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John Van Nostrand Dorr II
by Jacob E. Gair
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John Van Nostrand Dorr II,
whose name will always be associated with studies of iron and manganese resources in Brazil, died at his home in Bethesda, Maryland, on December 23, 1996, from complications of cancer.
A much more recent sailing companion
After Harvard, during the Depression and with no clear idea of what to do with his life, Jack headed for Europe. For the next year he soaked up culture and history in and near Vienna, living much of that time in the household of a former mayor of that city, a family friend. Some of the political turmoil of the decade before World War II in central Europe became firsthand experiences for Jack. In 1933, through family connections, he obtained a position as a staff aide with an economic commission to Turkey. He frequently accompanied the commission geologist, Sidney Paige, on visits to mineral properties and acquired an absorbing interest that led ultimately to a career focused on mineral-deposit geology and the role of mineral resources in national economies.
Returning to the United States in 1934, and newly married to his first wife, Mary Elizabeth Brigham, whom he had met in Turkey, Jack enrolled at the Colorado School of Mines, and in three years graduated with a degree in geological engineering. After nine months with the Superior Oil Company in west Texas, Jack joined the U.S. Geological Survey in 1938.
The ensuing eight years bridging World War II provided a rich and varied experience in geology—just what Jack craved—mineral deposit and general mapping in a variety of settings as well as travel and adventure, and also a stint of managing the foreign work of the Survey on strategic minerals during the war. Field work included mapping at Eureka, Nevada; studies of coal in Montana and Wyoming, tungsten in California, nickel-copper in Alaska, copper in Arizona, and huge deposits of manganese-iron in Mato Grosso on the Brazil-Bolivia border. Jack was just finishing a six-month study at Mato Grosso when the United States entered the war.
Jack was divorced in 1945 and remarried in 1946 to Edith Ann Pierce. Ann was a research
Geological Society of America Memorials, v. 29, December 1998 1 2 THE GEOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA
There was much to be done. Field work would require adequate
aerial photographs or topographic
To facilitate publication of the maps, Jack induced the Brazilian authorities to set up a map-processing facility and brought in technical help from the USGS for training and guidance — a five-year successful effort.
Anticipating the future growth in demand for professional geologists in Brazil, Jack foresaw the need for a strong Brazilian education establishment. Early on, in 1948, he helped found the Geological Society of Brazil. Throughout the mapping program he arranged for Brazilian geology students, perhaps 150 in all, to visit field work in progress. Finally, Jack had a major role in establishing new geology teaching programs in several Brazilian universities. To supplement the programs, the Agency for International Development brought individual geology teachers to Brazil from the USGS and sent young Brazilian professors and graduate students for foreign study. This effort was well under way by about 1960; its results are now evidenced throughout the country by the work of hundreds of Brazilian geologists, whereas before there were only a few.
Inevitably, in the absence of private consulting firms with knowledge of the Quadrilátero, Jack’s office in Belo Horizonte became a focus of many informal inquiries by representatives of the mining industry. One well-known American mining geologist who was shown around the area by Jack was so taken by the program and the friendly reception he met everywhere that he wrote a letter to then-Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, expressing his pride in the work being done by his fellow Americans, and noting Jack’s easy and non-pompous manner with Brazilian executives and laborers alike.
During the first few years in Brazil, Jack also carried out
short assignments outside the Quadrilátero Ferrífero, particularly early studies preliminary
to development of the great manganese deposit at Serra do Navio, Territory of Amapa, near the mouth
of the Amazon River, and a stint in India evaluating a proposed iron project there.
MEMORIAL TO JOHN VAN NOSTRAND DORR II 3
As a participant in the Brazilian mapping program for two years
in the mid-1950s, I found that Jack supervised with a generally light hand, but with
unswerving purpose. There was work to be done, but also fun to be had while at it. The Dorrs made
every effort to see that each newly arrived geologist and family were comfortably settled in Belo
Horizonte, and brought into the active American-British-Brazilian social scene. They had
organized a monthly softball game and picnic that did much to create a family atmosphere among
the group. Jack or designated veteran members of the project took the new member on several overview
visits to different parts of the Quadrilátero; these visits were an introduction not only
to local geology, but also to quaint customs and practical lessons in getting along in the foreign
field setting. Then the new man was
Thereafter, frequent discussions and occasional field conferences with Jack and other project members aided in keeping the work on a more or less steady course, toward a coherent description of the geology and resources in the final maps and reports. Jack was ever respectful of Brazilian sensibilities and insisted that party members never lose sight of the fact that they were guests; the only times I ever saw his typical genial and witty manner with coworkers give way were a few instances in which he felt this principle had been violated. Jack was fascinated by the many wild orchids he saw while in the field and started bringing some home. By the mid–1950s he had become an accomplished orchid grower, and his house and garden in Belo Horizonte were resplendent with several dozen varieties on display.
Brazilians have shown their apppreciation of the Quadrilátero Ferrífero program and Jack’s leadership of it, as well as their appreciation of his personal qualities of concern for their interests and sensibilities. In the l960s, he was awarded medals by the State of Minas Gerais, the School of Mines in Ouro Preto in Minas Gerais, and the Geological Society of Brazil, and an Honorary Doctor of Science from the University of Minas Gerais. In 1989, he was further honored upon the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Departamento Nacional de Produção Mineral (counterpart organization to USGS and the former U.S. Bureau of Mines). Two Braziliain geologists made the long journey to attend his memorial service at the Cosmos Club in Washington in January 1997. They brought with them a memorial printed in English and Portuguese, put together and published in the month since his death.
After completion of the Brazilian program in 1961 and two years preparing final reports, Jack became the USGS manganese commodity specialist, remaining so until his retirement in 1975. In these years, he wrote reports on the manganese resources of several U.S. states, made study visits to manganese deposits worldwide, and advised the USGS, AID, and the United Nations, particularly on Latin American and African mineral resource development. In 1967, he was the U.S. member of a three-man United Nations team sent to 15 African nations, some of them newly formed. The purpose was to review the status of geological education in relation to mineral programs and to evaluate a plan to create a central authority to guide such educationand training. His honest but politically difficult conclusion, with which the German team member concurred, was that the plan was over-ambitious and premature; as a result, the plan was shelved.
After retirement, Jack continued an active life: first, a year
sailing the Caribbean and Bahamas, then some private consulting in Brazil, and then
increasingly nonprofessional travel with Ann to satisfy their insatiable curiosity about remote
places and peoples. Among such places, they set foot on Tierra del Fuego and the north slope
of Alaska at Prudhoe Bay. At home, Jack paid avid attention to political activity in the nation’s
capital and frequently contributed letters to the newspapers on a variety of topics; chief among his
subjects were natural resources, foreign aid, and overpopulation. He was an astute and witty
observer of all about him until shortly before his death.
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