Charles Higgins (1925–2016)
Professor Emeritus Charles Higgins passed away on May 16, 2016, at the age of 90. His daughters Kim and Lesley prepared the following obituary, and Kim notified me of his passing.
Charles was instrumental in building our department on the brand new UC Davis campus as the first geology faculty member and department chair. In addition, his work on coastal processes and beyond set the scientific stage for many of the important problems we are still addressing today.
Charles Graham Higgins Jr., emeritus professor of geology at UC Davis, died at Carmel Valley Manor on May 16, 2016. He was 90.
He was born Nov. 18, 1925, in Oak Park, Ill., to Frances Henderson Higgins and Charles Graham Higgins Sr. After graduating from Oak Park River Forest Township High School in 1942, he matriculated at Carleton College in Minnesota before transferring to the University of Chicago, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geology in 1946 and 1947. He earned a Ph.D. degree in geology in 1950 from UC Berkeley.
He was fascinated by geomorphology, the study of the physical features of the Earth’s surface. This interest originated in the summer of 1936, when his parents took him on a road trip to the great national parks, including Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Zion and Yosemite. When he was a student at the University of Chicago, he worked during the summer as a field assistant for the Montana Bureau of Mines, helping to map the geology of the Hecla Mining District. He also mapped and analyzed the geologic history of a large limestone cavern in Missouri for his MS thesis. His doctoral research at Berkeley involved mapping and analyzing the geologic development of the lower Russian River. After graduation, he taught at the University of Michigan for one year before accepting a split-appointment assistant professorship at UC Berkeley and UC Davis. He gave up the split appointment and moved to Davis in 1953.
For more than 50 years, he was a professor at UC Davis. He was the first full-time faculty member in Davis’ fledgling geology department and its first department chair, a position he held from 1951 to 1962. He became professor emeritus in 1990 and moved to Carmel Valley. Although retired from teaching, he retained a desk at the geology department and continued to present papers at professional conferences for many years. In 1995 he received the E.B. Burwell Jr. Memorial Award, Engineering Geology Division, from the Geological Society of America for his work on groundwater geomorphology.
He was married twice. He met Carol Elizabeth Ellis (1925-1994) at Carleton College, and they married in 1947. He and Carol raised two daughters in Davis, where they had a very active social life with other young faculty families. During these years, he took his family to Europe several times to conduct research on the formation of beach rock in Greece, a project that was funded by the U.S. Navy. He and Carol divorced in 1967. Several years later he met Rosalie Darleen Trew through the Cooperative Extension Program at Davis, and they married in 1974.
His personal life took a new direction after he married Rosalie. They bought a rural property with a walnut orchard outside of Woodland. Rosalie cultivated an extensive garden there, and they became regular vendors at the Davis Farmers Market, selling melons, grapes, tomatoes and other produce. The walnuts they harvested won prizes at the Yolo County Fair. Charles built a split-rail fence by hand and renovated many of the old structures on the property. When family members visited, he enjoyed taking his young grandchildren out to collect eggs from their chickens and pick olives from the trees at the edge of the property.
He never lost his passion for music. As a high school student in 1941, he had his own 11-member swing band: the Charles Higgins Orchestra. He played the drums. As an undergraduate at Carleton, he played with Bob Carey’s Dance Orchestra. By the 1970s, he was playing with a jazz band, a tradition that continued in Carmel Valley Manor until he became too frail to hold the drumsticks.
He loved good beer, salted nuts, anything made with beans, hiking in the Sierra and travel. For many years he liked to travel without making any reservations, just for the pleasure of seeing where he would land at the end of the day. After moving to Carmel Valley, he and Rosalie traveled the world together.
Charles is survived by his wife Rosalie; daughter Lesley Higgins and her husband Peter King; and daughter Kim Higgins Tolley, her husband Bruce Tolley, and their daughter Emma Tolley and son Nathan Tolley.
The family will sponsor a small celebratory event in Charles’ name for the residents and staff of the Carmel Valley Manor Medical Center, featuring jazz music, grilled sausages, salted nuts and beer.