Dear Alumni and Friends of the Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences department,
It is with great sadness that we must report that our beloved Bert Bally passed away this week. Bert joined Rice in 1981 as chairman of what was then the Department of Geology and Geophysics. He was appointed the Harry Carothers Wiess Professor of Geology, a position he held until he retired.
Born in The Hague, Netherlands, he spent his early years in Indonesia, Italy, and Switzerland. He began as a paleontologist at the University of Zurich and mapped in the Central Apennines for his Ph.D.
Prior to his tenure at Rice, he worked for Shell Oil where he rose through the ranks to become chief geologist. He would spend many summers mapping the Canadian Rocky Mountains and foothills of Alberta. Because of this, Bert recognized the importance of combining seismic reflection records with geologic maps to reconstruct the history of mountains and basins. One of his greatest and longest lasting contributions is his two three-volume sets of seismic atlases (1983) that popularized the use of industrial reflection techniques for scientific purposes. Until his death, he was considered the world’s leading expert in using seismic records to interpret regional geology, particularly in fold and thrust belts.
Bert had an amazing ability to synthesize regional geologic and geophysical data into a continental-scale framework. He made enduring contributions to the structure and orogenic evolution of the North American Cordillera by demonstrating how regional seismic data could be used to understand fold belts. This included outlining many of the principles for making balanced cross sections, and showing that the fold belts are underlain large decollements, and revealing the intimate relationship between foredeep subsidence with tectonic activity in the fold belt.
In 1990, along with two other Rice structural geologists, John Oldow and the late Hans Ave Lallemant, Bert recognized that there was a severe deep lithosphere mass balance problem in Cordilleran type orogens and was one of the first to suggest the importance of large-scale delamination before it became popularized in the early 2000s.
With T. Cook he published the Stratigraphic Atlas for North and Central America (1975), complete with more than 250 maps showing the entire Phanerozoic stratigraphy of North America.
As a counselor with the Geological Society of America, it was Bert who proposed the Decade of North American Geology (DNAG) project, a large multivolume encyclopedia on the geology of North America. To this day, the DNAG volumes represent the most comprehensive geologic study of a continent ever done.
More impressive than his scholastic achievements were the life-changing impacts he had on his students and anyone who had the fortune of interacting with him. His former students remember him as not just a scientific mentor but a mentor in life. His curiosity was never satiated. It was so contagious that when anyone was around him, everything seemed interesting. He was an encyclopedia of geology, having seen and read so much during his long and productive life. Faculty and students, whenever they wanted to explore a new area (of research or geography), did well to pick Bert’s brain. Going on a ride with Bert, however, meant that sometimes discussions would digress into stories of his life, such as being forced to watch Mussolini march by when he was a boy, or visiting Tibet as one of the first western geologists to enter China. Then it would turn back to some of his favorite unsolved science problems, one of them being the unconformity.
In recognition of his contributions, Bert received many honors, including the William Smith medal (Geological Society of London), the Gustav Steinmann Medal (Geologische Vereinigung), the Sidney Powers Medal from the AAPG, the OTC Career Contribution Award for Structural Geology and many others.
Dr. Bally is beyond a GeoLegend. He was not only my advisor and professor, but my inspirational mentor who believed in me, encouraged me, and bestowed priceless time, support, knowledge, history, and laughter. Between 2001-2003, Dr. Bally was there for me through excitements and tears, through all ups and downs, as a friend and even the ‘grandfather’ I never had. He single-handedly substantially impacted my academic success, career, and development into who I ‘am’ today.
He pushed me way beyond my comfort zone, fed my passion for geology, taught me to believe and value myself, to think outside the box, to have faith in myself and in the universe, and so much more. I particularly enjoyed his war stories and our conversations on modern day civilization. To quote, upon completion of my Master of Science thesis 12/2003 at Rice University, “Lanette, you made a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and that is one of your greatest strengths.” Till this day, I often remember his words, quoting him even, to push through the continuous hurdles life throws, and add to the collection of my sows’ ears.
On my ‘hopeless’ days during grad school (I look back and laugh now, as he predicted I would), he introduced me to the Rothko Chapel and to the Menil Collection, which I still visit for peace, tranquility, and remembrance of him and the thought that I will get through “this or that,” stronger and wiser.
Before I graduated, I had a handful of job offers. According to Dr. Bally, it was a “no brainer.” “Finish your masters and go work for Shell! Come back later in life with all that practical experience to be the best teacher you can be. You will never see so much data as you will in the oil & gas business. Exposure to data is key!” No doubt, “Oh Captain! My Captain!” I followed his orders and never regretted it.
Dr. Bally you are more than a GeoLegend: you’re an amazing man with a fascinating life history who has impacted the lives of so many at so many fronts and levels. I am eternally grateful, and you will always be remembered. Rest in Peace.
M.S. Thesis, Earth Science Dept., Rice University, 12/2003
Janne and I are so sad to hear that Bert is no longer with us. Although I only got to know him some 10 years ago, we always made sure to share a lunch or two at the Turkish restaurant of the village or at Goode’s Seafood and talk about science like if we both still had decades of research ahead of us. He taught me most of the useful facts I know about Mediterranean geology. Of course Janne and I went with him through his amazing folder of photos and journal articles about his youth in Europe and about Mussolini. He was never cheap with his time and his enthusiasm was as strong as ever. Nobody knew how to answer one single question of mine with an avalanche of books and papers on my desk at the 3rd floor, all old but spot on, as Bert. He has probably been the geologist who impressed me the most with his knowledge, his breadth, his vision and his desire of unselfish sharing.
