Memorial Tributes: Volume 27
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  • SPENCER R. TITLEY (1928-2019)



    SPENCER ROWE TITLEY, professor emeritus of geosciences at the University of Arizona who mapped the moon and then gave NASA astronauts crash geology courses to prepare them for their missions, passed away on August 18, 2019, in Tucson, Arizona, at the age of 90.

    Born September 27, 1928, in Denver, Colorado, Spence grew up on the family farm near Fulford in the Sawatch Mountains of Colorado. He worked summers at Cripple Creek and Idaho Springs while attending the Colorado School of Mines on an ROTC scholarship, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in geological engineering in 1951. After graduation, he took a mine geologist position at the Eagle Mine in Gilman, Colorado, where he worked until shipping out to Korea as a combat engineer in 1952.

    Spence was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the US Army and was sent to Sasebo Naval Base, Japan, and from there to Busan, South Korea. He led a platoon that maintained roads and other infrastructure and built bridges across terrain in combat zones. In an interview about his wartime experience, he said, “What I did was plain-old, straightforward civil engineering. The difference was they were shooting at us…. We worked in plain sight of the enemy.” When interviewed about his experience for the PBS documentary Unforgettable: The Korean War, he said, “I know no great novel written about it. And there is no poetry written. No songs. Nothing on the culture side marks the passage of Korea. It was basically over and done with and forgotten.” But for the rest of his life, Spence was very proud of having been awarded the Bronze Star (1953) for his service. He would often say, “Freedom is not free.”

    Upon returning from Korea, Spence worked for the New Jersey Zinc Company at the Linchburg Mine in Magdalena, New Mexico. From there he went to the University of Arizona on the GI Bill, earning his PhD in geology and chemistry in 1958. His thesis focused on Linchburg. He then worked in private-sector exploration for two years before joining the University of Arizona faculty in 1960.

    Spence was an explorer. He traveled the world sharing his knowledge and experience with thousands of people, and his students were fortunate to hear stories about those travels. As a professor, he challenged and mentored several generations of geoscientists, urging them to listen to the rocks, take on new projects, explore the world, and find new orebodies. He was a student of the great economic geologists that came before him, and he urged his students to study and appreciate their work. Spence mentored hundreds of students and more than 130 graduate students during his career who now hold important positions in universities and the exploration and mining industry, many as senior executives, ensuring that his legacy will live on for decades.

    Spence inspired his students to do great things in the mining industry, and he inspired fellow faculty members to break down barriers between disciplines. He encouraged the use of a variety of scientific methods to attack major economic geology problems. His commitment to quality research and his strong character and passion for understanding became embedded in those with whom he interacted. His protégés have said that they are blessed and better as scientists, industry workers, and community members for having known him.

    Although his career began in carbonate replacement and skarn deposits, Spence became a world authority on porphyry copper systems, metal provinces, and metallogenesis. The books he wrote and edited and the scholarly articles he published on porphyry copper deposits of southwestern North America are widely read today. Always humble, he simply said: “My principal focus is generating scientific information that may be applied to the actual problems of discovery of ores and their development as mines.”

    His work took him around the world to Chile, Peru, Australia, New Guinea, the Philippines, Africa, and beyond. In 1964, Spence was tapped by the US Geological Survey to map the moon by telescope and later participated in NASA’s Apollo Program, training Alan Shepard, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra, Gordon Cooper, Ed White, and Thomas Stafford in the geology they would need for their visits to the moon.

    Spence remained at the University of Arizona until retiring in 2009 as a distinguished professor of geosciences, then the longest continuous employee in the university’s history. At a 2009 event honoring Spence for 50 years of teaching, Joaquin Ruiz, dean of the College of Science, aptly noted that “Spence Titley is truly one of the most extraordinary economic geologists in the world.”

    Spence was a fellow of the Society of Economic Geologists, the Geological Society of America, the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, and the Mineralogical Society of America. He was a member of the Society for Geology Applied to Mineral Deposits, the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration, the Society of Exploration Geophysicists, the American Geophysical Union, and the International Association for the Genesis of Ore Deposits. He served as president of the Arizona Geological Society, on editorial boards of several journals, and on committees and panels of the National Science Foundation.

    Widely recognized for his groundbreaking work in the fields of economic geology, engineering, and science, Spence’s list of awards is lengthy. In engineering, he was inducted into the National Mining Hall of Fame in 2020, elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2005, awarded the Medal of Merit from the American Mining Hall of Fame and the Daniel C. Jackling Award from the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration both in 1997, was the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Distinguished Lecturer at the University of California-Berkeley in 1988, and received the Medal for Distinguished Achievement in Mineral Engineering from his alma mater, the Colorado School of Mines, in 1975. For his scientific work, Spence was awarded the Penrose Gold Medal from the Society of Economic Geologists in 1996, was a distinguished lecturer for the Australian Mineral Foundation in 1996, was a distinguished lecturer for the Society of Economic Geologists in 1995, and received the Medal of the Geological Society of China in 1989. For his outstanding teaching, he was recognized with the Career Distinguished Teaching Award from the University of Arizona in 2001, the Creative Teaching Award from the University of Arizona Foundation in 1986, the Thayer Lindsley Distinguished Lecturer in Economic Geology from the Society of Economic Geologists in 1985–86, and the Faculty Achievement Award for Teaching Excellence in 1984–85. Other recognitions included being named a Distinguished Faculty Member by the Advisory Board of the University of Arizona Department of Geosciences in 2003 and a Lifetime Honorary Member of the Arizona Geological Society in 1994.

    Spence met Helen Ruxton on a blind date in Denver. They were married in 1951 and would spend the next 68 years together and raise three children. A devoted family man, beloved teacher, respected scholar, sought-after consultant, and dedicated mentor, Spence also managed to find time to pursue his many passions. He and Helen were avid dog lovers, and Spence served as the treasurer of the Old Pueblo Dog Training Club and stewarded dog matches. He flew airplanes, delighting his children with rides in Cessnas. He was a member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. A staunch Arizona Wildcats fan and season ticket holder for much of his life, he loved to take his children and grandchildren to football and basketball games. He was also an enthusiastic fan at his grandchildren’s soccer games and piano and dance performances. Spence was very proud that both his grandchildren graduated from the University of Arizona. Music and literature were some of his pleasures. He listened to all kinds of music, from cowboy ballads to folk and classical, and he was known to lose himself in a good mystery novel.

    Spence’s wife Helen passed away on January 28, 2021. They are survived by their son Ronald (Jane Broadbere) of Sydney, Australia, and daughters Jane Titley of Tucson, and Jennifer Titley-Rubio (Martin Rubio) of Tucson, two grandchildren, as well as numerous nieces and nephews.