In the late fall of that year I was invited to spend time working in Shell Canada’s offices in Edmonton and Calgary, where Bert graciously shared his extensive geologic knowledge of the Canadian Rockies. This experience was of great benefit to me during many subsequent field seasons mapping on the North Slope. I will always cherish Bert’s advice, counsel, and friendship throughout my career. He was always generous with his time and had a compulsion to share his knowledge with others, both one-on-one and in print. His knowledge extended well beyond geology. He was conversant on many subjects, and this was on display on a 1995 trip to Rome, Florence, and Sienna with Bert, his wife, Elaine, and Charlie Bruce (Shell Canada) and his wife, Kim. Bert spent his childhood in Rome, and he took us on a tour of Rome which included a visit to a children’s theater in a park which was still featuring Micky Mouse movies he remembered seeing as a child. In 2005, my wife Ann and I joined the Ballys and David and Elizabeth Roberts on a week-long adventure in the Southern Canadian Rockies. Bert generously shared his intimate knowledge of the region, along with his maps and cross-sections. Bert was particularly unique in that during the course of his career he received well-deserved recognition in both the academic and industrial worlds. His achievements in both venues has been cited by others in previous remembrances on this site. One event which has not been mentioned is the well-attended BertFest held in Bert’s honor at Rice some years ago. I believe it was sponsored by a grateful petroleum company that Bert had consulted for. It was a gala affair attended by many academic and industry geologists from here and abroad. During a festive dinner program at the event, Bert had a first-hand opportunity to hear how appreciative fellow geologists were of his outstanding contributions to the profession. Bert was a giant in our field and will be profoundly missed by all who had the good fortune to know him. Sig Snelson
Although I had met him earlier and read his “foothills” paper (among others), I really became acquainted with Bert when I started a postdoc at Rice in 1992.
I was the interim chairman of the Department when the search for a permanent chairman began.
He reached out to Hans Ave Lallemant and I to compare notes about Central America and Mexico. He figured that since they were working on Mexico and we were working in Honduras, we should all know what the others were doing. While at Rice, we also enjoyed his wonderful and encyclopedic knowledge of Venezuela which helped delineate Caribbean tectonics. I did not see much of Bert once I started working in industry. Then to my surprise, when I started at Shell, I was told that Bert had an office at Shell. He was a great source of information for a project I was doing in Asia. He had geologic maps that nobody else had. We had a great time interacting for a few years. When Mexico opened to international companies, he invited those of us working in industry to come to Rice in order to share his knowledge of Mexico with us. Bert gave generously of his time and knowledge. Talking with him was a pleasure as well as being enlightening. He will be greatly missed.
I do not remember who advised us to consider Bert Bally who at that time was employed by Shell Oil Company. I invited Bert for a chat. We hit it off immediately in part because we had both lived in The Netherlands. At the time of his visit Bert had offers from two other universities. At the end of our chat he promised me that he would seriously consider to come to Rice University. When we parted I said “Bert, you have always wanted to be a professor, right?” Bert: “how do you know?” I: “It is written all over your face.” The rest is history.
It was an immense pleasure for me to work with him restoring our department. Dieter Heymann Emeritus Professor, EEPS
Born in 1925, Professor Albert Bally was educated for a large part in Switzerland, where he obtained a doctorate in geology from ETHZ in 1953 to become a “Swiss geologist”. In 1992, together, we started a fruitful collaboration on the Jura Mountains and the Swiss Molasse Basin, first at the University of Neuchâtel including scientific visits at Rice, and subsequently pursued at the University of Fribourg. Prof. Bally instigated new thinking on the links between the surface geology – very well known since decades from geological maps – and the subsurface geology illuminated by seismic profiles. The “Bally style” successfully conquered the Alpine foreland. In 2016 the University of Fribourg in Switzerland awarded Professor Albert W. Bally the Docteur Honoris causa of the Faculty of Sciences and Medicine. The laudation was for his exceptional scientific career, for his pioneering spirit in building bridges between the academic and professional worlds, and for his scientific contributions and the development of innovative geological concepts by combining classical geology and seismic profile interpretation. Albert Bally was not just a geologist, he was the embodiment of the Swiss geologist who went abroad and who contributed to the reputation of Swiss geology in the world.