Generations of geologist have studied on the Bally’s seminal papers and textbook. His cross-sections on the northern Apennines are wonderful.
I never had the pleasure to meet him, but he guided us on the understanding of the orogeny and deformations.
we will all miss him
I just heard from the Rice University geology department that Bert Bally passed away this week, preceded a few days by the passing of his beloved wife Elaine Turner Bally. Both worked for Shell (Elaine was an executive secretary at Bellaire for years). Bert had been ill for some weeks, and I last visited him two or three weeks ago.
Bert was a true geologist’s geologist, and a member in good standing of the old Shell Oil “Swiss Mafia” that so many of us worked with. He retired from Shell in 1981 as Senior Technical Consultant, and went on to rebuild a faltering Geology Department at Rice University as Department Head.
He was born in 1925 in The Hague of a Dutch mother and a Swiss father. They moved to Italy in 1931, where as a boy he experienced the brief and unhappy reign of Mussolini. His family, fearing the worst, sent Bert and his brother to Switzerland in 1939, where Bert became interested in geology. Following the war, he and his family returned to Italy. He mapped a large and complex mountain called “La Madre Maiella” in the central Appenines for his dissertation at the University of Zurich, where he graduated in 1953.
From 1954 to 1981, he worked for Shell Oil, starting in Canada. For those of us who followed structural geology, his Shell paper of 1966 with colleagues Gordy and Stewart on the thrust and folding dynamics of the Canadian Rockies was an absolute classic, and an introduction to the art of paleogeographic cross sections. After 1966 he was at Shell Development’s Bellaire lab, reaching the level of Technical Consultant in 1968. In about 1974 (?), he along with J.T. Smith and Higby Williams wrote an extremely prescient white paper for Shell Oil head office that outlined the direction of the next few decades of exploration in North America and beyond, and recommended steps that Shell should take in research to prepare for the move from an onshore focus to offshore continental margin exploration. From that beginning came a reorganization of the lab in 1975, with the founding of the Global Geology Group as well as a vigorous development of new geochemistry techniques at BRC that served the needs of both Shell Oil and Pecten. For those of us structural geologists who began our careers at BRC, he was a champion of the use of seismic data and careful palinspastic techniques to unravel the geologic history of continental margin basins. His periodic courses on regional geology were real highlights of the Shell geology training regimen.
After retiring from Shell, Bert consulted for a time with Conoco, and then became Department Head at Rice. Even after retirement from his second career at Rice he continued his life’s work in regional geology, and published (with Dave Roberts) a three volume summary of the world’s Regional Geology and Tectonics in 2012. He was working on a revised, updated version of that work only months before his passing.
A list of his academic and industry awards would be long indeed, but included the Sidney Powers Award for the AAPG, the William Smith Medal from the Geological Society of London, and the Gustave Steinmann Medal from the Geologische Vereinigung of Germany. He was the Centennial President of the Geological Society of America in 1988, where he spearheaded the twenty-or-so volumes of the Decade of North American Geology project.
He was a mentor and a friend, and I shall miss him.
Beautiful history of the remarkable life of a groundbreaking, prolific, brilliant geologist and outstanding mentor to so many. My greatest sympathy and condolences to all Bert’s family and to his many friends, colleagues and students.
Thanks to all of you on these pages for your recollections of Bert. As a scientist, teacher, and explorer of new frontiers he was unique in the breadth of his contributions. He was also generous and candid, which made him a great mentor. I benefited from his advice as a grad student at Rice and MIT. Then my passion was tectonics, and Bert advised me to go to work for industry because “that’s where the data is”. I joined Shell’s Global Geology organization that Bert helped establish and have never regretted that decision during the subsequent 38 years in industry. So thank you Bert, you were right (of course). Thanks too for setting high expectations, for yourself and those of us you worked with. We became better for it.
Although I had met him earlier and read his “foothills” paper (among others), I really became acquainted with Bert when I started a postdoc at Rice in 1992. He reached out to Hans Ave Lallemant and I to compare notes about Central America and Mexico. He figured that since they were working on Mexico and we were working in Honduras, we should all know what the others were doing. While at Rice, we also enjoyed his wonderful and encyclopedic knowledge of Venezuela which helped delineate Caribbean tectonics. I did not see much of Bert once I started working in industry. Then to my surprise, when I started at Shell, I was told that Bert had an office at Shell. He was a great source of information for a project I was doing in Asia. He had geologic maps that nobody else had. We had a great time interacting for a few years. When Mexico opened to international companies, he invited those of us working in industry to come to Rice in order to share his knowledge of Mexico with us. Bert gave generously of his time and knowledge. Talking with him was a pleasure as well as being enlightening. He will be greatly missed.
