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Department of Earth Sciences

Prof. Jon Davidson

Professor of Earth Sciences, Durham University

It is with great sadness that we report the death of Professor Jon Davidson on Monday 26th September 2016, after a long battle with leukaemia.

Jon’s association with Durham University started in 1978 as an undergraduate (Collingwood College) and he graduated with a First Class Honours Degree in Geological Sciences in 1981. After gaining his PhD from the University of Leeds, Jon moved to the USA where he undertook postdoctoral research at Southern Methodist University and at the University of Michigan. In 1988 Jon obtained an academic position at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) where he quickly moved through promotions to full professor. Jon returned to Durham in 2000 as Chair of Earth Sciences. He served as Head of Department from 2002 to 2005, and Director of Research from 2007 to 2010.

Jon was passionate about geology, of which he was an outstanding researcher and teacher. His primary interest was in the magmatism found in subduction zones. Jon’s measured, no-nonsense approach led to his producing a large body of scientific papers in leading international journals. The clarity of both thought and reason in these papers have influenced and inspired a huge number of geoscientists. Jon was a great champion of careful, methodical fieldwork and savoured any opportunity to study physical volcanology. He was perhaps best known for his work in the Lesser Antilles and Andes but also worked in Kamchatka, Iran, Indonesia, New Zealand and Italy. Throughout his career Jon led highly innovative developments in the applications of isotopic analyses, both in the measurement of whole rocks and micro-analysis of their crystal cargoes, to understand how magma develops within and beneath volcanoes. The impact of Jon’s research has been recognised in his receiving the Wager medal of the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior in 1998, the Coke Medal of the Geological Society of London (GSL) in 2011 and the 2014 VMSG (Volcanic and Magmatic Studies Group) Award, also of the GSL. Jon was absolutely thrilled to have been elected a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union early in 2016 and was very much hoping to attend the awards dinner this December.

As a teacher, Jon was inspirational as had been recognised by his receiving the Luckman Teaching Award from UCLA in 1994. He gave outstanding lectures but was most at home teaching in the field. Jon’s approach was to give students as much control of their own learning as possible, seeking his advice as and when required, so that they could develop their own understanding. He was lead author of an undergraduate textbook Exploring the Earth: An Introduction to Physical Geology which, typical of Jon, used an innovative layout to engage the reader’s attention. Jon directly supervised many PhD students and post-doctoral researchers, but advised and inspired many more both in the universities where he taught, and beyond.

Jon’s decision to move from UCLA to Durham was a conscious decision to give himself a new challenge, and one that he took up with vigour. Changing the name of the Department from Geosciences to Earth Sciences was only the most cosmetic of transformations that went on under his leadership. The Department revised its entire undergraduate and taught postgraduate curricula, moved into a newly constructed building and developed an entirely new approach to research organisation and recruitment at that time, the benefits of which can be seen in the health and vigour of the research and teaching cultures at Durham today. Jon’s vision and energy were absolutely key to these developments. Over the past few years Jon applied his experience more widely, both as Deputy Head of the Faculty of Sciences for Research (2010-2016) and as a member of Council, which has ultimate responsibility for all the affairs of Durham University. In every aspect of his involvement with Durham, Jon’s wisdom, honesty and good humour were deeply appreciated and respected.

Jon will be greatly missed by everyone in the Department of Earth Sciences and we would like to express our deepest sympathy to Jon’s wife Donna and children, Max and Daisy.

If you would like to make a donation to support the ongoing fight with blood cancers, Jon's wish was that donations be made to ‘Bright Red’ which is a charity based at the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle, where Jon received much of his care and treatment.

Please feel free to add your own memories of Jon as a comment below. If you have images of Jon that you would like to submit to the gallery, please email them to

Click here to see the full gallery


Jon Davidson

I had the privilege of travelling with Jon for 3 weeks during the 2013 MSci field trip to the USA. I found his experience and advice tremendously valuable. I always enjoyed talking to him. His sense of humor and very eccentric music taste definitely added to the fun! My thoughts are with his family and friends.

Posted by Rebekah Moore at 15:35, 27 September 2016


I first met Jon when I came to work at Durham University 10 years ago. During those 10 years he was a great role model, challenging me to think both wider and deeper, and was always quick to smile. He will be missed, but his legacy will be with us for many, many years to come.

Posted by Paula Martin at 15:55, 27 September 2016

A man called Hair

Jon and I were PhD students together in Leeds back in the days when he had a lot more Hair and was indeed known by that nickname. It is not an exaggeration to say that Jon’s arrival as Head of Department and Chair in Durham transformed the fortunes of the Earth Sciences Department. It was he who set about a proactive strategy to strengthen the Department without waiting to be told what to do by the University. He thought creatively and with great imagination coming up with innovative ideas like the creation of an Advisory Board, an industry-focussed research strategy, a stategy to attract new funding and underpin new appointments, dry runs for RAE/REF assessments and a complete and engaging approach to undergraduate teaching. All these approaches played to Durham’s existing strengths which Jon understood very well and all were subsequently adopted by the University as models of good practice. I worked with Jon through three cycles of research assessment processes and found his ideas, insights and advice to be inspirational, though not always in quite the way that he may ultimately have expected! He was a funny, gentle and kind man and I for one will miss him a great deal. Rest in peace, mate.

Posted by Bob Holdsworth at 16:00, 27 September 2016

Jon Davidson

Jon was my Ph.D. advisor and mentor through a very transformative period of my life. I admired his academic skills and loved him as a friend and all-around decent human being. I mourn his absence in the world and not having the opportunity to talk to him after all these years. Time is fleeting...

Posted by Ben Castellana at 16:05, 27 September 2016

Jon Davidson

As a relative newcomer to the department I didn't know Jon as well as I should have. However, I can absolutely trace my arrival in Durham to Jon's transformation of the department. In the late 90s, when I was in Newcastle, I occasionally came to Durham to see if there was any way in which we might collaborate on a departmental level. The department in those days was on the conservative side. Jon guided the department to what it is today - thriving, forward-looking and globally competitive. Jon was both a visionary and  a scientist from the top drawer. And a fine bloke. He will be sorely missed.

Posted by Andy Aplin at 16:25, 27 September 2016

Jon Davidson

Jon's loss will be keenly felt by science especially those working on understanding the inner workings of subduction zones. His legacy will live on in terms of the papers that he published and the younger scientists, including me, that he inspired. He was also a deeply caring colleague and a wonderful personality and he will be deeply missed.

Posted by Tamsin Mather at 16:40, 27 September 2016

Jon - what a great man!

I believe that Jon shaped my and Ed's whole future. It was he who saw our potential at Durham and, of course, our permanent positions changed our lives. Once we were here, he mentored and supported me. Always incredibly fair, and wise, he helped me make important career and research decisions. He was always a joy to be with, although I regret never getting to do much of that in the field or pub (blame the kids...). I was fond of Jon and will miss him greatly. My thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues from around the world.

Posted by Claire Horwell at 16:40, 27 September 2016

Thank you

“you don’t need to take it all so seriously, just have fun with it”. Thanks Jon! It was always fun because you made it fun! I had the privilege of being Jon's PhD student from 2008-2012, yet his mentorship did not stop after I left and my passion for scientific inquiry continues today, thanks to Jon.

To those who currently advise students, never underestimate your role as a mentor or take for granted the wonderfully positive influence you can have on a young researchers enthusiasm for science, the world and life.

Everyone who knew, interacted with and worked with Jon have lost a true and genuine friend, colleague and an incredibly talented scientist. It was a privilege to work with him during my years at Durham, and to grow as a person and scientist from his guidance in the years that followed. No words seem enough to describe the positive influence Jon had on everyone. My thoughts are with his family, friends and all those who knew this wonderfully gentle giant of a human being.