Bert Bally was, and will remain an inspirational scientist for all of us. Bert playing the swiss alpenhorn in the courtyard of the Baker Institute, Rice University. BertFest, 2000
On behalf of the Faculty of Sciences and Medicine and the Department of Geosciences of the University of Fribourg, we would like to express our deep sympathies and condolences to the family of Albert Bally. Anna Sommaruga, Jon Mosar University of Fribourg, Switzerland
I had the great fortune of meeting Alberto (as we called him on this side of the pond) when I was still a sophomore in the University of Houston in 1976. Alberto was then an advisor in Shell (the highest a geologist can climb in that company). I believe it was the late Prof. Milton Dobrin who introduced me to him. Ever since Alberto behaved like a guardian angel to me; I was in his house many times for dinner; his first wife, Nelly, used to cook Swiss specialities and enjoyed the opportunity to speak German with me. After I moved to Albany, Alberto did not lose contact with me. He invited me to the famous 1977 Penrose Conference in Ascona that he organised. Later he and Nelly came to Istanbul, from where we drove across western Turkey to a meeting in Antalya. During the drive, in the middle of the night, we needed to buy petrol in Afyon. So, we stopped at a Shell petrol station. Alberto produced his Shell credit card and said that he was told that that card should be valid in all Shell stations in the world. Naturally, the poor Turkish peasant, who operated the station at that time, had never heard of such a thing. I told him who was sitting in the car. Upon that he disappeared into the house next to the station and in a few minutes his entire family came out (obviously aroused out of bed) to meet the great Shell man. Alberto was terribly amused and complimented these nice people and gave them a big tip. When he retired from Shell he invited me to his office and told me that I could choose any book I wanted! I remember taking Anderson’s book on fault and dyke formation. I still cherish it in my library. When as a student in Albany, I was invited to Exxon in Houston as a consultant, I told about it to Alberto and he told me to stay with him and Nelly. In the evening before my appointment with the Exxon people, I told him that I would want no money, but would wish to see the confidential data in places I had an interest in. He said “Never! Never say you want no money. They will not respect you. Take the money and see the data too. But bring me the first dollar they will give you”. I did as I was told. When he took the one dollar bill, he made me to write on it that it was the first money I ever made in my life and to sign it. Many, many years later he sent it back to me, framed! I still have it in my study. When I was doing my PhD in the Albula Pass in Switzerland, ten minutes away from St. Moritz, Paul Jeffrey Fox (the later head of ODP) and his wife Janet had come visit me in the field. I suggested one day to go to St. Moritz for lunch. As we were coming out of the car in St. Moritz, who do we see coming towards us: Alberto and Nelly Bally! Of course, we walked to meet them. Alberto, without even saying hello to anybody, says to me: “You are supposed to be mapping in Albula, not feasting in St. Moritz!” Janet Fox burst into laughter saying “Oh Celal, it is so nice to see somebody who can give you the sort of crap you give to everyone else!” Then Alberto invited all of us to lunch. He later came to my field area to inspect me with his dear friend Prof. Daniel Bernoulli. It was a terrifying experience, but one that proved immensely useful to me. In Alberto, we lost not only a great geologist, but a very fine, generous, kind human being, for me a fatherly friend. A. M. Celal Sengor
Bert was a true geologist’s geologist, and a member in good standing of the old Shell Oil “Swiss Mafia” that so many of us worked with. He retired from Shell in 1981 as Senior Technical Consultant, and went on to rebuild a faltering Geology Department at Rice University as Department Head.
One of Bert’s hand-colored cross sections of the Wyoming folded belt.