I was fortunate to get to know Bert in the last decade or so of his life. As a former chair, he would often drop by my office and chat about his experiences. I learned a lot about the history of our department and what makes a good department. I was grateful to hear about his struggles, which helped me put things in context. Bert would also show me his maps. He was always concerned that the new generation of geoscientists weren’t being trained to look at maps. When he began scaling down his operations, I made sure to save and organize all his maps in the hopes that some time down the road, we would build a more permanent archive. Bert wanted students to see maps as much as possible, so one day he came by and showed me a picture of a globe with Earth’s geology laid out on it. He thought that having students see a geologic map in 3-D would be amazing and wanted me to buy it for the department. The only issue was that it was a bit too expensive for me to purchase it and I really didn’t know the quality of the product, so I told Bert I’d think about it. Half a year later, we still hadn’t purchased it, but at the Denver GSA conference, I happened to be wandering the halls and bumped into the maker of these globes. Bert was right. They were exactly what we needed and the vendor offered a huge discount if I bought it right there. I quickly emailed Bert and he told me to buy it immediately and he’d reimburse me when I got back. And that was that.
About a year earlier, right when I became chair, Bert came to my rescue. I had been in the process of remodeling our house and had been looking around granite countertop stores for tiles. I happened to stumble across a most fascinating piece of rock called Meteor Shower Satin. At these countertop stores, they usually don’t know where any of these rock slabs come from or even what they are. This was a mylonitized pelite, but there were a diversity of clasts in it, ranging from metasediments to igneous rocks. I thought it might be a glacial diamictite protolith, and the fact that it was mylonitized, got me thinking about where in the world glacial sediments may have had the chance to be caught up in some orogeny. I didn’t know, but I suspected it might well have been Precambrian. I had to have this rock, so I bought it. The problem I realized very soon afterwards was that I had no place in my house to put it and that it would be much better for the department, so I explored the possibility of hanging it up on the wall of our foyer. The only problem was that it cost another $2000 to hang it up, which I didn’t have! I went to Bert and told him about this rock I bought and my little problem. He came up with the other half, and that’s how we got that on the wall!
Bert’s impact on my scientific career was profound. He just knew so much. When we started exploring the possible connection between volcanic ash and hydrocarbons, we weren’t confident about our ideas. I asked Bert if this was crazy. He said, “No, it’s not crazy, that’s what I thought back when I was a student”. I asked if he had ever published that because it didn’t seem to be widely accepted or even discussed, and he said that he hadn’t published that because he said nobody would believe him! He was right after all. And over a course of the year, he helped me connect with other examples where ash and source rocks occurred together.
During this time, Bert was also putting together a whole set of geological and geophysical maps for the world. These maps were highly simplified, but his goal was to compile everything and put them in an accessible format so that everyone, even if they weren’t field geologists, could learn. It was a monumental effort and he eventually succeeded in getting these out in a three volume set. This happened when I think he was well into his 80s. He would tell me though that the one thing he never could put together was a map of all the plutonic rocks through time and he had urged me to do it. Of course, these days, with the pressures that junior faculty have to publish and get tenure, it just wasn’t something I could do. So everyday he would come and ask if I had done it, and I would always disappoint him. Fast forward several years, we were working on the episodicity of continental arcs through time. I had a post doc Wenrong Cao, now a professor at the University of Nevada Reno. Wenrong was a field geologist, and together we worked on compiling geologic maps across the world, resulting in a map of how the extent and distribution of plutonism varied on Earth back to 750 Ma. We consulted Bert regularly during this project.
One of Bert’s other great interests was the unconformity. He would talk about this to me all the time, and I must admit that initially, I didn’t find it all that interesting. But over the course of ten years, the significance and mystery of unconformities grew on me. A couple years ago, just as Bert foresaw, I had published a paper on the origin of unconformities. And right now, we are studying unconformities in the forearc and backarcs of arc systems.
Bert had a nose for important problems and questions. I learned quickly that with Bert, one should just listen and go along for the ride. It always took you somewhere, sometimes you didn’t even know it took you somewhere until you look back. In all the above projects, I asked Bert to be a coauthor because of how he inspired me or my group to work on these topics. He always declined, saying I’m done fighting the fight.
As I write, I am now working on seaward dipping reflectors, yet another topic that Bert pushed me to study. Coming to Rice set me on paths I had never expected to take. I learned quickly that the energy industry community was an entity one wanted to embrace rather than divest from. I learned that by learning from each other, everyone benefits and everyone’s minds are broadened. That wasn’t what I thought when I walked into Rice 18 years ago, coming from the east and west coasts. I credit Bert for truly broadening my mind.
Rest in peace, Bert.
Many of us lost a dear friend and colleague this week with Bert’s passing. He was a generous man and esteemed scientist.
I am one of the few remaining faculty who was here when Bert took over as Department Head. At that time the department had lost some of its most prominent faculty and was struggling to get back on track. Bert wasted no time in negotiating with the administration for new faculty positions and funding that allowed us to avoid what could have been a downward spiral. He did so by uniting every member of the department and convincing us that our department was destined to be one of the best in the country.