Posted by Claire McLeod at 16:40, 27 September 2016

Jon Davidson

Jon was a huge influence on me, from my first AGU where I pursued him to get an invite to the 2001 Penrose conference, to the point in 2003 where he hired me as a PDRA on ERUPT and onwards after I left Durham in 2006. His influences extend outwards across the community like ripples on a pond. He will be sorely missed, but has touched so many of us both professionally and in a human sense that his legacy will live on. My thoughts and condolences go towards Jon's family and friends.

Posted by Dan Morgan at 17:10, 27 September 2016

Thank you, Jon

I first met Jon at the Geological Society Ball in 2000, when he was considering a return to Durham and I was a fresh-faced undergrad. We were at the bar, ordering drinks, and Jon took the time to talk me about geology, my future goals, and beer. Later, I had the great fortune to go on a field trip to the western US, led by Jon, where we did so many memorable things, including a wonderful trip up and into Mt. St. Helens. This trip was central in making me continue on the path of research and teaching. He acted as the external examiner for my PhD and has had a strong influence in shaping my scientific thoughts, especially in introducing me to the life of research in the US. Thank you, Jon, your influence will rightly be positive, long lasting and fondly remembered.

Posted by James Day at 17:40, 27 September 2016

Jon Davidson

The science of geology and humanity in general has lost one of the brightest, sweetest stars in the sky. RIP mate, so many memories from so many different places in the world. Thoughts are with Donna, Max and Daisy.

Posted by John Wolff at 18:10, 27 September 2016

Jon Davidson

I had the privilege of being taught by Jon throughout my 4 years at Durham, I remember him leading the Tenerife field trip and how he reinvigorated my love for volcanism. But I'll never forget those 4 weeks we spent in America, he was a source of great quips, really easy to get along with but fundamentally a fantastic lecturer and practical demonstrator.

Posted by Tim Knight at 18:50, 27 September 2016


I first met Jon in the winter and spring of 1983 when NERC organised 2 one-week Isotope Geology courses in Leeds for new UK graduate students. Everyone had a great time, learning a lot and getting to know one another. Jon's friendship remained ever since, and it was always a pleasure to meet up - at UCLA, SOTA in NZ, and various Goldschmidt meetings. RIP Jon.

Posted by David Hilton at 19:10, 27 September 2016


Jon was, and continues to be, a treasure; beloved and respected by family, students past and present, colleagues, and anyone else who knew him. His influence will continue to blossom, like Fibonacci's rabbits. Warmest wishes to Donna, Max, Daisy, and Jon’s mom Pam.

I was Chair of the department at UCLA when we brought Jon on board, and that is perhaps my most satisfying professional contribution.

Posted by Art Montana at 20:45, 27 September 2016

Giggles and Geology with Jon

I remember when Jon came to the department in 2000, I was an eager beaver undergrad, hungry for information. I’d been studying the Long Valley Caldera and he was only too happy to answer all my annoying questions about it. I don’t exactly know when the transition was from lecturer to friend, but I know it didn’t take long. Jon always had time for me and was a brilliant teacher. Although his drawings on dry wipe boards took a bit of imagination to work out! :) He gave me a great opportunity to shine when he asked me to cover maternity leave for the Research Administrator in the dept in 2005. I really loved the job and then he gave me the huge task of organising the whole of the Western US field trip in 2006. I was so proud it all went like clockwork. I’d never been to the States before and Jon always said he would get me there to see the Long Valley Caldera, and he did! I never forgot how special this was for me :) We used to have the giggles on so many occasions, quite often at lunch time with Laura, Ambre, Chris and Vicki. I have so many lovely happy memories of Jon. And I miss him very much. My heart goes out to Donna, Max and Daisy, their loved one was taken away much too young and fought a long battle. He touched the hearts of so many lives and he will always be remembered with many smiles xxxx

Posted by Michelle Webb at 21:00, 27 September 2016

A huge loss

I was lucky enough to be a student of Jon's at UCLA in the 1990s. Twenty years later, he still stands out as one of the best teacher, mentor, and friend that I've encountered in my academic and professional life. He'll be sorely missed. RIP, buddy.

Posted by Doug Steding at 21:25, 27 September 2016

First Lecture

I remember my first lectures with Jon. He demonstrated the concept of isostasy to us with a pint of Guinness and encouraged us to develop our own ideas. "Experience proves nothing" is a quote of his I still remember. He was a great man, a great scientist. Dedicated, articulate and very down to Earth.

Rest in peace.

Posted by Paul Griffin at 21:30, 27 September 2016

The legacy of Jon Davidson

Jon and I were PhD students at Leeds (along with Bob H and several others!) and became firm friends and have been ever since. He was the best man at my wedding and Donna was my soon-to-be-wife's Maid of Honour. Jon has left us with so many great memories that make us smile. It is also evident that he touched so many others in a positive way. What a legacy! And this is before we even talk about his impact on our science! Like many others, I will miss Jon terribly, but I am proud to have known him. RIP my friend - job well done!

Posted by Clive Neal at 21:55, 27 September 2016


He always smiled at the world, he always saw the good in us all and not only do I respected him but also admired him for that. He is truely one of the pillars in mordern day geochemistry when it comes to igenous rocks, inspired so many of us with is enthusiasim, originality and great ideas. I will miss you my friend. Stay safe on your travels and new adventures. Thor

Posted by Thor Thordarson at 00:15, 28 September 2016


Jon was a rare combination of top-notch scientist who also cared deeply about teaching Earth Sciences. He was a man with vision and drive, who got things done. As a young faculty member in Durham in the early 2000s I found him not just a breath of fresh air but a truly transformative figure who brought everyone’s game up. Forever a glass half-full man, Jon had a positive impact on everyone who was lucky enough to interact with him. Jon leaves the Department, the Science Faculty and the University a better place. I’ll remember numerous great field trips, where Jon was in his element, always ready to invest time with any interested student. Jon will be badly missed, by friends and colleagues all over the world.

Posted by Graham Pearson at 00:20, 28 September 2016

Thank you Jon

I first met Jon at breakfast at a terrible La Paz (Bolivia) hotel a few hours after he got off a series of long haul flights. It takes a genuinely great person to smile and engage with a newbie PhD student in those circumstances, which is just what happened. I'm very sorry to hear this news. RIP Professor, what a legacy and example you've left.

Posted by Matt Pankhurst at 06:05, 28 September 2016


I first met Jon in 1992 when he was doing field work in Iran. He was not only a great geologist but also a talented artist. We use to have serious discussion about photography after long day of feild work every evening for almost a month. He had a great impact on my life both professionally and personally. I lost a teacher, a mmentor and aabove all great friend.

Posted by Arash Sharifi at 06:15, 28 September 2016

That One Field Trip

What a huge smile I have on from reading about so many geologists who were fortunate enough to have experienced that one truly amazing field trip -- whenever yours was, the one that sticks with you and makes you want to dig into some rocks and keep your geologist friends close -- of course, led by Jon. Lucky us!

Posted by Sheila Morrissey at 06:25, 28 September 2016

Jon Davidson

I didn't know Jon too well whilst here as a PhD student, but I have a memory of meeting him when I was applying for undergraduate studies in geology back in 2001-02. I applied to Durham and it was Jon who interviewed me. I happened to mention in the interview I was keen to get into volcanology without realising what Jon's specialism was (this was before the days of large-scale internet use and online journal access!). Anyway, a week or so later a postcard dropped through my letter box. It was from Jon - he'd forgotten to mention in my interview that several students had gone on to complete internships at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. Now maybe he did this to every student, maybe he didn't, but to take the time out to do such a thing really struck a chord with me regardless. It was such a lovely thing to do. If it wasn't for the fact Durham is only 20-25 mins from my parents house (a little too close for comfort when one is trying to re-invent themselves at university. You should have seen my hair...) it would have persuaded me not to go to Bristol! Such a nice person, such a sad loss.