He was born in 1925 in The Hague of a Dutch mother and a Swiss father. They moved to Italy in 1931, where as a boy he experienced the brief and unhappy reign of Mussolini. His family, fearing the worst, sent Bert and his brother to Switzerland in 1939, where Bert became interested in geology. Following the war, he and his family returned to Italy. He mapped a large and complex mountain called “La Madre Maiella” in the central Appenines for his dissertation at the University of Zurich, where he graduated in 1953. From 1954 to 1981, he worked for Shell Oil, starting in Canada. For those of us who followed structural geology, his Shell paper of 1966 with colleagues Gordy and Stewart on the thrust and folding dynamics of the Canadian Rockies was an absolute classic, and an introduction to the art of paleogeographic cross sections. After 1966 he was at Shell Development’s Bellaire lab, reaching the level of Technical Consultant in 1968. In about 1974 (?), he along with J.T. Smith and Higby Williams wrote an extremely prescient white paper for Shell Oil head office that outlined the direction of the next few decades of exploration in North America and beyond, and recommended steps that Shell should take in research to prepare for the move from an onshore focus to offshore continental margin exploration. From that beginning came a reorganization of the lab in 1975, with the founding of the Global Geology Group as well as a vigorous development of new geochemistry techniques at BRC that served the needs of both Shell Oil and Pecten. For those of us structural geologists who began our careers at BRC, he was a champion of the use of seismic data and careful palinspastic techniques to unravel the geologic history of continental margin basins. His periodic courses on regional geology were real highlights of the Shell geology training regimen. After retiring from Shell, Bert consulted for a time with Conoco, and then became Department Head at Rice. Even after retirement from his second career at Rice he continued his life’s work in regional geology, and published (with Dave Roberts) a three volume summary of the world’s Regional Geology and Tectonics in 2012. He was working on a revised, updated version of that work only months before his passing. A list of his academic and industry awards would be long indeed, but included the Sidney Powers Award for the AAPG, the William Smith Medal from the Geological Society of London, and the Gustave Steinmann Medal from the Geologische Vereinigung of Germany. He was the Centennial President of the Geological Society of America in 1988, where he spearheaded the twenty-or-so volumes of the Decade of North American Geology project. He was a mentor and a friend, and I shall miss him. Dan Worrall (Rice B.A., 1972)
I had the good fortune to be a graduate school during Dr. Bally’s early tenure at Rice. Over the three years I attended Rice, I learned through a combination of taking his fascinating seminar on the Swiss Alps and serving as a TA for him, that I and most of my class mates were “Basically a bunch of mediocre toast-masters”. This description was apt then, and probably now as well, but it served as a good-humored motivation to make all of us better students and speakers which he knew would only help us in our professional lives. He was a giant in geology, and a legend at Shell Oil, and I am grateful for having known him and benefited from being one of his students. Rice Geology and all of us associated with it are better for having had Bert in our lives. Andrew Mirkin (Rice M.A., 1986)
Bert at BertFest, after receiving an award from the Houston Geological Society. 2000
My first meeting with Bert, Coincidence or more? When I look back at my own life, there are a few persons whom I have met who directly impact my existence. Bert was for sure, as for many of us, one of them. It was an afternoon in 1983, I was working in my office at the University of Miami-RSMAS, trying to finish my Ph.D., when my advisor Prof. Wolfgang Schlager bolted into my office telling me that Albert Bally needed a ride to the airport. Wolfgang added that Dr. Bally was bored at a meeting and wanted to leave earlier than scheduled. I had no idea who Albert Bally was. Very soon, Dr. Bally and I headed to the airport in my old red beetle, which had significant holes at the bottom of the front passenger seat. It took no time for us to discover that both of us were Swiss! I remember quite well that our conversation was very jovial and became more fascinating as time passed. In fact, it was so exciting that we did not notice that we had arrived in front of the airport for quite some time. I realized very quickly that Dr. Bally was not just anyone, but a former chief scientist from Shell who had retired to become the chairman of the Geology Dept. at Rice University in Houston. Dr. Bally asked me about my Ph.D. research and my future plans. He was very interested in the results of my Ph.D. thesis which focused on cyclic sedimentation of the slope and basins adjacent to Great Bahama Bank. His line of questioning was telling me that he was one of the most passionate geoscientists I had met in my life so far.
Let’s go forward two years! I had defended my Ph.D. in 1984 and in the summer of 1985 moved to University of South Carolina to become a postdoctoral researcher with Profs. Doug Williams and Bob Thunell. That fall, while attending the ice beaker at the annual GSA meeting in Orlando, I met a young Rob Dunbar, new faculty member at Rice, who through Paul Baker I knew from Duke. During our conversation, Rob mentioned to me that Rice University was looking for a young sedimentologist to fill an open faculty position in the Geology and Geophysics Dept. at Rice. Along with John Anderson, Rob was interviewing some potential candidates during the GSA meeting. Rob told me that I should apply for the position since I had already passed the first interview, which I did not really understand. I was for sure not prepared to be formally interviewed and honestly, Texas and Houston were not where I was thinking to move in the future. Through the following month of December, Rob called me on a weekly basis, trying to convince me to apply for the Rice faculty position. Finally, Rob called me to let me know that Rice was inviting me to give a seminar at Rice in late January, and if I would send my application for the faculty position, they would consider my seminar visit as a job interview! Bob Thunell, suggesting that I needed some job interview practice, convinced me that I should apply, so I did.