I have many fond memories of Bert and our time together. One of my most vivid memories is the time we drove to the Woodlands together for a meeting at the Houston Area Research Center. On our trip to the Woodlands I could not help but notice a loud bumping sound. Bert insisted on continuing to the Woodlands because we were running late. When we arrived I was amazed to observe a large knot on the tire easily half a football in size. When the meeting ended I offered to replace the tire only to discover that there was no spare or jack. Bert insisted that we drive back to Houston by avoiding the interstate. I did not know that you could drive from the Woodlands to Houston mostly on back roads, but we managed to make it back to Rice after what was a long but enjoyable trip of storytelling and reassurances from Bert that we would be fine. Being Bert, I never doubted. I wonder if he ever got a spare or jack after that incident. The man simply did not have the time for mundane things like changing tires.
Our department has many new faculty and students who never had the opportunity to know Bert well. He was a kind and gentle giant within our field. His legacy will live on through his work and his students. Rest in peace Bert, we will miss you.
As an undergraduate at the beginning of Prof. Bally’s tenure at Rice, I didn’t interact with him that much. However, he was one of the instructors for the Field Methods course that I took in Spring 1983, and the quote from Cin-Ty’s posting summarized Prof. Bally’s views on geologic understanding precisely:
“He was always concerned that the new generation of geoscientists weren’t being trained to look at maps.”
In class he once told us that, upon coming across a new publication of interest, the first thing he would do was to examine the accompanying map. Ninety percent of the information in the publication, he said, was contained in the map. The accompanying text simply filled in the margins of knowledge about the map. This was perhaps the wisest thing I ever learned about geology. Over the course of time, I came to teach introductory courses in geology to community college students, and I was always careful to instruct my students about geologic maps and the wealth of knowledge that they contain. Hopefully, the department’s preservation of his maps will continue this legacy of geologic understanding.
I had the great fortune of meeting Alberto (as we called him on this side of the pond) when I was still a sophomore in the University of Houston in 1976. Alberto was then an advisor in Shell (the highest a geologist can climb in that company). I believe it was the late Prof. Milton Dobrin who introduced me to him. Ever since Alberto behaved like a guardian angel to me; I was in his house many times for dinner; his first wife, Nelly, used to cook Swiss specialities and enjoyed the opportunity to speak German with me. After I moved to Albany, Alberto did not lose contact with me. He invited me to the famous 1977 Penrose Conference in Ascona that he organised. Later he and Nelly came to Istanbul, from where we drove across western Turkey to a meeting in Antalya. During the drive, in the middle of the night, we needed to buy petrol in Afyon. So, we stopped at a Shell petrol station. Alberto produced his Shell credit card and said that he was told that that card should be valid in all Shell stations in the world. Naturally, the poor Turkish peasant, who operated the station at that time, had never heard of such a thing. I told him who was sitting in the car. Upon that he disappeared into the house next to the station and in a few minutes his entire family came out (obviously aroused out of bed) to meet the great Shell man. Alberto was terribly amused and complimented these nice people and gave them a big tip.
When he retired from Shell he invited me to his office and told me that I could choose any book I wanted! I remember taking Anderson’s book on fault and dyke formation. I still cherish it in my library. When as a student in Albany, I was invited to Exxon in Houston as a consultant, I told about it to Alberto and he told me to stay with him and Nelly. In the evening before my appointment with the Exxon people, I told him that I would want no money, but would wish to see the confidential data in places I had an interest in. He said “Never! Never say you want no money. They will not respect you. Take the money and see the data too. But bring me the first dollar they will give you”. I did as I was told. When he took the one dollar bill, he made me to write on it that it was the first money I ever made in my life and to sign it. Many, many years later he sent it back to me, framed! I still have it in my study.
When I was doing my PhD in the Albula Pass in Switzerland, ten minutes away from St. Moritz, Paul Jeffrey Fox (the later head of ODP) and his wife Janet had come visit me in the field. I suggested one day to go to St. Moritz for lunch. As we were coming out of the car in St. Moritz, who do we see coming towards us: Alberto and Nelly Bally! Of course, we walked to meet them. Alberto, without even saying hello to anybody, says to me: “You are supposed to be mapping in Albula, not feasting in St. Moritz!” Janet Fox burst into laughter saying “Oh Celal, it is so nice to see somebody who can give you the sort of crap you give to everyone else!” Then Alberto invited all of us to lunch. He later came to my field area to inspect me with his dear friend Prof. Daniel Bernoulli. It was a terrifying experience, but one that proved immensely useful to me. In Alberto, we lost not only a great geologist, but a very fine, generous, kind human being, for me a fatherly friend.
Born in 1925, Professor Albert Bally was educated for a large part in Switzerland, where he obtained a doctorate in geology from ETHZ in 1953 to become a “Swiss geologist”. In 1992, together, we started a fruitful collaboration on the Jura Mountains and the Swiss Molasse Basin, first at the University of Neuchâtel including scientific visits at Rice, and subsequently pursued at the University of Fribourg. Prof. Bally instigated new thinking on the links between the surface geology – very well known since decades from geological maps – and the subsurface geology illuminated by seismic profiles. The “Bally style” successfully conquered the Alpine foreland. In 2016 the University of Fribourg in Switzerland awarded Professor Albert W. Bally the Docteur Honoris causa of the Faculty of Sciences and Medicine. The laudation was for his exceptional scientific career, for his pioneering spirit in building bridges between the academic and professional worlds, and for his scientific contributions and the development of innovative geological concepts by combining classical geology and seismic profile interpretation. Albert Bally was not just a geologist, he was the embodiment of the Swiss geologist who went abroad and who contributed to the reputation of Swiss geology in the world.
