Albert John Rowell

Albert J. (Bert) Rowell was born in the cathedral city of Ely, a few miles from Cambridge, England on July 19th, 1929.  He died at home on September 28th in Lawrence, Kansas at the age of 94.

His father was a signals engineer in the railway system. Bert’s formative years were spent in Cambridgeshire and later further north in Yorkshire where he attended the University of Leeds obtaining a B.Sc. in Mining Engineering and, after appropriate ‘retreading’ a PhD. in geology in 1953. The most significant event of his time in Leeds, however, was meeting the girl who he would eventually marry, Margery Brown, in October 1950 at a meeting of the Leeds University Climbing Club.

Subsequent to finishing doctoral studies Bert had to complete two years of National Service obligations. He was sent to the Royal Corps of Engineers and as an enlisted man he was trained in the basics of combat engineering. He was subsequently selected as an officer cadet and spent several months at the School of Military Survey before being commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. He and Margery Brown were married in 1954 and enjoyed their new status for a few weeks prior to a year of separation after Bert was posted to Kenya as a Troop Commander.

On returning to England in July 1955 he obtained a position as an assistant lecturer in Geology at the University of Nottingham and eventually was appointed to an ad hominem readership in Geology in 1963, shortly before taking a sabbatical year at the University of Kansas in 1964.  By that date, the Rowells had expanded to include four children, Ian 1956, Alison 1958, Gareth 1960 and Colin 1962.

The Rowells enjoyed their year in Kansas and had a wonderful vacation camping in many of the major western National Parks before returning home by ship from Montreal.  Once back in Britain they faced a difficult decision as to whether to accept a permanent position at the University of Kansas as a Professor of Geology, which to us involved a commitment to eventually take out American citizenship, or whether to settle down again in Britain.  They decided on the former and two years later they were back on a ship sailing for New York with all their possessions in four large wooden crates!

To clear any obstacles, Bert had by this time resigned his commission as an Army Captain (A captain, not The Captain as his Navy friends liked to remind him) and the family settled back down to academic life in Lawrence at the University of Kansas.

Kind colleagues quickly taught him the art of writing successful grant proposals and he was able to undertake funded work on some of the small fossils that can be recovered from acid residues in rocks of Late Cambrian age (around 500 million years old) in the Great Basin of Nevada and Utah.  Subsequent opportunities for similar studies were offered by New Zealand colleagues in northern Victoria Land, Antarctica.  The remoteness of these mountains and lack of understanding of their geology led him to seek funding from the United States Antarctic Program to study fossils and rocks of slightly older Cambrian age in the Transantarctic Mountains from the Byrd Glacier to the termination of these mountains near the Weddell Sea.  Bert’s last and eighth visit to the continent was as a paleontologist with a party from Ohio State University the semester after he had retired; he claimed it was a novel excuse to miss his own official retirement dinner and see something of the Shackleton Glacier geology-Cambrian everywhere you looked!

During the active phases of his career Bert was a member of many geological and paleontological societies but in retirement he was associated professionally with only two, he was a senior Fellow of the Geological Society of London and a Fellow of the Geological Society of America.

During retirement he served two terms as a member of the Lawrence Douglas County Health Board.  Rather unusually for a scientist he was an active Catholic: when pressed he would say, “All I really know is that God is Love and that to me Jesus is the human personification of that love. Life can be desperately hard to understand; I have been blessed by relatives and very dear friends who helped me grasp these elements.  I am grateful to them all.”

Bert is survived by his wife, Marge, of 69 years; his daughter, Alison Jane Nye (Jim) of Lawrence; son, Gareth Alwyn Rowell (Milissa) of Clever, Missouri; daughter in law Rhonda Rowell of Lawrence and daughter in law Marie Rowell of El Dorado, Kansas.  He is also survived by his granddaughters Katie Huff (Dustin) Lawrence, Hanna Williams (Kyle) Wichita, Kansas and Shelby Rowell (Jaiden Soupene) Topeka, Kansas.  Also surviving are his grandsons Derek Nye (Andie) Greenwood Village, Colorado and Andrew Rowell (Kristen) Springfield, Missouri.  His great grandchildren include Charlie, Oliver, Maxwell and Hazel Huff all of Lawrence.  Emerson and Crosby Nye of Greenwood Village, Colorado.  Bert is also survived by his brother Jack Alan Rowell, Hallet Cove, South Australia.

Bert was preceded in death by his sons Ian James Rowell and Colin Peter Rowell and by his granddaughters Sally Rowell and Mhari Rowell.