Bert and André at EEPS. 2016
I gave my seminar and was interviewed in late January 1986. Following a second Rice visit in Spring 1986, I was offered a position as a new faculty at Rice which I accepted. In January 1987, I moved to Rice and have had an amazing professional experience. Who would have known that by giving Bert a ride to the Miami airport, I had already passed the first interview! Since arriving at Rice 33 years ago, Bert has been a unique inspiration, a role model to my students and myself. Through the years, Bert has guided and encouraged me in my professional and personal life. For the past several years, I have cherished bi-monthly lunches with Bert and Manik Talwani. I spent some time with Bert in mid-April (of this year) to celebrate his 94th birthday and received his last e-mail in early June, referring to himself as an old geezer, in which he was delighted that his Ph.D. research on the Maiella carbonate platform (Italy) was cited beside our research in the Maldives, 50 years apart, in the reference article on the Maiella by Gregor Eberli. André Droxler Professor, EEPS
Madre Majella (“La Madre Maiella of the Abruzzi”): A nostalgic virtual trip to my old Ph.D. thesis area...or how a 1949-1952 Ph.D. thesis project morphed into a national park. Bert Bally, June 6, 2019 In 1989 Elaine and I attended a meeting of the Italian Geological Society in Palermo. I vaguely remember, to my surprise being asked what I thought of a conversion of much my old Ph.D. thesis area into a national park. These new national parks in Italy and other countries (e.g. Switzerland) are areas carved out today from areas surrounded by smaller towns and often close to fairly large cities. Some of the original floras and faunas are re-introduced. Below a few recent images of my Majella-Morrone thesis area, which I explored during the immediate post WWII years (i.e. the late1940s and early 1950s.)
Majella in the winter seen from the NE. The distant peak on the far right is Mt. Amaro, the highest peak in the park, standing at 2793 m.
Looking west from Mt. Amaro (summit of the Majella), the Montagna del Morrone. The highest mountain on the skyline is the Velino Mtn.
In my early teens (while I was in Rome) an Austrian couple who worked at the same Institute of Agriculture where my Dad worked, took a number of us children from our school, myself included, on a long hike to the top of the Velino Mtn. It was from there that I spotted the “Madre Maiella” for the first time. Eventually my romantic notion of the “ Madre Maiella “ got me to choose that mountain as the main focus for my Ph.D. thesis. It was all a great adventure. So much for the scientific method!
Between the years 1998 and 2005, TaskForceMajella (numerous universities and industry sponsors) surveyed the Majella Mountains to construct one of the most comprehensive hydrocarbon reservoir models of its type. The Majella Massif is widely considered the most complete analogue of a faulted and fractured carbonate hydrocarbon reservoir, similar to those found in major provinces like the Middle East, Caspian Basin, Mediterranean Basin, and other areas. Madre Majella officially became a national park in 2009 and as of 2018, is aspiring to become a UNESCO GeoPark.
Bert in is office at Shell. 2013
At the roots of the Swiss Mafia Rudolf Trümpy
In addition to all his other titles of glory, Alberto Bally is a godfather of the Swiss Mafia. I have come here as a humble gang member to pay my respects. The success of the Swiss Mafia has been explained in different ways. Hypothesis A: The Swiss are more intelligent than other people. After living among them for almost eighty years, I can assure you that this not the case. Hypothesis B: The Swiss are a close-knit community, trying to help each other wherever possible. This does not work either; we thoroughly dislike each other. What else can you expect from the citizens of a tiny country with four languages, about thirty dialects and mentalities ranging from the inhabitants of an international city like Geneva to others who regret that things are not quite what they were 700 years ago? How can we, from the village of Glarus, love our neighbours, from the village of Schwyz, who have been stealing our cows and seducing our daughters over centuries? (So have we, but that’s quite another story). On presenting the Career Contribution Award of GSA’s Structural Geology Division to Hans Peter Laubscher, from Basel, Bob Hatcher has recently recalled a Penrose Conference at Helens, Georgia. He wrote: “We had several Swiss at that meeting, and none were able to see any similarities.” Of course not. I was there, and I admit to being very different from Hans Peter, who may well be a better scientist. The third Swiss, as far as I recall, was John Ramsay, who is British, and even very much so, which made him still less typical. So we have only hypothesis C left: it’s a case of shear luck and circumstances. This takes us back to our student days, during and just after the war. In those times, there were hardly any positions for postdocs. An academic career was only possible for the rich, the frugal and the oily. The latter had joined an oil company, usually