Posted by Cat Hirst at 08:50, 28 September 2016

Jon Davidson

Jon and I were PhD students together in Leeds in the early 1980’s where we worked long hours beside other members of the isotope geochemistry group to extract hard-won data from the mass specs. I remember us all drowning our failures and celebrating our successes over a curry and a pint or several in the Little Park. It was also apparent very soon after he arrived in Leeds that Jon was a talented and hardworking individual. Over the subsequent years our paths crossed at various conferences. In his presentations, Jon showed himself to be a world class scientist, while always retaining that youthful enthusiasm he displayed at the start of his career. I will leave it to others to record his scientific achievements, but I will remember him foremost as a good man on many levels and I feel privileged to have known him.

Posted by Martin Palmer at 09:10, 28 September 2016

Jon - a stalwart of VMSG

Very sorry to hear this news. I knew Jon from meetings and conferences and, his deep involvement in the Volcanic and Magmatic Studies Group. A giant of a man, in terms of stature, personality, and scientific achievements, he will be missed. RIP.

Posted by Andy Saunders at 09:20, 28 September 2016


I first met Jon when I started my postdoc with him three years ago. During this time, his positive outlook and proactive approach to challenges, both scientifically and personally, never ceased to amaze me. I feel privileged to have worked with Jon, he was one of the most genuine and down to Earth scientists I have met. His continued enthusiasm for our weekly 'Volc Coffee’ meetings rubbed off on everyone and really motivated the group. Durham has a lot to thank Jon for and he will be missed by all. My thoughts are with Donna, Max and Daisy.

Posted by George Cooper at 10:20, 28 September 2016

Thanks Jon

One of my earliest recollections of Jon was when he came to Bristol in late 2000. He knew I was intending to apply for the isotope lab manager position that was coming up in Durham so, typical of Jon, he sought me out and took me for a beer(s). We chatted about all the things that would be possible in the new labs and his enthusiasm and excitement were infectious to the extent I was worried I wouldn’t get the position at all. Well, I did get the position and Jon was not wrong - it HAS been exciting but it has also been fun. I am very honoured and privileged to have known and shared in some of this exciting journey with Jon.

It is clear Jon’s influence stretches globally and so many of us owe a great deal to Jon, not least here in Durham. Much of our amazing portfolio of instrumentation is thanks largely to Jon. His contribution didn’t stop when he became ill and only last week we took delivery of a new Neptune. A year previously I spoke to Jon about the fact we were going to lose a Neptune and asked what we could do about it. We were considering trying to secure a second hand instrument but in typical style Jon said ‘No, think big. Apply to the university infrastructure round for a new instrument’. We did, and it was the last round on which Jon sat on the final deciding committee. Although Jon played down his role in securing the funding I know that this was his parting gift to geochemistry in Durham and for that I will always be grateful. I know from chatting with Jon a few weeks ago that he took some comfort from knowing we had a new instrument that would see us good in the years to come. I want this instrument to be associated with discovery, excitement and fun, as Jon would have wanted, but it will be tinged with sadness that Jon is not with us to share in that.

My heart goes out to Donna, Max and Daisy. I hope you can take some comfort from knowing just how well respected Jon was and what an amazing legacy he leaves.

I miss you very much Jon. Whenever I go to the Vic or the Tap and Spile I will raise a pint to you.

Posted by Geoff Nowell at 10:50, 28 September 2016

RIP Jon Davidson

I first met Jon on a field trip to the UK Ordovician calderas in 1999. I was a fairly clueless PhD student undertaking fieldwork on volcanic rocks and from the outset Jon was supportive of what I was doing and provided lots of advice that was really useful in my career. We stayed in contact over the years until Jon worked hard to help me come to Durham to join his volcanology group in 2011. Jon was great in the pub, great in the field and always up for a giggle. He loved geology, loved his family to pieces, and we will all miss him.

Posted by Richard Brown at 11:25, 28 September 2016


I was one of Jon's last PhD students... my first experience of Jon was a phone call when I was an undergraduate at Bristol. I had just emailed him to ask about his project, and he replied back with some details and also asking for my phone number. I didn't think much of it... but 5 minutes later my phone was ringing with an unknown number. It was Jon calling to chat personally over the phone! He was so easy to talk to and encouraging, I was convinced I wanted to work with him. Fortunately, I got into Durham for my PhD. The four years that followed coincided with many bouts of serious illness for Jon, but despite this he was always there to offer me advice, both scientific and non-scientific. One particularly memorable instance was at the start of my PhD, when I thought I'd identified a new phase in my peridotite xenolith. Despite even going as far as to put this mystery phase under the SEM, I still couldn't work out what it was. So I dragged Jon out of his office and down to the lab to show him. It took him all of 30 seconds and a few short (and increasingly humerous) questions to establish the phase in question was actually a chunk of concrete from when I was smashing the sample up outside. He never let me forget it…

He was immensely supportive of all my efforts to expand my research and scientific collaborations beyond Durham, which have led to my last two post doc positions. I count him as crucial to my current success and happiness in life.

Jon was a fantastic person in so many ways. Rarely have I met someone so driven, determined and enthusiastic about his work and life in general. I look forward to publishing our remaining papers together in his memory.

Posted by Pete Tollan at 11:30, 28 September 2016


My earliest recollections of Jon are of an extremely long- haired undergraduate with a real talent for identifying minerals and endlessly enquiring the significance of textures in thin sections and hand specimens. However, his geological interests were far from narrow, as was evident in his uniformly outstanding Finals papers, practicals and field report; his 1st Class Honours Degree received the examiners' unanimous support.

Bob Holdsworth has admirably summed up Jon's influence in the Department, I can only add that I greatly valued his friendship and advice; he will be sorely missed..

Posted by Henry Emeleus at 12:00, 28 September 2016


When we came to Durham in 2004 Jon and Donna's help was invaluable, as friends and mentors, introducing us to the University, Durham, and the UK and welcoming us so warmly. Since leaving the UK, I think of them often! My heart goes out to Donna, Max, and Daisy.

Posted by Antje Danielson at 13:05, 28 September 2016


I first met Jon in 1980, when this cute hippyish guy bashed on my door in Collingwood College, introduced himself as my fresher's link, & invited me to the Vic for a pint that evening! Thus was I initiated into the beer-drinking ensemble that included those who were to be my best friends in Durham for the next 3 years, although he was a 3rd year, & soon to depart.

I'm rather in awe of his achievements - his academic career may well be the most distinguished of all of my peers. It's no surprise to learn that he continued to be the most affable, gentle, & humorous of colleagues, teachers, & friends... His is a great loss, and his family uppermost in my mind.

Posted by Sue Davies-Scourfield, nee Holroyd at 15:10, 28 September 2016

Jon Davidson

I first met Jon as PDRA on the ERUPT project. I have vivid memory of that time and especially of the wonderful Stromboli fieldtrip. Jon was an outstanding scientist and a great person. He was always keen to help, suggesting a different path or perspective. He will be sorely missed. My thoughts are with his family and friends.

Posted by Chiara Maria Petrone at 16:00, 28 September 2016


I was very fortunate to have served on the VMSG committee during Jon’s chairmanship. His enthusiasm for the group was infectious, but, above all, my overriding memory was his genuine and down to earth demeanour - he was a really nice person. He will be sorely missed and my thoughts are with his family.

Posted by Simon Passey at 16:10, 28 September 2016

Cliff Diving

I was luckily enough to take some of Prof. Davidson's classes as an undergraduate at UCLA. One year he led a fantastic field trip to Hawaii. I still distinctly remember hiking over pahoehoe and aa, and throwing stones into flowing lava. But most vivid to me is standing on a cliff looking straight down 35 feet to the ocean. You see, I was and am, acrophobic. But he patiently waited, videocam in hand, for AN HOUR. He gently talked me into taking the leap of faith, and I promised him I would jump. And jump I did; 2 seconds of pure delight. Thanks, Prof. Davidson, for making me take a chance. One that I will never forget or regret. RIP.