The family would like to thank the staff of Interim Health Care for all their help.

Private graveside services will be held at a later date.

Suggested memorials: Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, Clyde, Missouri in care of Warren Mc Elwain Mortuary, 120 W 13th St., Lawrence

Note for Warren McElwain:

Benedictine Sisters

31970 State Hwy P

Clyde, MO


Phone: 660-944-2221

9 Condolences

  1. Cheryl Slack on September 30, 2023 at 9:28 am

    Oh Ali, I love your mom and loved your dad. What a brilliant sweet sweet man.
    He certainly lived a wonderful life.
    But, with all of his accomplishments , I’m sure his family was most precious to him.
    We will meet again.. Love you and your family to pieces.😘😘😘❤️❤️❤️

  2. Barbara Nye on September 30, 2023 at 11:16 am

    Bert was a wonderful, brilliant person. He will be missed by his family who loved him dearly. He is joining the saints in heaven. Praise be to God.
    Barbara Nye

  3. Bruce S. Lieberman on September 30, 2023 at 12:23 pm

    My sincerest condolences to Marge and all of Bert’s family. Bert was a towering intellect and figure in paleontology and had a profound impact on me professionally. He also provided advice that very much benefited the development of my career and for which I am very grateful. While he lived a full life, he also experienced many challenges: I was very sorry to hear that he passed away. Bert was also a man of diverse interests and very deep knowledge. I truly benefited from getting to know him. Some may not know the profound role that he also played in the development of the field of systematics, including through his work as editor of the journal Systematic Zoology. I also very much appreciated the kindnesses and gifts that he and Marge provided to my family after we arrived in Lawrence.


    Bruce S. Lieberman

  4. Michael Stevens on September 30, 2023 at 7:06 pm

    Many thanks to Bert and Marge in supporting me in joining the Roman Catholic church. I joined in April 1992. Bert was my official sponsor, but Marge was there every step of the way. I am lucky enough to have been in many daily masses with them. I am very grateful for all their blessings and the example they set. Both were in leadership roles at St. John the Evangelist parish here in Lawrence. They were both very active in the parish but, in a very subtle way. Bert and Marge set the standard for being excellent members of my church!

  5. Jim Rohlf on October 1, 2023 at 12:07 pm

    While I have not seen Bert for many years, I have thought about him and his ever-present sweet friendly smile. He was a special friend. He will be missed. Rest in peace Bert.

  6. Marie Willis on October 1, 2023 at 4:55 pm

    I am truly grateful for having known Bert for many years as a fellow congregant at St. John the Evangelist parish. He was a friend of such good wit and deep commitment to the Lord. He was truly an example for us all of the devout life, but with a touch of humor and many a hearty laugh. I offer my sincere condolences to Marge and her lovely family. Thank you Bert and Marge for making Lawrence your home for that act has been a blessing to us all.

  7. Fred Shirk on October 2, 2023 at 3:56 pm

    I have fond memories of Mr Rowell. My very good friend Colin was his youngest son, and I spent plenty of time – and ate many meals – at their house when we were 15-25ish. Being so young, he was always ‘Mr Rowell’ to me, never Bert. Thirty years later, I worked with a student of his who reported that he was a wonderful professor. One can’t begin to imagine how many lives were touched by Mr Rowell.

    Prayers to Marge, Ali, Gareth, and all the loved ones left behind.

  8. Jennifer VanSchmus Chartier on October 6, 2023 at 5:09 pm

    Sending my sympathy and love to the Rowell family.

  9. Sandy Carlson on October 11, 2023 at 9:36 am

    I just learned of Bert’s passing — very, very sad news for me. My heartfelt condolences go out to the whole Rowell family. Bert was one of the finest scientists I knew — and truly one of the finest human beings. I had the great good fortune to spend a week at the Rowell’s a very long time ago, when I was working on a revision of the Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology. Bert was one of two co-authors on the first set of volumes on brachiopods, organisms that we both worked on, and I wanted to talk with him at length about the nature of the revision, 35+ years later. He and Marge invited me into their home and were exceptionally kind and welcoming (as was their dog Liam!). Bert inspired me to try to be the best scientist I could be — always questioning assumptions and motives and always, always doing so with kindness and tolerance, a deep thoughtfulness, and a wonderful sense of humor. I learned so much from him. We continued to exchange holiday cards for many years, ever since that visit long ago, and I always looked forward to receiving his, with some advice or encouragement that I had asked for, or hoped that he would impart without my asking. He never failed to do so. Rest in peace, Bert — you will forever have a very special place in my heart and mind.

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