Bert Bally was, and will remain an inspirational scientist for all of us.
On behalf of the Faculty of Sciences and Medicine and the Department of Geosciences of the University of Fribourg, we would like to express our deep sympathies and condolences to the family of Albert Bally.
Anna Sommaruga, Jon Mosar
University of Fribourg, Switzerland
it seems to me that, with your passing, Geology has lost some of its poetry: the stories, the fun to tell them; the maps, the space to keep them; the books, the time to read them; the field campaigns, the will to organize them.
I feel I hear you…
“Fly me over the rocky mountains. I need to know the regional context”
“Don’t specialize too much, be a generalist”
“Remember the importance of common sense”
“Communicate with your colleague directly, not in a meeting”
“Avoid bamboozling managers by too much information, simplify the message”
“We need information, no hypotheses”
“Drilling a dry hole is the most important experience you can have, it is important to be wrong”
“Learn to forgive”
“Enjoy people and respect people”
“La vita del geologo e’ una vita santa: si mangia, beve e canta!”
Cheers to your fun and exciting life!
Dear Dr. Bally,
I would not be where I am without your help and support. I am very fortunate to have spent time with you. I wish I had spent more. Your selfless sharing of knowledge and resources with one and all will always inspire me to strive to become a better human being. You will be dearly missed by many like me. Thank you for everything.
May you rest in peace.
If I can tell a story….. I experienced Dr. Bally when I was a Senior taking his graduate seminar with three other people in 1986. My favorite memory, and it definitely left an indelible and important impression on me, was when we were reviewing one of our “Crayola Projects” with him. From what I remember, this one had something that looked like a reef build-up on seismic and it appeared to be breached. Dr. Bally looked at the four of us (and with just four of us there was nowhere to run or hide…..) and asked whether we would drill this prospect based on what we knew. He tricked us a bit though, and told us how much the well would cost and the risks associated with it. Considering I was living on roughly $300 a month then, the millions it was going to take seemed astronomical – and not just to me, but to everybody. He stared us down waiting a response…. ….. and none was proffered …… at which point he stood up and slammed his fist on the table and said (with emphasis….) “of course you would!!! You have no other way of knowing what is there!!!!” – Essentially, how else will you discover oil?!!! What a memory!
I am so thankful for that experience with Dr. Bally. I experience a world I could not have otherwise and learned a lot on these Crayola journeys that helped me in my graduate studies and in my career.
Many thanks and rest in peace,
I had the good fortune to be a graduate school during Dr. Bally’s early tenure at Rice. Over the three years I attended Rice, I learned through a combination of taking his fascinating seminar on the Swiss Alps and serving as a TA for him, that I and most of my class mates were “Basically a bunch of mediocre toast-masters”. This description was apt then, and probably now as well, but it served as a good-humored motivation to make all of us better students and speakers which he knew would only help us in our professional lives. He was a giant in geology, and a legend at Shell Oil, and I am grateful for having known him and benefited from being one of his students. Rice Geology and all of us associated with it are better for having had Bert in our lives.
I met Dr. Bally in 1982 during my first year of graduate school at Rice University. I could have no idea of the impact of that first step into his office on my life. We were teacher and student, employer and employee, mentor and mentee and most of all, friends. I was puzzled as to why he would agree to be my advisor even though I spoke limited English and could not even identify what research I wanted to do. He said people come to school to learn and to study and he would not expect anyone to know everything or anything at all. He did not believe in an education system that is full of tests and exams. He thought that school should make it easy and not hard for students to learn. As a result, we Bally students sometimes got away with few rules and regulations and were seen by other students with envy that we were fortunate beneficiaries of the Bert Bally University. I once asked Dr. Bally “Will you really do anything for the students?” He smiled and said “No, I will not bail anyone out of jail because they should know better not to be there at the first place.” Fortunately I don’t think anyone has crossed that line yet.
Students and visitors came to see him from all around the world. There were people from Italy, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, France, Germany, Switzerland, China, India, Hungary, Taiwan, Argentina, Nigeria, just to name a few. He always welcomed everyone with the same enthusiasm regardless of their nationalities, religions, finances and abilities to learn. That large office at the corner on the first floor in the geology department, we called it the Barrio, was where we would gather. It was a common scene with Dr. Bally sitting next to that huge table in the center of the room with seismic sections laying out in the front and students huddling around. There were discussions and arguments sometimes in multiple languages; there was shouting and laughter; there were fingers pointing from one end of the section to another and color pencils flying across the table. At 5:45 in the afternoon, we would stop and watch Dr. Bally dashing out of the office, followed by his big sky blue sedan spinning out of the parking lot. We all knew that there was a 6pm dinner rule at the Bally’s household that cannot be violated. Of course he would return after dinner and worked until late night. We often ended the night with a gelato at Dolce Freddo in the village.