Posted by Vivian Woo at 17:15, 28 September 2016

Jon Davidson

What a sad day for the Earth Sciences community. But I will follow Jon's lead and instead of being sad remember with great joy all of my interactions with him both at Durham, while he was at UCLA and at meetings and trips. He was an outstanding scientist and my group will continue to be influenced by his work for a long time. I will miss him as a scientist - but even more will miss his wit, humor, and kindness. Jon, my thoughts are with you and may your next adventure be even more exciting than the volcanoes you loved so much.

Donna and family, my heart goes out to you in your time of loss.

Posted by Scott Paterson at 18:35, 28 September 2016

Ciao Jon

I first met Jon at UCLA ; i arrived there from italy during my phD, intimidated and excited for having the opportunity to work with him; it was the turning point of my life. He gave me confidence to believe in myself and in my capability. Every time I listen to "Always look on the bright side of life" with my little ones i think about Jon who gave me a Monty Python cassette ! Thank you Jon! You’ll be much missed. My thoughts are with Donna, Max and Daisy

Posted by Giulia Perini at 21:20, 28 September 2016

Huge loss

Jon Davidson was a brilliant petrologist. He was also just a really kind, good person. His passing is a huge loss to the geosciences community. I extend my sincere condolences to his family.

Posted by Diane Smith at 04:45, 29 September 2016

Jon: laughs and laughs

I had the fortune to have been an undergrad with Jon, graduating in 1981. As an undergrad, I knew he was academically strong but what mattered to me then was his humour, his consideration and his ability to make all our many hours spent in lab, field trip or bar FUN. Since, hearing of his loss, apart from sadness for his family and more current friends, all I can remember is his character and his ability to make us smile. He was always one for a sardonic or witty - but never mean - comment, always one to see the funny side of a situation and always one to get away with it. One memory is of us playing football with a bag (my bag actually) down the old Biology corridor and hitting David Bellamy with it and Jon charming his way out. Or going to his room at the top of Collingwood and hearing his music from the ground floor. Or the letter he wrote to me in the summer vac which made me laugh so much I kept it. Or the Pembroke fieldtrip where we stayed in the bar until breakfast. Many, many more.

Posted by Colin Coghill at 11:35, 29 September 2016

Jon Davidson

I first met Jon when he came to Leeds and joined the isotope group in 1980. We wee both students of Marge Wilson. We competed to get mass spectrometer time, and I tried to keep up with him in the pub, but it was absolutely no contest. I will never forget when he came to work for a few weeks at the OU and dropped a box of loaded samples and lost 2 weeks of work. We just had to drown his sorrows. Jon was the best man at my wedding a bright clever, amazing person. Since I left academia our paths crossed at numerous meetings, always there for a chat and catch up. We have lost a special person, but I have memories I will keep. RIP Jon.

Posted by Zenon Palacz at 12:05, 29 September 2016

A lasting passion

In 2003 I joined Durham for my undergraduate degree and I'll always remember Jon stepping onto the podium to give my first ever Geology lesson. It worked because 13 years later I am still a geologist and enjoying every minute. I would like to thank Jon for passing on his passion to the next generation, his work will live on.

Posted by Ben Kilhams at 14:00, 29 September 2016

An acute observer from an early age

I went to secondary school with Jon. Jon and I shared formative years at Bartholomew School in Oxfordshire and what he and I shared most was the love of the mountainous areas of Britain. Fieldwork had to be what we both had in our lives. We went with teachers at first but we were both very independent, both adventurous, both unaware of mist, mizzle, drizzle and even horizontal rain with ice crystals that prickled your face! We planned trips in North Wales and the Lakes in particular, winter, spring summer or fall. It was the elemental nature of it we liked, weather enhanced the senses, and it was quiet thoughtful companionship that I recall. Jon was also passionate about rocks, he would pick up a rock and squint at it and then read it like a cipher. His myopia enhanced his ability to observe at close quarters he could distinguish patterns in rocks. Other Earth Scientists will know better than I but he was born to making sense of the lithosphere and marvelling in how the micro evidence allowed you to make sense of the macro. All the people he obviously influenced in California and Durham and no doubt other places where he researched, are coming together to thank him for his passion, his acuity and his care. Well done Jon for what you achieved - I am glad to have known you in my formative years and know that you will live on in memories having shaped so many earth scientist in your 57 years.

Posted by Chris Durbin at 16:10, 29 September 2016

A sad loss to geosciences

Jon was a great scientist, one of the most influential in our field. Even for those of us who (like me) had little opportunity to associate with him, he will be sadly missed. His science was inspirational and provocative, and the loss is ours.

Posted by Jean-François Moyen at 16:40, 29 September 2016


As is the case with many people commenting here, Jon is the reason I came to and settled in Durham, where I now raise my two daughters. Jon employed me as a post doc in 2009 and it's hard to express just how great a person he was to work with, have a beer with, go on fieldwork with. He is a massive loss to Earth Sciences, to volcanology and to Durham University but much more importantly he is a massive loss to his many many friends and his family. To them I give my sincere condolences.

Posted by Sarah Hilton at 19:40, 29 September 2016

First and best mentor ever

I was lucky to encounter 'Professor Jon' as an undergrad at UCLA. He was my first and remains my best mentor ever (by far). Thank you Jon for being such an inspiration - fantastic and fun. So many of us wouldn't be where we are today without you. We wish you peace and laughter on your next journey - my thoughts are with Donna Max and Daisy.

Posted by Nicole Lautze at 20:45, 29 September 2016

Best mentor ever

I looked and looked for photos of our 1999 Cotopaxi Volcano trip to Ecuador, I'm sad that I cannot find them to share here. Jon was an amazing teacher and mentor and I will always remember him as the most influential person in my career. I will miss him and my deepest sympathies go out to his family and friends. RIP Jon.

Posted by Jen Garrison at 22:20, 29 September 2016

dear Jon....

Like Colin, I was lucky to have had three years with Jon as an undergraduate in Durham - some of the best days of my life with some of the best people I have known. My lasting memory is of someone who was so unlaboured - what he did, he seemed to do easily. His learning seemed natural and effortless, his approach always good natured. Never boastful but always, it seemed, right. I too remember the Pembrokeshire field trip with Jon and Colin and the wonderful Druidstone Hotel bar which never closed. While the rest of us suffered terribly the next morning, Jon seemed to greet the new day untroubled....

Posted by Neal Marriott at 00:35, 30 September 2016

Jon - a wonderful man!

I was so sad to hear the news about Jon, he touched so many lives and he will be greatly missed. I was a postdoc with Jon in Durham after he wrote the lion's share of a grant proposal to get me there - this was a leap of faith on his part, having only met me once or twice before. But this was typical of Jon, going out of his way to give a young researcher a chance.

I looked up to him and respected him as a brilliant scientist and Professor, and having lost my own father when I was very young, Jon was also a huge paternal influence in my life. I think he knew that, and when I made the difficult to decision to leave academia, although he was disappointed, he was very encouraging and did all he could to support me. When I left Durham, he asked for my address, saying he had some papers to send me, but instead a copy of the hilarious book '211 Things a Bright Girl Can Do' landed on my doorstep... I also remember the SOTA conference in Chile, we stayed in a posh hotel that left chocolates in the rooms everyday. Jon would bring his down every morning and just hand them over to me with a smile!

I will miss Jon's generosity and his endlessly positive 'give it a go and see what happens' attitude, and am thankful for having been lucky enough to have known him as both a mentor and a friend.

Posted by Victoria Martin at 09:05, 30 September 2016


I met Jon at several conferences and workshops. His lectures and our discussions were always highly stimulating to me, not only because of the fantastic scientific results, but also because of the innovative thoughts and scientific philosophy behind them. Jon’s publications and his thinking were undoubtedly a significant impact throughout on my work and teaching. He taught me that magmatic processes can be better understood by mineral scale investigation from the source to the surface, a philosophy what has still a driving role in my research group. I have a vivid memory, when we were at the crater rim of the Vesuvio and we were all very much enthusiastic to find nice, euhedral pyroxene crystals in the loose scoria deposit. He will be sorely missed. My thoughts are with his family and friends.

