Ronald Kinnison Deford (1902-1994)
Ronald DeFord joined the University as a Professor in 1948 with the purpose of enhancing the quality of the graduate program of the department. He was Graduate Advisor in the Department from 1949 to 1967. He supervised a phenomenal 19 Ph.D. dissertations and 126 master’s theses. Nearly all of these degrees were based on fieldwork, many in West Texas and northern Mexico. After nominal retirement in 1972 and appointment as Professor Emeritus, he continued until 1987 as the faculty supervisor of Technical Sessions, a course required of all graduate students in Geological Sciences. He then retired in fact at the age of 85, partly because of the afflictions of Parkinson’s disease. Professor DeFord’s influence on the Department and University was immense, as a teacher, a leader, and a colleague.
DeFord was born in San Diego, California, on January 22, 1902. In 1921, he earned an Engineer of Mines degree from Colorado School of Mines and in 1922 he received his MS degree in geology from that school. He worked first for Midwest Refining Company in Roswell, New Mexico, and later in Midland, Texas, with Argo Oil Corporation. He served as an Assistant Professor of English at the Colorado School of Mines from 1931 to 1933.
As Graduate Advisor in the Department, Professor DeFord encouraged all students to acquire an adequate foundation not only in geology, but also in mathematics, physics, chemistry, English, foreign language, and fine arts. For instance, he requested that all graduate students in Geological Sciences complete a course in thermodynamics as part of the curriculum for a PhD degree. His interests and skills in English usage were always evident when he edited student manuscripts. Among the memorable courses he taught were undergraduate classes in physical geology and graduate courses in Geology of Fluids and Advanced General Geology. Vigorous discussions with students were hallmarks of his teaching.
One of his enduring contributions to teaching and to the Department was in his
leadership of the graduate course called Technical Sessions, a one-credit-hour course meeting twice each week. In that course, each graduate student has been required to make at least one formal presentation of research results to an audience of students, faculty, and others. DeFord used the course to teach clear, effective speaking, and graduates of the Department have often attributed their successes in lecture presentations to the high standards he so ably imparted. A volume of abstracts of talks for the last nine years of Professor DeFord’s leadership in Technical Sessions was compiled and presented to him in 1986, and a copy is kept by the Geology Library as a resource and a record of the science he influenced. All have warm memories of the style in which he presided over the course.
From the 1960s on, Professor DeFord was the only full-time faculty member without a PhD degree. This was not an issue with his faculty colleagues, but, insisting on proper titles, he corrected people who addressed him as Dr. DeFord: “I am Professor DeFord” was his response.
The importance of his contributions to the education and lives of these students has been shown in part by the enthusiastic response when the Ronald K. DeFord Field Scholarship Fund was established in the Geology Foundation of the University in 1972. In the first three years of its existence, 48 former graduate students contributed to the fund, and before Professor DeFord’s death, the endowment had grown to a balance of over $170,000 contributed by more than 180 donors.
DeFord participated in more than a dozen scientific societies and received special recognition from many of them. His awards included the Individual Merit Award Medal from Colorado School of Mines in 1963, election to the Permian Basin Hall of Fame in Midland in 1975, and honorary life membership of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. He was a former President and a Life Member of The West Texas Geological Society, and that society cosponsored a symposium in his honor in 1970. He was awarded the title of “Professor Extraordinario” by La Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico in 1968. Ronald DeFord, age 92, Professor Emeritus of Geological Sciences, died May 7, 1994.