Dr. Bally always encouraged us to get out and to enjoy life in America. He took a group of visitors to the Houston Rodeo, he invited us to his beach house at Bolivar to relax and to his house to watch a Democratic convention on TV. He said US politics is an interesting phenomenon that any foreigner should not miss the opportunity to watch. He would take a student for a walk in the zoo during a difficult time and he encouraged anyone to take time off for family. He was never shy of giving his opinions but he always would listen to yours as well. We were always amazed by his knowledge and curiosity of not only geology but of history, culture and much more. I remembered one time, a student from Saudi Arabia, ran back to our shared office full of excitement and with a handful of books. He said “I was so embarrassed! Dr. Bally knows more about my country’s history than I do. He loaned me all these books to read.”
When Dr. Bally decided to retire he told me that it’s time for me to get a real job. It is true that I had enjoyed working with him and that I never thought of it as a job. When I was worried about starting a career in industry, he said “use your common sense and you will do great”. When I was having difficulty in a personal relationship, he said “be in the driver’s seat’. This advice helped me overcome many obstacles and struggles over the years.
Dr. Bally was always there for me and for anyone that came seeking help. It is hard to image a life without him around and I will miss him dearly. Thank you, Dr. Bally, I will do my best to use my common sense and stay in the driver’s seat.
beautifully put. Thank you.
I’m sorry to miss the service for Bert but I had to be teaching about plate tectonics at this time. For my class, I use material that Bert kindly sent me several years ago. He was very generous and believed in sharing all of his results and thoughts even if others interpreted his data differently. He respected differences and appreciated all the different aspects of geology as even if he didn’t know the intricacies of metamorphic rocks, they were just a part of the Earth’s puzzle that he liked to solve.
With the passing of Bert Bally, we have lost one of the truly great geologists of our generation. In reviewing testimonials here, one cannot but be profoundly impressed by the impact this man has had on so many individuals in our profession.
After his academic years at the University of Zurich and Lamont, Bert’s unique and incredibly productive career began in the petroleum industry, moved to academia, and then “retirement,” which in reality was devoted to continuing his passion of geology on a global scale. During the course of his remarkable career, he authored, co-authored, or edited well over 100 publications which, according to Google Scholar have been cited in other scientific publications over 6000 times!
I feel very fortunate to have known Bert as a friend and colleague for almost 60 years. We first met in North Alaska during Shell’s summer field season in 1960. Bert was working for Shell Canada at that time, and had completed the field work and subsurface integration that led to the classic paper with Gordy and Stewart, “Structure, Seismic Data, and Orogenic Evolution of the Southern Canadian Rockies.” Traversing the region in a small float plane over many days, Bert and I compared and shared geologic insights from our respective areas. In the late fall of that year I was invited to spend time working in Shell Canada’s offices in Edmonton and Calgary, where Bert graciously shared his extensive geologic knowledge of the Canadian Rockies. This experience was of great benefit to me during many subsequent field seasons mapping on the North Slope.
I will always cherish Bert’s advice, counsel, and friendship throughout my career. He was always generous with his time and had a compulsion to share his knowledge with others, both one-on-one and in print. His knowledge extended well beyond geology. He was conversant on many subjects, and this was on display on a 1995 trip to Rome, Florence, and Sienna with Bert, his wife, Elaine, and Charlie Bruce (Shell Canada) and his wife, Kim. Bert spent his childhood in Rome, and he took us on a tour of Rome which included a visit to a children’s theater in a park which was still featuring Micky Mouse movies he remembered seeing as a child. In 2005, my wife Ann and I joined the Ballys and David and Elizabeth Roberts on a week-long adventure in the Southern Canadian Rockies. Bert generously shared his intimate knowledge of the region, along with his maps and cross-sections.
Bert was particularly unique in that during the course of his career he received well-deserved recognition in both the academic and industrial worlds. His achievements in both venues has been cited by others in previous remembrances on this site. One event which has not been mentioned is the well-attended BertFest held in Bert’s honor at Rice some years ago. I believe it was sponsored by a grateful petroleum company that Bert had consulted for. It was a gala affair attended by many academic and industry geologists from here and abroad. During a festive dinner program at the event, Bert had a first-hand opportunity to hear how appreciative fellow geologists were of his outstanding contributions to the profession.
Bert was a giant in our field and will be profoundly missed by all who had the good fortune to know him.
I was sad to hear of the passing of Dr. Bally. I only met him once, but I still remember it well after 30 years. I was finishing up my M.S. at the Geology Department at the University of New Mexico and he was visiting the department. I asked the host professor if I could talk with Dr. Bally for a few minutes. I remember laying down my field map on a drafting table (remember those?). I was working on a base metal skarn deposit in southwestern New Mexico which involved detailed mapping (1:8000) of about 50 square kilometers in a structurally complex area. Having taken Structural Geology and Tectonics of the Western Alps from Dr. Burchfiel at Rice,I of course had heard of Dr. Bally. I clearly remember him sitting at the drafting table and looking closely at my geologic map, very quietly, for 1 to 2 minutes. Then he said, “Yes, this is a really good map–one could do a lot with this map.” Then I asked him some questions about the possible tectonic style(s) of that region. Being a young graduate student climbing around those mountains in the heat and dodging the rattlesnakes, month after month, you can well imagine the feeling I had when Dr. Bally had given my map a thumbs up. That made me want to be even a better field mapper. So I say “Thank you Dr. Bally” and may you rest in peace.