Posted by Szabolcs Harangi at 09:55, 30 September 2016

Jon Davidson

Like Colin and Neal I too am from the class of 81. We all knew that Jon would be outstanding in his chosen field. Even then he displayed an amazing natural talent for geology and I distinctly remember the fantastic drawings he used to produce during those palaeontology practicals over 35 years ago.

Posted by Nick Hall at 10:05, 30 September 2016

Thank you Jon

It has been my privilege to spend all of my research career being inspired by Jon's science and most of my working life as his colleague. I learned so much from him about rocks, science, and academia. But the thing that I will cherish most is the pleasure and fun that his company gave to all around him. He was everything that a good friend and colleague should be. He made us all stop to think how we could do things better. I will miss him terribly. My thoughts are with Donna, Max, Daisy and the rest of Jon's family.

Posted by Colin Macpherson at 10:40, 30 September 2016

Many, many thanks, Jon

Ever since I arrived at Durham, 10 years ago, Jon has been such an inspiration for me, both at work and beyond. His talk about research, his enthusiasm for teaching, and his innovative ideas constantly motivated so many around him. And with his optimistic attitude in every situation, his ability to see the positive side in everyone, and his passion to explore all good things in life, he was and will always be my great example. I’ve learned so much from the many discussions I had with Jon about collaborative research and writing proposals, and I’ve got fond memories of the many chats and laughs we had in the department, the car, the pub, or elsewhere, like on the beach of Santa Barbara.

Dear Donna, Max, and Daisy, may you find comfort in all the joyful memories shared.

I will miss you, Jon.

Posted by Jeroen van Hunen at 11:50, 30 September 2016

RIP Jon Davidson

Jon served as my Deputy Head of Faculty for Research during most of my time as PVC for Science at Durham. His enthusiasm and commitment to research was balanced by an understanding of people and a pragmatic and realistic approach. I could always rely on him for wise counsel and to do whatever was needed to be done. Despite his increasing health battles, he always remained positive and in good humour, and was an inspiration to me and to all that worked with him in the Faculty Office. My deepest sympathies to Donna and his children. He will be sorely missed. May he rest in peace.

Posted by Andrew J Deeks at 12:25, 30 September 2016


I will always remember Jon as a friend and as a person who changed my career in Earth Sciences.

Jon shaped my career change within Earth Sciences when he became Head of Department in 2002. His first words to me were ‘Karen I don’t do finance, my lovely wife Donna takes care of that side of things at home, so I want you to take care of the Earth Sciences budget’. From that day it was a steep learning curve and as the department expanded it helped me to make a decision in later years on my chosen career path. Although I must admit he was right when he said he didn’t do finance as he was always knocking on my office door to discuss his ‘pots of money’

As a friend we lived not far apart and often used to bump into each other in the Tap and Spile in Framwellgate Moor. Jon would be having a quick pint while waiting to pick up his Indian takeaway, or entertaining colleagues who were visiting the department. We would always chat and he would introduce me to his friends/colleagues and end up discussing the fine ales of the Tap and Spile, fieldtrips and the department.

You will be missed Jon and I will raise a glass in the Tap and Spile to you on Saturday night. RIP

Posted by Karen Atkinson at 13:30, 30 September 2016

Jon D

I'm also of the class of 81 all those years ago. Jon had an incredible knack for remembering things which wasn't irritating at all, when it came to the 500-odd zonal fossils. I recall an amazingly sunny outlook on life and his memory has stayed with me. Equally charming and disarming, I wasn't surprised to see how he made his way seemingly effortlessly in life. Respect.

Posted by Jes Galtress at 14:20, 30 September 2016

Jon D

A little over a year after arriving in Durham to take my first ever job in academia, I was asked to become Head of Earth Sciences. It was a difficult time for the department and here was I expected to run it. Jon came to the rescue, coaching and supporting me, providing advice, knowledge and the skills to enable me to rise to the challenge. Many thanks Jon - like so many others I will miss you.

Posted by Jon Gluyas at 15:10, 30 September 2016

Thank you Jon

I only met Jon in 2014 when I began working at Durham as PVC research. John was one of the deputy heads of faculty for science and as such did a great deal to make my transition into a new job so much easier than it could've been. He was always kind, friendly, encouraging and helpful. He had a delightful combination of humour, optimism, and a wry appreciation of the absurdities of academic life. He was in the proper sense of the word a gentleman. I only wish I had known him for longer but despite our short acquaintance, it was clear to me that he was a remarkable person. I will miss him very much.

Posted by Claire Warwick at 18:30, 30 September 2016

Jon will be missed

A thoughtful, kind, and altogether delightful human being. I know no kinder or generous person, my condolences and best wishes to Donna, Max, and Daisy.

Posted by Heather Lin at 15:05, 1 October 2016

Thank you Jon for a life inspiration

This is Jing from China, I was Jon's last PhD student. Jon offered me a PhD studentship in 05/2012, and that only took him a week to make the decision. I was an undergraduate student without much background in volcanology at that time, and I contacted Jon purely because I think he was doing something really cool! I will be forever grateful for Jon who foresaw my potential in my career and gave me enough time to learn before I was ready to take the role in PhD research. I am working on plagioclase microtextures and crystal chemistry, which I think he will be glad. Many thanks Jon, I will miss you like many others do.

Posted by Jing Zhang at 11:00, 2 October 2016

A gentleman

I did not know Jon well but did interact with him on a few occasions over recent years through his Deputy Head of Faculty for Research position. It is clear that he extended the same kindness and support to everyone, whether you were a life-long friend or, like me, somebody that he hardly knew at all. A gentleman and that is how I will remember him.

Posted by Simon Hogg at 12:35, 2 October 2016


I am very saddened to learn that Jon has left us. There is so much more exciting science to be done on the various research grants we still hold together. I first met him at a VSG meeting at the OU in 1983, where he presented a talk on his beloved Lesser Antilles with a little US flag over the island of Grenada. Nice touch, I thought, combining political statement with scientific talk. Our paths crossed many times since, at SMU, at dozens of conferences and at Durham. We scratched our heads over so many of the same petrological problems. He was a friend and inspiration. Always fun, always wise and a very brave man to the end.

Posted by Jon Blundy at 18:20, 2 October 2016

Jon will be missed

I met him in the Vanuatu field trip of 1993 IAVCEI and some years later I had the pleasure and honour to work together in the Erupt EU project. For me and my research group he has been an example for setting up our micro-Sr isotope analyses and for undertaking studies on recycled antecrysts in magmas. He will be sorely missed and my thoughts are with Donna, Max and Daisy.

Posted by Lorella Francalanci at 21:05, 2 October 2016

Jon will be greatly missed

I was lucky to be one of Jon’s last postdocs at Durham University. I am happy I got the chance to know him a bit and to learn from one of the very best. Jon has been very influential in the work I do today and many, many magmatic petrologists around the world. The world has lost an excellent and inspirational petrologist.

My two years at Durham University were two of the most fun and educational years as a scientist, which would have never happened if Jon wouldn't have been enthusiastic about writing a Marie Curie proposal with me. Jon was also a fun and very kind human being. He was incredibly strong and always kept a positive attitude despite of what he went through in the last few years. The last words he spoke to me when I last saw him in Los Angeles last year: Vali, keep enjoying life! These words stuck with me. I will never forget them, and I will never forget Jon. RIP Jon. You will be greatly missed.

To Donna, Max, and Daisy: I am so sorry for your loss. May the fun memories you have shared with Jon bring you peace and comfort. Hugs to you all!

