Roy Farnsworth, professor emeritus of geology, dies at 84

Professor Emeritus of Geology Roy Lothrop Farnsworth, who helped make fieldwork a defining part of the Bates geology curriculum, died July 18. He was 84.

Professor Farnsworth earned degrees from Boston University — a bachelor’s in English language and literature, and master’s and doctoral degrees in geology — before joining the Bates faculty in 1961. He served as department chair for 19 of his 29 years at the college, retiring as professor emeritus in 1990.

He served with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Germany, and his fields of interest were glacial geomorphology and environmental geology.

In her announcement to the campus community, President Clayton Spencer praised Farnsworth for being among the first faculty members to recognizing the potential value of Short Term, introduced as part of a new academic calendar and three-year degree option in the mid-1960s.

Circa 1969, Professor of Geology Roy Farnsworth points to a map showing the route that he and his students would travel during their Short Term course. Photograph courtesy of the Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library.

“Professor Farnsworth was among the first faculty members to explore creative ways to use [Short Term] to benefit students,” Spencer wrote.

“In the Bates tradition of adventurous geology fieldwork,” she continued, “he created the Short Term course Field Geology, leading his charges on an expedition throughout the Northeast and into Canada and west to Michigan. Camping along the way, they collected fossils, did geologic mapping, visited mines to evaluate economic resources, studied mineralized rocks and spoke with local experts. Professor Farnsworth did the cooking, too.”

An avid flyfisherman, he explained to Bates Magazine how fishing underscored a relationship with nature based on respect and wonder.

“We go fishing not for…the achievement of catching that large one or filling the meat pot,” he told the magazine. “Flyfishing lends itself to your being in the out-of-doors, looking with awe at nature around you. It’s a quiet pastime. You see many animals. You see many birds. You see many changes of season.”

As a teacher, he said that he tried to share part of himself with his students, and, in turn, hoped to receive “a bit of those [students] that you get to know,” thus gaining great satisfaction from following students as they build their lives.

Circa 1969, Professor Farnsworth works with student Bruce Bouley '69. Donations to Bates in Farnsworth's name can be made to a geology fund established in memory of Bouley, an exploration geologist who died in 2001. Photograph courtesy of the Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library.

A past chairman of the Baxter State Park advisory committee, he also served on the scientific forestry advisory committee and the director’s scientific study committee. He was a trustee of the Maine Wilderness Watershed Trust and past chairman of the Auburn Water District.

A gathering of family and friends will be held from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 4, in the hall at the United Methodist Church of Auburn, 439 Park St.

Donations may be made in his memory to the Bruce Bouley Fund at Bates to support senior thesis research in field-based geologic mapping, or the Baxter State Park Authority, 64 Balsam Drive, Millinocket ME 04462.

Professor Farnsworth is survived by his wife, Ruth; a daughter, Allyson Jutras and her husband, Garry, of Hudson, N.H.; sons and daughters-in-law Peter and Julie Farnsworth of Cape Elizabeth, and Paul, senior project manager for Facilities Services at Bates, and Julie Farnsworth of Auburn; grandchildren Dana and Ian Jutras, and Ted Farnsworth and Nathan Farnsworth; and a brother and his wife, Allston and Josephine Farnsworth of Lynnfield, Mass. He was predeceased by his sister, Eleanor Gaudette; and half-brother, Charles Farnsworth.