Shell, and came back to the university after a few years, richer in cash and in international, often exotic experience. They also introduced new tools, especially geophysics and micropaleontology. In Zurich, we had one of each kind. Rudolf Staub was one of the rich. He had been one of the first alpine geologists to apply Alfred Wegener’s concept of continental drift. In his late years, he regrettably returned to more fixist views. He was an imposing personality of the mountain climbing–red wine drinking–black cigar smoking type. His logic was somewhat personal, but he could be inspiring on a mountain top, explaining the view with an intuitive feeling for structures. Alphonse Jeannet was a conventional biostratigrapher, who refused to speak any language other than french. For long, weary afternoons, he made us draw ammonites. By far the most original of our teachers was Wolfgang Leupold. He had come back to Switzerland after years in Indonesia. He was a highly educated man, enjoying life, music, literature and science, and totally lacking ambition. His respect for academic, political, military and ecclesiastic authorities was fairly restricted. We learned a lot from him, about geology and about life in general. He introduced us to strict geometrical and kinematic reasoning in structural geology. The students as well were a mixed batch. Most of them were, of course, Swiss–but I have already mentioned that the Swiss like to be different from each other. Colourful characters were the Hungarian count Ali Szepessy, a great mountaineer, who fell to his death in the Andes. Frances Delany had an Irish father, a Scottish mother and early years in Kenya; she became the first woman geologist to venture into some wild parts of Africa and, later, Secretary General for the Geological Map of the World. Johannes Neher was our senior graduate student. He died two years ago, at the age of 92. He was one of the first to observe microorganisms in deeply buried rocks; of course, nobody, including NASA scientists, would believe him in the sixties of the century. And then there was the incomparable Alberto Bally himself. He was born in the Netherlands and spent his early school years in Rome, where his father, a botanist, worked for an international agricultural organization. Although Alberto was for three or four years my junior, it was impossible not to remark him. Contrariwise to most of us, he was a gentleman, or, rather, a gentiluomo; it became quite natural to address him with honorary Italian titles. He was not one of Rudolf Staub’s boon companions, but rather a leader of his Majesty’s loyal opposition–admiring and criticizing our Chief or Capo. Alberto was intellectually above his pears and made no special effort to hide this fact; in spite of this, he was very popular. Alberto Bally’s Ph.D. thesis concerned a large and complex mountain area in the Apennines. It contains an impressive set of excellent observations. I shall not mention his environmental or structural interpretation of the famous or infamous Argille Scagliose, because it would be painful for all of us to watch the great Alberto blush. I learnt only last week about Alberto’s brilliant military career. He was a member of a very special outfit, whose task it was to listen to enemy artillery and then locating the position of the guns–in a deep valley where the sound waves were reflected from cliffs and slowed down by fog. A great preparation for 3-D seismics. Some of you may imagine that young Alberto, coming from a family of distinguished shoemakers, was rolling in money during his student days. This was definitely not the case; quite on the contrary, he had often trouble to make ends meet. In 1949, he took a job for Gulf Oil, as assistant of Eduard Trümpy in Sicily. My uncle Eduard was another unusual character, a good musician, draftsman and oil geologist. Both he and Alberto enjoyed the Mediterranean way of life. Two thoroughly unconventional geologists, Wolfgang Leupold and, to a lesser degree, Eduard Trümpy may have had the strongest influence on Alberto Bally. The essential lesson he learned from them was to keep an open mind–a lesson which he has applied with such outstanding success on this side of the Atlantic and worldwide. Caro Commendatore, saluti ed auguri! Houston, April 3rd 2000
Albert W. Bally (1925–2019) Daniel Bernoulli
Albert W. Bally, Professor emeritus of Geology at Rice University in Houston, passed away on the 30th of July in Houston. A leading figure in petroleum geology, basin analysis and global tectonics, he was also a great mediator between different scientific cultures and generations and an inspiring teacher and generous friend. The Geologische Vereinigung honored his achievements with the bestowal of the Gustav Steinmann Medal in 1987. Albert Bally was born on 21st of April 21, 1921 in The Hague, the Netherlands to a Swiss Father and a Dutch mother. He spent his early years in Indonesia (Malang, Java), during the 1930s in Rome and during World War II in Switzerland. His early years in Rome were determining: he fell in love with the city and the Italian way of life. He often recalled the days when as a boy he was fishing coins in