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Robert J. King
(1923-2013)

Robert Joseph "Bob" King, a major figure in the fields of British mineralogy and mineral collecting, passed away on September 25, 2013. He was born in Leicester, England on March 18, 1923, the son of Martha Letitia Nourish and Robert William King, a shoemaker. He attended the City Boys School in Leicester, and obtained a post as a student at Leicester (New Walk) Museum, until the beginning of World War II. Bob served in North Africa and Italy, returning with a large suite of minerals from Monte Somma (Mt. Vesuvius). After being discharged from the armed forces in 1946, he worked for eight years on a farm in Newton Harcourt, Leicestershire, and was still considered an authority on minerals. He became friends with the late John Harry McDonald (Mac) Whitaker, who would send people bringing mineral specimens into the Leicester New Walk Museum to "go and speak with Mr. King at Newton Harcourt."

Mac regularly visited Bob to discuss identifications and localities in Leicestershire, forming a friendship which later led to him recruiting Bob to a post as technician in the Geoloy Department of the University of Leicester in 1954. Bob progressed to become Chief Technician and Curator, a role which suited his interests and skill set admirably. He studied for an external degree from Imperial College, London, gaining an Master of Science Degree in Geology in 1972, and went on to read for a PhD on "The Mineralogy of Leicestershire" in the Geology Department at Leicester, a subject which remained an abiding passion for much of his life.

Bob's interest in minerals started when he was about eight years old, encouraged by his father, who was a strong believer in getting out to look at the natural world, and who also bought Bob his first mineral book. Being based in Leicester, Bob focused initially on collecting in the East Midlands, but from the late 1930s he diversified, going further afield (using public transport and a bicycle) in search of fine mineral specimens. The Cumbrian iron mines, the North Pennines and the Caldbeck Fells in the northern Lake District were some of his favorite collecting areas.

Bob was a protégé of the late Sir Arthur Russell (1878–1964), perhaps the most famous British mineralogist of the 20th century. He corresponded and exchanged specimens with Sir Arthur, visiting him at his home in Swallowfield Park, near Reading.

In 1949 Bob and his first wife, Iris, were married, and together they had two children, Barry and Josephine. Sadly, Iris passed away, and it was not until 1977 that he married his present wife Sally, with whom he also had two children, Amy and Daniel.

In his professional life Bob was member of numerous organizations including the Mineralogical Society of Great Britain (since 1948; Elected Fellow in January 1998); Fellow of the Institute of Quarrying since December 1981; Fellow of the Institute of Science and Technology since March 1996; and Founding member of Geological Curators Group in 1974 (and winner of its A. G. Brighton Medal in 1995).

Bob's local geological and mining interests lead to him participating in the activities of the Peak District Mines Historical Society; the Leicester Literary and Philosophical Society (where he became Life President of the Geology Section); and in his later years, following a move to rural Gloucestershire, he became keenly involved with the Cotteswold Naturalists Field Club.

The Russell Society was born out of an evening class, on the October 27, 1972, when approximately 30 people, all from the area in and around Leicester, met to inaugurate a new mineralogical society. Bob sought the blessing of Lady Russell to adopt her late husband's name, and the rest, as they say, is history. Bob provided early leadership and direction, and served as President from 1973 to 1975. The early days of the Society saw many exciting initiatives, including the sinking of a shaft to gain access to a small lead deposit at the Tickow Lane mine, and extensive investigations and a feasibility study on reopening the famous Earl Ferrers' Lead mine at Staunton Harold.

Ten years after the founding of the Russell Society, Bob proposed that a new publication be launched – The Journal of the Russell Society – the aim being to provide a vehicle for the publication and recording of papers relating to British topographical mineralogy. The journal continues today as a respected peer-reviewed publication, regularly reporting significant new finds and research projects, by members as well as third-party researchers and mineralogists.

Bob's very fine personal mineral collection was purchased in 1983 by The National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, where it now forms an important part of the collections. As part of this arrangement Bob took up an honorary post at the Museum, where he planned to conduct research on his collection and the many associated field notes and documents. He and Sally moved from Leicester to St. Athan, near Cardiff, and enjoyed five years living in South Wales, seeing through the establishment of the Russell Society's Wales and West Branch, in which they both played an active role.