Frank C. Smith
I was the interim chairman of the Department when the search for a permanent chairman began. I do not remember who advised us to consider Bert Bally who at that time was employed by Shell Oil Company. I invited Bert for a chat. We hit it off immediately in part because we had both lived in The Netherlands. At the time of his visit Bert had offers from two other universities. At the end of our chat he promised me that he would seriously consider to come to Rice University. When we parted I said “Bert, you have always wanted to be a professor, right?” Bert: “how do you know?” I: “It is written all over your face.” The rest is history.
It was an immense pleasure for me to work with him restoring our department.
I met Bert back in 2008, when I was a graduate student in Rice and was looking for internship in industry. Bert spent many afternoons teaching us the global geology, the seismic interpretation skills, providing us piles of files that he collected specifically for each different geologic setting. I am always overwhelmed by his knowledge, and asked: “Bert, how do you become so knowledgeable?”. He didn’t answer directly, but told us the story of his early career, how he move between different countries, how he came through different projects. Then he asked: “Do you get what I am saying? I didn’t know any of this when I first joined the industry, but I got involved into many projects, I tried to learn as much as I can through these projects, and becomes an expert in it.” His words deeply changed my mind, and today, as I am in the industry, I always have to fight for projects, fight to prove personal values, whenever I have difficult times, I can always feel him saying:” Just Go for it, Learn from it, and become Good at it!” His words will be always in my heart, providing me endless courage and passion for my career and life.
On the Shoulders of a Giant
(In memory of AWB)
To stand upon the shoulders of a giant
As Newton said, gives opportunity
For one to gain a world view more compliant
With nature’s tractable complexity
To say “it is complex” is not conducive
To understanding intertangled things
Each simple element may be elusive
Devine them all, and clarity they bring
Each cause produces outcomes overprinting
Each key event from others is exposed
But put them back in motion undeforming
A cogent set of sequences disclosed
A Titan from whose shoulders we have peered
Indebted are we to him, and endeared
He Shaves with Occam’s Razor
(in memory of AWB)
I mentioned to my PhD advisor
I’d been invited to participate
Provide an illustration of a concept
Sea level and tectonics to relate
The Neogene was set to be the focus
Its stratigraphic character define
The many varied styles of progradation
A signature or template to refine
To get it right you have to make adjustments
Some elements must lag or get ahead
Supply of sediment or net subsidence
Transit the needle’s eye-hole with your thread
What should we call our paper? And he tells us:
“The Stratigraphic Signature of Deltas!”
I had the great fortune of meeting Dr. Bally when I was a visiting scholar at Rice University in 2009. My host professor Dr. Julia Morgan introduced me to him. And he generously offered me to share his office. The first day I met him at the office, he asked me to talk about my ongoing research research projects. I told him I was working on the salt-related fold thrust belts in Tarim Basin. Then I was hesitating how I can introduce the Tarimu Basin to him in 20 or 30 minutes, but promptly, I found it was really unnecessary. Bert said “oh, Tarim Basin in western China, interesting and complicated basin, I would call it China-type basin, we can hardly fit it into any typical basin classification”. Bert knew well the Tarim Basin and we had common interests in the deep sub-salt structures in the basin. He was optimistic about the hydrocarbon potential in the deep of Tarim Basin, and he was right, huge discoveries have been made in past years. During my visiting stay at Rice, I had the chance to talk with Bert once or twice every week. Not long after, I found that Bert was not only familar with the Tarim Basin, he was the expert on almost every major petroliferous basins all over the world. He was an encyclopedia of geology. Talking with him was great pleasure as well as being inspiring. His selfless sharing of knowledge, and his passion for geology will always inspire many like me.
Thank you, Dr. Bally, Thank you for everything.
In addition to his colossal contributions to tectonics and what one might call synthetic geological thinking, Bert Bally leaves behind a legacy of innumerable colleagues and students whose careers he has touched. I can’t think of anyone with more impact on the profession. In my own case, I wasn’t really a student of his nor could i count myself anywhere near the level of a colleague. I didn’t publish with him, but I first met Bert when he was and adviser to Conoco’s international new ventures effort. He became one of my mentors even outside that job. His approach to seismic interpretation and the integration of map, cross section, seismic, and restoration has highly influenced and shaped my own approach to structural geology. For that i have an enduring regard and affection for Bert. He is and will long be sorely missed.
Dr. Bally, as all of his students called him during the early 90’s, was a Magister Ludi, in the true sense as described in Hermann Hesse’s famous book “The Glasperlenspiel – The Glass Bead Game”. A person who thrived on teaching, showing, explaining the most complex and intricate aspects of science and life, without ever making the asking person feel small or stupid – or not knowing. He loved to share his knowledge and always found a way, to explain “it” to and for a particular person.
He was mentor – beyond academics. So often I find myself sharing pieces of knowledge or wisdom with the now younger generation – only to find admitting to myself, that I had borrowed that from “Dr. Bally”. He taught me so much beyond geosciences.
For years we stayed in touch after I graduated from Rice; and even as the Christmas letters petered out, I would think of him on a regular basis. I wanted to visit him one last time – to find out, that he had passed away. I will always be grateful to have been one his many students.