the Fontana Trevi. In Switzerland, Bally obtained his baccalaureate and begun to study geology at Zurich University; however, he returned to Italy to begin a doctoral thesis on the geology of the Montagna della Maiella in the central Apennines under the guidance of Wolfgang Leupold. Working from 1946 to 1952 in an area devastated by the war, along one of the former major front lines, was an experience to be always remembered. In 1953 he obtained his Ph.D. with a thesis of 298 pages and a large set of maps and section, a real compendium of the regional geology of the central Apennines that is still an important source of information. Today the Maiella is a model for the anatomy of a Bahamian-type carbonate platform margin in a mountain belt. After his doctorate Bally moved to the United States for post-doctoral research at the Lamont Geological Observatory of Columbia University, where he studied deep-sea sediments from the piston-core collection of the Observatory. In the summer of 1954, he was employed by Shell Canada in Calgary. Already during his study time in Zurich, Bally had become involved in petroleum geology. In 1949 he took a leave of absence to work for Gulf Oil on a mapping assignment in south-eastern Sicily. In Canada, he was involved in exploration programs in the Foothills, the Rocky Mountains, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories. In 1966 Bally moved to Houston, where his successful career brought him from Head of the Geological Research to finally Senior Exploration Consultant for Shell Oil. During this time his interests shifted to continental margins and global geology resulting in a number of important publications. In 1981 he was appointed Professor of Geology at the Department of Earth Sciences at Rice University in Houston. At this time the Department at Rice had lost many prominent faculty members and it fell to Bally to get the Department back on track. Indeed under his leadership the Department successfully found its way back onto the stage. In 1996 Bally became a professor emeritus but continued a prolific scientific activity until his last days. The scientific oeuvre of Albert Bally covers a very broad field. While in Canada, Albert Bally (together with Gordy and Stewart, 1966) analyzed the fold-and-thrust belt of the Canadian Rockies. Departing from the palinspastic reconstruction of the depositional geometries, they drafted one of the first, if not the first balanced cross-sections across a fold belt. From 1966 to 2012, Bally published a wealth of regional geological studies, in which he emphasized the role of décollement systems linking foreland belts to active margins and collision zones, e.g. in the complex European and African margins of the western Mediterranean. He always aimed at the large-scale, continent-wide picture; the result of this incline was the publication of the important atlases on North and Central America (with T.D. Cook, 1975), on the ‘Seismic Expression of Structural Styles’ (3 vol. 1983), the Atlas of Seismic Stratigraphy (3 vol. 1987–1989), and the edition with A.R. Palmer of the series ‘The Geology of North America’ at the occasion of the centenary of the Geological Society of America (1989). These publications document his firm belief that maps and [seismic] sections were at the base of geology. As Bally noted in his curriculum vitae, ‘August 1981 marked my return as geologist to Italy, almost 30 years after publication of his Ph.D. thesis in 1954.’ Albert Bally was living in different cultures, born Swiss, American citizen and Italian by choice: Italy was his lifelong love; while in America he was called Bert (a name imposed on him by a Shell manager in Canada–they had already too many Al’s); he was Alberto in Italy, a friend and older colleague of the generation of “giovani leoni” of the 1960s which much later met with him again as members of the Italian National Academy. A list of the academic awards of Albert Bally would be long. It includes the Sidney Powers Award of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, the William Smith Medal of the Geological Society of London, the Prix Gaudry of Société Géologique de France, the foreign membership of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei in Rome and a Honorary Doctorate of the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. Moreover he served as a Committee Member in many scientific institutions. Albert Bally leaves a rich heritage to his fellow geologists, his friends and particularly his students who came from all over the world and who owe him much help and encouragement. He generously shared his wide encyclopedic knowledge freely with them and inspired them with his never-ending curiosity. He will be remembered as a creative and innovative scientist and a patient and good-humoured friend. We shall miss his kindness, his wit and his sense of humour.
A booklet of recollections and biographical information dedicated to the life of a groundbreaking, prolific, brilliant geologist and mentor.
Published on Oct 11, 2019
A booklet of recollections and biographical information dedicated to the life of a groundbreaking, prolific, brilliant geologist and mentor.