Posted by Vali Memeti at 04:55, 3 October 2016

Thank you Jon

Like so many people I owe Jon so much, and I would not be where I am without his support. As his PDRA at Durham, the first contact I had with him was via a skype interview for the role, and after it was offered to me, he phoned me up (whilst I was in New Zealand) to talk it through with me- and him taking the time to personally interact with me really helped settle my nerves about taking the position. During my time at Durham, Jon always made time for me when I asked, and went out of his way to make sure I was aware of all opportunities for conferences/funding or jobs. It is thanks to him that I am now in Japan on my own postdoctoral fellowship. Jon was a brilliant scientist, and I feel truly privileged to have been able to work with him. My thoughts are with his family and friends.

Posted by Katy Chamberlain at 06:25, 3 October 2016


I had the pleasure of co-leading, with Jon, the Level 4 Field Seminar to Utah in 2010. The Field Seminar series was very much Jon's "baby", providing an inspirational setting for our MSci students to integrate four years of Earth Science learning. Jon had a knack of combining high-level scientific discussion with patience, good humour and above all a human touch. RIP Jon.

Posted by Jonny Imber at 08:50, 3 October 2016

Jon and the Colleges

I had only just arrived in Durham some five years ago when I was asked to establish the position of Deputy Head of Colleges (Research). I contacted the deputy heads of faculties for advice. The response was ‘lukewarm’ to say the least, apart from Jon who immediately invited me to lunch at Zen. Jon’s enthusiasm for the role was genuine and hugely supportive. I learnt a great deal about how the university worked and how this new role might add real value to the University’s research strategy from Jon. On the back of Jon’s advice we developed many initiatives that have continued now through the work of my two successors. Maureen and I (and our dog Holly) met Donna, Max and Daisy on a number of occasions and our thoughts are with them at this very sad time.

Posted by Dave Harper at 11:10, 3 October 2016

John's wisdom & integrity

I was fortunate to have Jon as a member of the Governance Review Steering Group in 2013/2014. As a Lay Member of Council Jon was unfailingly generous with his time and always happy to provide a frank and pragmatic perspective on the thorniest of issues. His courage and integrity were core to his thinking on the future of the institution he loved. Durham has lost an outstanding personality and my sympathies go out to his family and friends.

Posted by Andrew Mitchell - Lay Member of Council at 18:30, 3 October 2016

A buddy and a mate

I first met Jon at the IAVCEI General Assembly in New Zealand in February 1986. At that point in time he was transiting between a PhD (with Marge Wilson in Leeds) and a Post Doc with Mike Dungan at SMU. On the first evening there, Jon’s legendary ability to sniff out a beer, led to him, Zenon Palacz, Richard Arculus and Malcolm McCulloch gate crashing the organizing committee “Happy Hour”. I mean, how could we possibly eject a quick witted, cheeky, smart, likeable character like Jon!! This was the start of a 30 year friendship.

Jon and I stayed in touch over the next few years and in the late 80s or early 90s. About this point in time, Jon began talking about finding a means to raise the profile of Geochemistry and Petrology within IAVCEI, leading to Jon, Chris Hawkesworth, Jon Foden, Simon Turner, Mike Dungan and others collaborating to establish the “State of the Arc” IAVCEI sub-commission on arc magmatism. A major objective of this sub-commission was to try to better integrate field observation with chemical measurement of active volcanoes. There have been meetings in Adelaide, Ruapehu, Mount Hood, Santorini and Soufriere Hills. Jon was instrumental in persuading me to join the Editorial Board of Journal of Petrology in 2001/02. He was also a valuable source of encouragement and advice when I took the decision to return to Ireland from New Zealand for 10 years between 2002 and 2012.

Jon was a selfless, kindly and thoughtful individual. He was an outstanding and inspirational scientist and teacher, who put back into science perhaps much more that he contributed through output. He battled his illness with great courage and fortitude but also with the intensity of a scientist, keen to know more about what was happening to his biological system. He has been a friend of more than 30 years, a buddy and a mate. I shall miss you greatly. “Walk on air against your better judgement” S. Heaney.

Posted by John Gamble at 14:40, 4 October 2016


Jon was a valuable member of University Council. When times were tough and issues were clouded he was insightful, steady and wise in his judgements. He was also temperate in his dealings with all of us so that his criticisms were valued and acted upon instead of being resentfully sloughed off. He was a very good man. We have missed him lately and will continue to do so.

Posted by Fiona Ellis at 15:20, 4 October 2016

Jon Davidson Superstar

I first met Jon when I was working in Dallas and he was teaching at SMU. We quickly became friends and spent great times together. Among Jon's favorites were brewing beer and watching american football. Jon was a superstar !. He was always upbeat and had a great sense of humor. He was a loyal friend and a kind soul. I also came to find how how spectacular and well respected Jon was in the "geology world". He then made his way to U of Michigan and UCLA. We kept in touch over the years and I went to his wedding and Donna and Jon came to Atlanta, GA when my wife and I got married. We hadn't seen each other in quite some time. However every year I would look forward to his Christmas card from the UK to see where his travels had taken him. Jon left a lasting impact on so many people. I am sure he influenced 100's of students over the years. I will miss you Jon. Our prayers are with Donna, Max and Daisy. Cheers Jon !!!!!!

Posted by Bob Rouse at 21:05, 4 October 2016


I met Jon when I arrived in Durham in 2004 for my post-doc. Jon was a very positive person, always in a good mood, always keen to hear what was happening in our life and lab. He was trying to make all of us post-docs thrive personally and shine scientifically, always listening and encouraging us. I have many memories of Jon over my two years in Durham, but two are really close to my heart. Jon became a very regular member of our lunch crew (Michelle, Laura, Vicki, Ofra); we had serious or very silly discussions, and many times share great laughs (many incontrollable). He was literally part of the crew and we talked to Jon, not the professor, not our possible supervisor, just one of us, our friend. Laura and myself also had the opportunity to sample with Jon, Graham and Art in Skye in 2005 for Laura’s post-doc. I remember Jon (and Graham) jumping out of the car as soon it got parked and running up the steep hill to check possible samples, going back done, grabbing the sledgehammer, up again and getting samples. Not to mention Jon and Graham’s fried mackerel breakfast on the same sampling campaign!

Last month, Geoff and myself went to see Jon while I was visiting. It was a while I had not seen Jon; it was very good to see him and chat about the good old days and the present ones. Few days later, we even had few pints at the Tap and Spile together. Precious moments…

Jon was a wonderful person, positive, caring and passionate. My heart goes out to Donna, Max and Daisy and all Jon’s family.

Posted by Ambre Luguet at 21:05, 5 October 2016

Thank you Jon

I was fortunate to have Jon as one of PhD supervisors from 2006 to 2009. As has already been said, Jon had a great capacity for kindness and empathy and understood the impact a supervisor can have on their student. He taught me so many things during my time and Durham and contributed to making my PhD a positive experience. I think the thing I always remember is how his door was always open and he always had time for a chat - be it about science or anything else. Not only was he a brilliant and passionate scientist but a wonderful man and will be greatly missed.

Posted by Jacqueline at 09:05, 6 October 2016

Good bye Jon

I have known Jon sin 15 years, when I started my PhD in Durham in 2001 and Jon was acting as the Head of Department. Jon had a great impact in the shaping of my career from its early stages, always supportive, full of contagious enthusiasm for research and life. In all these years, Jon always had 5 minutes to listen to me, no matter about how important the issue would be. He would always welcome me in his office with a big smile, have a nice chat and then say good bye with that same smile. His contribution to our chat were never trivial, I always left his office with a strong sense of appreciation and a motivation to do better.

All men live and all men die, but I will always keep with me that smile Jon, I will never ever let it go! Many thanks Jon for that!

My deepest thoughts also go to Donna and to Max and Daisy, you should be very proud of your dad, a wonderful person.