Albert W. Bally, Bert in the US, Albertone for his friends in Italy. Albertone, the geologist, gave us a lot. Albertone, once professor at Rice University (Houston), embraced and taught generations of ‘refugee’ geologists from all over the world: China, Morocco, Spain, Venezuela, Russia, Canada… With great human depth and natural generosity, he reached out whoever contacted him spreading his encyclopedic knowledge of regional geology, so precise as if it was local, so integrated as if it was global. He was also known as ‘The Vangel’, because of his detailed answers on the geology of any part of the planet, associated with strong or heretical intuitions, which most of the time were right. One of his intuitions on mountain belts and passive margins consisted in comparing the importance of decollement planes for tectonics and structural geology as sequence boundaries are for sequence stratigraphy.
Albertone was born in The Netherlands in 1925 to a Swiss father and a Dutch mother. In Italy, he spent his youth and the years of his PhD studying the Mount Majella as an ETH student. His Italian was impeccable, forged with an erudite and broad vocabulary. So was his English. A student of him once told me: “It’s unbelievable how he masters the English language”. He was a real polyglot, able to speak in any European language. Albertone knew in depth and with critical spirit the Italian, the American and the World history. He had a broad, lucid culture paired with a perspective knowledge of economy and geopolitics. When I was visiting Rice, he wanted me to fully integrate into the American culture, so he handed me over some Western novels of Louis L’Amour: “The strong shall live” and “Showdown at yellow butte”. I still have those books.
Taking with him was always enriching. And it was fun to listen to his memories of the post-war Italy, like when he was arrested in Sicily because mistaken for a chicken thief. Just listening was like being on a neorealist movie (read here in case you have never heard ay of Bert’s stories… https://www.socgeol.it/files/download/notizie%20dal%20mondo%20della%20geologia/Albert_Bally_Ragusa.pdf )
Albertone was a master of seismic interpretation: a formidable technique to understand the structure of the crust, a technique less and less attractive for its unbearable costs, sustained in the past only by oil companies. A golden age for geology, in fact without seismic interpretation we would still have nineteenth-century knowledge.
Petroleum geologists were (and are) pragmatic because of the “real world” problems they face, in fact they seek the ‘geological truth’ rather than a ‘geological model’. Remember that Wegener was invited to present his work only by AAPG, while all international scientific societies mocked him. From a cultural point of view, I am a little worried today: because of global warming, a well-accepted fact, whoever works or worked with the oil industry is unfairly criminalized. Yet, only 20-30 years ago explorers finding new reservoirs were considered almost heroes. Furthermore, the O&G Industry allowed a quantum leap in understanding the structure and evolution of the Earth thanks to the wells and seismic data they provided. Peter Vail could not have proposed sequence stratigraphy without those data. Albertone, even before Dahlstrom, formalized the technique of balanced cross-sections by means of seismic reflection profiles of the Rocky Mountains (Bally et al., 1966). He applied the same formidable procedure in the central Apennines, dragging the Italian geosciences community into a revolution (Bally et al., 1986). Albertone’s sections of the central-Apennines and Adriatic Sea presented at the historic conference in Rome in 1986, masterfully organized by Antonio Praturlon and Maurizio Parotto, are still a milestone for the understanding of that mountain belt
To my surprise and bitterness, Albertone is almost unknown by American geophysicists. Instead, he was truly an innovator, an expert of the geometries and kinematics of continental margins around the world. When I was in Houston, he received folders of seismic lines from geological services and companies, every day, from all over the world, for his opinion and interpretation. We made fun of him by crippling the prayer “Our Father… give us our daily seismic line (rather than bread)”. We learned on those seismic lines the structure of the Argentine passive margin, the accretionary prism in Alaska or Makran, the structure of Mongolia, the Flores Basin, the South China Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Apennines, among countless other margins. Albertone, or Bert, was a wealth of information for everyone, an extraordinary communicator with a visceral passion, typical of those who know they had digested rare, if not unique, knowledge.
In Italy, and in many other countries, universities and research institutes acquiring and interpreting seismic profiles are very rare. Instead, I think that seismic acquisition and interpretation should become a reference technique and discipline for geological and geophysical research, as well as for the study of earthquakes.
I invite you to read the obituary of A.W. Bally by Daniel Bernoulli (2019) written with refined style to honor a great scientist, a great intellectual, a great friend.
Bally, A.W., Burbi, L., Cooper, J.C., Ghelardoni, R., 1986. Balanced sections and seismic reflection profiles across the Central Apennines. Mem. Soc. Geol. It., 35, pp. 257-310.
Bally, A.W., Gordy, P.L. and Stewart, G.A., 1966. Structure, seismic data, and orogenic evolution of southern Canadian Rocky Mountains. Bulletin of Canadian Petroleum Geology, 14 (3), pp. 377-381.
Bally A.W., 2017. J. Elmer Thomas, Sicily and the Ragusa Oil Field. AAPG Explorer, July.
Bernoulli D., 2019, Albert W. Bally (1925–2019). International Journal of Earth Sciences, https://doi.org/10.1007/s00531-019-01792-w
An excellent history of the wonderful existence of a notable, productive, splendid geologist and extraordinary coach to so many. My most prominent compassion and sympathies to all Bert’s family and to his numerous companions, associates, and understudies.