Things did not work out quite as Bob had hoped on the mineralogical front, and he and Sally decided to move to Tewkesbury in 1988 where Bob took up the post of Curator at the John Moore Countryside Museum, providing an opportunity for him to rekindle his fondness for the countryside, agriculture and the broader field of natural history. They later moved out of town to a plot near Longdon, where they built a house with a large garden and beautiful rural views.

In 1980 Bob had suffered a stroke whilst working at Leicester University, but from which he made an excellent recovery. Sadly, he suffered another stroke in 2008, from which he never fully recovered, and his health deteriorated steadily over a number of years. He was, however, invariably pleased to see me when I called-in every couple of months or so on my way home from work, eager to hear the latest mineralogical news and gossip, and wanting to know what everyone was up to in the mineral world.

With Bob's declining health it was decided to move to Bishops Cleeve, just outside Cheltenham, to be nearer to their daughter Amy and also to shops and services. During this period Bob undertook extensive research on the minerals of Gloucestershire, a program of work which led to a series of papers in the Proceedings of the Cotteswold Naturalists' Field Club from 2007 to 2012.

Bob's published works are predominantly in the fields of specimen and topographic mineralogy, but he also compiled a comprehensive series of articles under the title "The Care of Minerals," intended to be of use to both collectors and mineralogical curators. His article on "The Boltsburn mine, Weardale, County Durham, England" won the award for "best article of the year" in the Mineralogical Record for 1982. Even in retirement, Bob's written output was impressive, and he was engaged to write a regular column for the journal Geology Today, taking a different mineral or mineral group in each issue, and providing an introductory review aimed at the non-specialist reader. The series began in 1985 with "Minerals Explained 1: Fluorite" and concluded with "Minerals Explained 50: "Olivine Group" in 2009, comprising a total of fifty articles and a true tour de force of educational specimen mineralogy. Being a strong believer in the value of handling and studying specimens, Bob sought to acquire representative examples of the minerals he was to describe in each issue, and this gradually built up to become what was known as the "New King Collection", and which was eventually sold by auction to Society members and friends in June 2011.

The Russell Society celebrated its 20th Anniversary in 1992 by establishing a new international award, the Russell Medal, to recognize "outstanding contributions which lead to the education and promotion of topographical and specimen mineralogical studies, specimen and site documentation, preservation and conservation." There was unanimous agreement amongst the Society Council that the first recipient should be Dr. R. J. King, and Bob was duly presented with the medal at the Society's Annual General Meeting in Leicester in May 1992.

Bob's contributions to earth science have been formally recognized, firstly in 2000 by the naming of Offacolus kingi a chelicerate arthropod which he discovered in the concretions of the Silurian-aged Wenlock Formation in Herefordshire; and in 2002 the new mineral bobkingite was named in his honor. The mineral is a hydrous cupric chlorohydroxide that occurs as a secondary mineral with malachite and azurite on massive cuprite at the type locality, New Cliffe Hill quarry, Stanton-under-Bardon, Leicestershire, first described from a specimen collected by Society member Neil Hubbard.

A man of many interests, Bob greatly enjoyed gardening, was an accomplished chorister (singing firstly in the choir at Leicester Cathedral, and following their move to Tewkesbury, in the abbey there), and had a formidable knowledge of natural history. He is survived by his wife Sally, his four children, and his grandchildren Michael, Lily and Emily, of whom he was extremely proud. Always interested and enthusiastic about anything to do with geology and mineralogy, Bob was keen to encourage newcomers and youngsters, and always took time to explain things to those less knowledgeable about the subject. He will be greatly missed, but also remembered for the many contributions which he made and for the lives he touched.

Reference:
STARKEY, R. (2014) Died, Bob King, 90. Mineralogical Record, 45 (1), 4-5, 55.
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The Mineralogical Record - Robert J. King Bob King admiring a fine North Pennine fluorite at the British Mineral and Gem Show in Leicester in March 1981. Photo courtesy of the Leicester Mercury.
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