Posted by Nicola De Paola at 09:20, 6 October 2016

Jon Davidson

I have been a friend of Jon and Donna his wife since the mid 90's. I spent time with them in the US and the U.K. whenever our paths could cross. We had a memorable trip across California and Nevada to Colorado. Across the San Andreas fault, through Death Valley (where I got stopped for speeding - and got let off because the cop had never heard a British accent! Jon was laughing fit to bust. But what I remember most was how fascinating he was about fault lines and volcanoes and earthquakes. And so patient with a non academic but nonetheless enthusiastic amateur. I bought his book and literally devoured it. I just wish that circumstances (mostly geographic distance) had meant that I could have spent more time with him, Donna and their family. He was funny, searingly intelligent, kind, passionate about his work and his love for Earth Sciences. Jon I will never forget the night I offered to give you a lift to a hotel in Bath and we got hopelessly lost. We couldn't stop laughing. In fact I remember laughing a lot with you and Donna in Santa Clarita. Such happy memories. You will be very much missed. You were one of a kind.

Posted by Cassandra Campbell-Kemp at 10:05, 6 October 2016

Jon Davidson

I first met Jon when we both joined Durham back in 2000. I was a new junior lecturer and Jon the new Profressor of Earth Sciences. From the outset he made me feel at ease and was always willing to have a chat about my research and frequently surprised me about his breadth of knowledge and willingness to offer support and advice.

However, my fondest memories of Jon were from field work we conducted together for the very first Spain undergraduate trip. It was such a great experience and offered incredible valuable insight in how to teach students in the field. Jon was a natural at engaging students and a true inspirational teacher for students and staff alike. I can distinctly remember Jon galloping over the rocks in search of ever better samples to demonstrate to the students and to everyone’s surprise always came back with an amazing sample and insight to share. His contagious enthusiasm for all things geological was to be admired and I consider myself very lucky indeed to have known Jon. RIP.

Posted by Stuart Jones at 12:30, 6 October 2016

Jon Davidson

I first met Jon in 2002 in his capacity as of Head of Department. I was working in the Development Office and it was a joy to meet such a friendly academic with amazing talent and vision, qualities which I know were greatly valued by donors and alumni who met Jon.

In later years, as we have had the pleasure of knowing Donna, Max and Daisy, we have always admired Donna and Jon's positive attitude and resilience, which has scaled epic heights. Always so kind and friendly and thinking of others. In our opinion the Davidson family are a set of truly exceptional rocks. Our thoughts go out to them and to Jon's whole family - you must all be so proud of him. Love and hugs from Penelope, Alex, Jasmine, Neroli and Rio Colman. Xx

Posted by Penelope Colman at 12:30, 6 October 2016

thanks Jon

I first met Jon at the 2003 SOTA meeting and got to work with him closely when I was at Durham. He was always a bright light, both in science and in life. Holding forth at morning tea on all topics science and politics, eating all sorts of dubious things for lunch, trying to explain the beauty of cricket (futile!)... and of course, discussing all things petrologic. He was one of those rare people that thought about others as much as himself. Building the department up at Durham, helping young scientists, thinking about the field as a whole. And of course having and raising an amazing family. I will miss him greatly.

Posted by Stephen Parman at 16:00, 6 October 2016

Thank you Jon

Jon took me on as a grad student at UCLA in 1999. Coming from his Alma Mater Leeds as I did, he gave me a chance to find the life that he enjoyed in Los Angeles. I moved on to other paths in my life, but these opportunities all stem from that first step when I showed up at UCLA. Thank you Jon.

Posted by Reinis Berzins at 17:45, 6 October 2016

Jon Davidson

I was already a PhD student when Jon first came to Durham. To say his arrival was transformative for the department is an understatement. His passion, ambition, dedication and friendliness inspired so many positive changes. Jon's influence will be felt for many, many years to come - from the groundbreaking research he published, to the equipment he helped the department acquire, to the students he inspired in lectures and on field trips, and to the many people who just knew him as a pretty chill guy. What a legacy.

Posted by Lisa Burton at 21:20, 6 October 2016

Jon Davidson

I know jon as my daughter Grace is Daisy's friend. I hope I was of some help during the challenging years of illness. I mainly tried to arrange fun things for Daisy and we grew to love her very much. I admired Jon's ability to keep working and focusing on the future. He was a wonderful father and I loved hearing Daisy talk about him with joy and affection. I greatly admired his and Donna's courage both during his illness and Max's poor health. I agree with Penelope the resilience the family have shown through adversity is laudable. The funeral today was moving and beautiful. Daisy's bravery will stay in my mind for a long time. Today was a fitting tribute to Jon. Love Steph, Grace and Tilly xx

Posted by Stephanie Hunter at 22:05, 6 October 2016

Jon Davidson

At Jon's Memorial Service on the 6th October, Donna asked me to tell everyone what Jon meant to me and my colleagues. Here is what I said, and note that I am sure Jon would have told us to get on promptly with the collaborative research projects we were engaged with:

"On this occasion, I’ve been asked to say a few words about what Jon meant to me and my colleagues, and to celebrate his professional life. This is an individual perspective from an academic, colleague and friend who has known him since his doctoral studies…paraphrasing the words of an inscription on the walls of the Kendal parish church….”his loss is to be lamented by the profession, of which he was an ornament and an honour”.

And I would like to address my remarks in particular to Donna, Max, Daisy ...and the family and friends more generally.

Starting with some background:

I first met Jon in Leeds during the late summer of 1983. My family and I were waiting to emigrate to the USA and a job at the University of Michigan…and I was spending time with Roger Powell, contemplating subduction zones, as one does. A hirsute Jon and vociferous Clive Neal occasionally joined us at lunch and the pool table...and I talked a lot to Jon about his studies of Martinique, in the Lesser Antilles. I’d done my PhD at Durham a decade before, studying Grenada, an island in the same chain, and so shared then and continued to share many mutual scientific interests with Jon.

After his doctorate with Marge Powell at Leeds, Jon moved to the USA for a post-doc and showed up at one of the famous conferences co-organized by Mike Dungan…held in August 1984 in Taos, New Mexico. I don’t recall details…but that’s where for example, I think Alex Halliday decided to come to Michigan…and Jon ended up as one of Alex’s post-docs a year or so later. So our paths intertwined and we saw a lot more of each other.

The years passed….I moved back to Australia and Jon embarked on a successful career at UCLA. Through the 1990s, we traded analytical services – things I could do swapped for those that he had the equipment to tackle, and in regular email contact. But I should mention one conference encounter….July 1999 at the IUGG in Birmingham, where Jon had organized a session on island arcs. He persuaded a group of us to go…”Birmingham, one of the world’s great cities” he said, “I know you like curries Richard, how could you miss this?”. Parenthetically, I went to school there, opposite the University site…and knew this to be advertising hype!

The shared accommodation with Jon Gamble, Ian Smith, Richard Price and Jon at that conference became known as the “House of Pain”…but science did get done. At the “State of the Arc Meeting” in 2000 in New Zealand, organized by this gang, I recall a long conversation with Jon during the descent of the extensive northern slopes of Tongariro, about the pros and cons of a possible move by him from UCLA to Durham…which of course happened, to the great benefit of many of you here.

Then in the 2000s, Jon discovered some exquisite rock samples from the Lesser Antilles, that had been mislaid in the rock vaults of Durham…of particular interest to me…and suggested we initiate a new study of them. Jon Blundy at Bristol had coincidentally planned a sampling trip to that chain to systematically recover more of these samples, and the two Jons commenced a major collaborative research project. I visited several times, and in 2009, as a “Fellow in the Institute of Advanced Studies” of this University, spent 3 months occupying a desk in a corner of Jon’s office. The Institute’s topic that year was “water”; island arcs are driven by water so this was a natural for Jon Davidson and myself.

