In 2006, our community lost a great educator, mentor, scientist and friend – Bob Matthews. Bob was the first environmental geologist hired in the Department of Geology at UC Davis; and for many years, he was the sole faculty member in the department’s environmental geology program. Due to his close involvement with students throughout his academic career, in 2000 the campus named one of the five courts at The Colleges at LaRue, a student residential complex, in his honor.
He was born in Augusta, Georgia in 1926. At the age of 16, he tried to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Rejected by white recruiters in the South, he traveled to New York to enlist and trained at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, becoming one of the Tuskegee Airmen, the nation’s first black military airmen.
After the war, Bob attended USC and then UC Berkeley, receiving his bachelor’s degree in geology in 1953. He worked for the California Division of Mines and Geology (now the California Geological Survey) from 1956 until 1972, when he joined UC Davis as a lecturer in geology. For several years he also served as the Associate Dean of Environmental Studies in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. At the national level, he served as deputy hazard information coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey from 1977 to 1979. After retiring in 1996, Bob completed the Ph.D. that he began in 1968.
In memory of Bob, the UC Davis Geology Department (now Earth and Planetary Sciences) spearheaded the creation of the Robert Matthews Memorial Fund to further acknowledge Bob's legacy and commitment to students. The Matthews Memorial Fund helps geology students meet their academic and geological pursuits.