The Columns

Odell S. McGuire, Geology Professor, Dies at 81

— by on December 8th, 2008

Odell S. McGuire, a professor emeritus of geology who taught for 32 years at W&L, died today, Dec. 8, 2008, at Heritage Hall Health and Rehab Center, in Lexington. He was 81.

McGuire was born in Knoxville, Tenn., on April 19, 1927, to Odell S. and Winifred Claxton McGuire. He served in the Navy during World War II and as an infantry officer in the Army during the Korean War, when he received the Purple Heart.

He attended the University of Tennessee from 1946 to 1948, majoring in English. He received a B.S. in geology from the University of Tulsa in 1956; an M.A. in geology from Columbia University in 1958; and a Ph.D. in geology from the University of Illinois in 1962. He worked for Texaco Exploration Co. in Canada from 1957 to 1960.

McGuire joined W&L’s faculty in 1962 as an instructor in geology, became a full professor in 1970 and retired in 1994. From 1964 to 1965, he served as a visiting assistant professor at VMI.

“His devotion to his students and to his field was clear to everyone who knew him,” said President Ken Ruscio. “He was truly one of a kind.”

“As the person who was hired to replace Prof. McGuire, I feel strongly the loss of a man whose shoes I could not possibly have filled,” said David Harbor, professor of geology and department head. “Odell’s life was large, his intellect was gifted and the breadth of his inquiry was simply astounding. The importance of his influence on the hearts and minds of his students remains clear in the interest and care expressed by a generation of our returning geology alums. He will be greatly missed at the next Geology Department reunion.”

“Odell arrived at W&L a conservative, soft-spoken, clean-shaven fellow wearing a three-piece suit, with experience in the oil business and graduate degrees from Illinois and Columbia,” said Ed Spencer, a fellow professor emeritus of geology. “It would have been hard to imagine that he would be one of the first environmentally green faculty members, that he would become renowned for playing clawhammer banjo or that he would teach himself Greek so he could revise translations of the early Greek philosophers. Many students will remember him as a hard taskmaster, one who brought a rare breadth of knowledge to the classroom and one who lived life fully. It is very sad to see one of the most distinctive characters of this community pass from our midst.”

McGuire’s scientific interests and publications covered such topics as paleontology, geologic mapping, environmental impacts and land-use planning, geology of the Appalachians, hydrology, evolutionary theory, geomorphology, geohydrology and stratigraphy.

He was an active member of the Virginia Academy of Sciences and other professional organizations. He held fellowships with the University of Illinois and the National Science Foundation (NSF); twice directed the NSF Geology Institute for High School Teachers; and received a Sloane Grant for a study comparing the Alps with the Appalachians. His name graces an award for students in the W&L Geology Department: the Samuel J. Kozak-Odell S. McGuire-Edgar W. Spencer-Frederick L. Schwab Award.

McGuire and his former wife, Mata Battye McGuire, have three children, Melanie, Forrest and Jesse.

A memorial service will be held on Sunday, Dec. 21, at 4:00 p.m. in Lee Chapel. A reception will follow in the Great Hall of the Science Building.

In lieu of flowers, the family prefers that all memorials be directed to the Rockbridge Area Conservation Council, P.O. Box 564, Lexington, VA 24450.

For more information, contact Burr Datz at bdatz@wlu.edu or 458-4045.