The period squatting in Jon’s office gave me the opportunity to see his professional every-day life …he was in fact, a fundamentally shy man, but of huge kindness, patience, polite and tolerant. And with a wonderful, eye-twinkingly dry humour. An educator and mentor of the highest quality…testimonials affirming all this have flooded Facebook in the last few days.

In 2010, my wife Tricia and I accompanied Jon and his friend Craig Wilson on the “Max Walk”, coast-to-coast from St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay. Craig noted Jon’s ferocious pace, the regular highest quality beers encountered, and the wonderful companionship. And paraphrasing the words of Bill Bryson a long-term friend of the Davidson family, who joined us across the Lake District portion of that hike, “Jon Davidson, a professor of geology at Durham University, but not at all boring about it”.

Finally, I had the opportunity earlier this year, to lead a successful bid for major professional recognition by the American Geophysical Union, of Jon’s academic achievements and unselfish cooperation in research. In much of life as you all know, we don’t tell our loved ones, friends and colleagues “in the living years” how much we admire them, and what they mean to us….at least Jon got to hear some of this. So I would like to conclude by telling you part of what the nomination said, so you get a sense of the esteem in which Jon was held professionally:

The headline of the Fellowship award to Jon will be for “fundamental contributions to the understanding of magmatic processes and crustal formation in island and continental arcs”. Elaborating somewhat, Jon Davidson has published some seminal and enduringly influential papers on the role of magma-crust interactions, blending of magmas from different sources using crystal forensics, and the critical role of amphibole in the genesis of arc magmas and evolution of the continental crust…. Jon has pursued research that requires stamina, patience, observational skills, and keen insights… The arcane skills of petrographic study, detailed forensic analysis of internal compositions of crystals and extent of chemical equilibrium between crystals and surrounding melt are the hallmarks of Jon’s approach…and has revolutionised our awareness of the extent and ubiquity of wall-rock contamination, magma mingling and mixing experienced during the evolution of arc magmas… Together with two colleagues at UCLA, Jon Davidson wrote an outstandingly useful and widely adopted introductory geology text book, (Exploring Earth). He has been a highly successful mentor of doctoral students and post-doctoral associates, is extraordinarily generous with his service to the community and willingly taken lead roles in successfully organising multidisciplinary research proposals and projects.”

Vale and thank you Jon Davidson…it has been an immense privilege to know you, and share a very small part of your life."

Posted by Richard Arculus at 05:45, 7 October 2016

Jon, rocks & volcanoes

The memorial to Jon held in Durham on Thursday 6th October 2016 revealed what a full fun life he lived, as a husband to Donna, father to Max & Daisy, and as a brilliant motivational teacher & pre-eminent scientist. In their kind words Dick Arculus and Colin MacPherson encapsulated what many of us know and feel about Jon. His contribution to science is timeless.

So cruel that we have lost such a young dynamic person with a huge love for our science especially the rocks & the hills ! Jon will be sadly missed but he lives on in his children Daisy & Max, in his wife Donna and her circle of wonderful friends.

Jon and I first crossed paths in the 1980s when I had returned from the USA and he was considering his future as a post-doc possibly with Mike Dungan (SMU). I knew Mike from my time at NASA and his love of field geology & rocks made them a perfect research match. So Jon went " west" and never looked back. His research went from strength to strength first at SMU then in Ann Arbor Michigan (with Alex Halliday) and finally as a faculty member at UCLA.

We crossed over at many IAVCEI meetings around the world where his talent as a volcanologist & geochemist was obvious to all of us. Typical of Jon after the oral presentations he made time at IAVCEI in Pucón Chile to climb Villarrica volcano (glowing all night long) and tackle the Atacama desert with John Gamble & friends. Boundless energy!

When Jon returned to the UK I was ending a five year stint as Chairman at Royal Holloway and remember well a long evening discussion in his new Durham home about the pros and cons of becoming Chairman. Jon made a brilliant Chairman who transformed Durham because he led by example in research and commanded (never demanded) the respect of all his students and colleagues. Equally important he was a genuine "people person" who knew the potential in everyone.

More recently Jon, Chris Hawkesworth and I had a memorable few days in Cork at John Gamble's farewell meeting. As usual Jon's presentation was world class and re-affirmed his prowess as a brilliant communicator but always with great humour and clear enjoyment of his science.

Jon, all of us are hurting but it was great to have known you.

Posted by Martin Menzies at 20:15, 7 October 2016

Jon Davidson

I met Jon at SMU, when he was a postdoc and I was completing my PhD. We also worked together on the Andean Altiplano. Jon was a tremendous team player, always willing to move the group ahead and overcome obstacles. Smart, intuitive, caring, and knew how to have a good time. You are missed, Jon!

Posted by Nancy J. McMillan at 01:40, 8 October 2016

my academic uncle

If your advisors are your parents, then Jon was one of my favorite academic uncles. I met him at UCLA when I walked into his office at age 19, hoping to talk my way onto a field trip to the UK, despite a lack of qualifications. I succeeded, and it was the first of many memorable Davidson field trips that took me all over the world, and broadened my horizons in both geology and life. He was first a professor, and then a friend, the latter for more than two decades. I wouldn't be either the scientist nor the person I am were it not for the many great conversations I had with Jon over the years. And I've paid those conversations forward, sharing Jon's enthusiasm with another generation (and it works!) I am so lucky to have known him.

Posted by Jeremy Boyce at 02:25, 8 October 2016

Jon Davidson

I am really sadden to hear this news. I will miss his friendly smile in meetings and conferences.

Posted by Carmen Solana at 09:50, 8 October 2016

Fond memories of Jon

Jon was always very generous with his time and a first-class teacher. His lectures were engaging and inspiring; it was clear the immense passion he had for volcanic systems and that he wanted to share this with all. I am very grateful to Jon for his dedication, patience and sense of fun.

Jon will be greatly missed, but his many outstanding contributions and enthusiastic approach to life will provide motivation and encouragement for many many years to come.

Posted by John Caulfield at 11:05, 10 October 2016


A sad day, but also great to read everyone's comments and memories. I met John in the late 90's when he gave a talk at Caltech. He spoke about the microdrilling work which pretty much blew us all away. In the years since he has been a values colleague, collaborator and friend. Spending time with him was a lesson in how to do both science and life. A great loss for us all.

Posted by Adam Kent at 17:40, 10 October 2016


Jon was one of my first PhD students at the University of Leeds, graduating in 1984. It was obvious from the very beginning that he was a highly talented young man with a zest for living. Over the years I got to know his lovely wife Donna, and then children Max and Daisy. A perfect family! Jon was a giant of a man. I will miss his wit, sheer intelligence and gentle good humour, greatly. The world is a poorer place with his passing.

Posted by Marge Wilson at 11:55, 13 October 2016

Cheers, Jon

I used to see Jon at IAVCEI and other such meetings in the 80's and 90's. In 1998, I was involved in organising the IAVCEI meeting in Cape Town where Jon was going to receive (I think) the Wager award. The meeting coincided with the World Cup, and Jon phoned to make absolutely sure that there would be TV coverage (there was), and that the organisers had factored the football into our schedule (we had). The award ceremony was held the day after the conference dinner (on a wine farm), and Jon received his award, and gave a characteristically lucid acceptance keynote despite a red-wine hangover of immense proportion, and wearing the most crumpled jacket imaginable (the light colour didn't help). Happy memories!

Posted by Chris Harris at 06:20, 14 October 2016


I joined the Geological Science deptment (as it was then) in 2002 and even as a fresher Job stood out as one of the most knowledgeable yet friendly academics. The stand out memories come from my last year though, and the fieldwork in the southwestern US. Camping in the desert, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Yucca Mountain, Meteor Crater and Jon smiling all the way through it. Even when changing tyres and humouring us in Ryan when he was trying to teach us about the rocks but then someone brought out a box of rattlesnakes and we all pilled over to have a look.

RIP, you are missed.

Posted by Nicky Boak at 15:05, 13 November 2016

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