In Memoriam: A Tribute to Jack Rathbone

Title: In Memoriam: A Tribute to Jack Rathbone
Authors: Jim Rogers and Mark Longman
Publication: The Outcrop, November 2003, p. 26

RATHBONEThe geological community will sorely miss the company of John H. (Jack) Rathbone, geologist and celebrated geo-photographer, who died September 17th in Denver. Jack was born December 11, 1917, in Lincoln, Nebraska, son of Samuel Harvey Rathbone and Hazel Vandenberg Rathbone, both graduates of the University of Nebraska, and prominent in their community. As a child and teenager, Jack spent many happy summers in Colorado, often in Rocky Mountain National Park, where he explored most of the valleys, and climbed several of the peaks, including Longs Peak on multiple occasions. These early experiences had great influence on his choice of a career.

After Lincoln High School, Jack followed his parents to the University of Nebraska, graduating in 1942 with a BS degree in geology. After graduation Jack entered graduate school at Nebraska, but the ROTC soon called, sending Second Lt. Rathbone off to the 34th Army Division for training in Texas, New Jersey, and the UK. Several weeks after the North African landing, Jack’s unit was in action at Kasserine Pass when they were surrounded by Rommel’s furious attacks. At night and in silence, Jack led most of his platoon back to where the Allied lines were supposed to “hold” the advance, but the German Panzers were too fast for the Allies and Jack and his troops were captured.

The Germans flew most of the captured officers of the 34th to Poland, where Jack and others were imprisoned at Oflag 64. He spent 27 months in this and other German prison camps, and made many lasting friendships among American and British prisoners who were able to sustain each other through great hardships. After the war, most of the “alumni” of Oflag 64 met annually in various American cities to maintain their friendships and refresh their wartime experiences; the Oflag survivors’ meetings continue today and were an important part of Jack’s life.

Following the war, Jack returned to graduate school at Nebraska. His Master’s research consisted of excavating the fossilized remains of an extinct giant camel, a skeleton still on display at the University Museum in Lincoln. During these months Jack met and married Lois June Scofield. Before completing his thesis, Mobil Oil called with a job offer he couldn’t resist, so Jack and Lois set off for western Wyoming to “watch wells” for Mobil in the Rock Springs area. During this time, their daughter Julie was born.

In 1955, Jack entered the independent ranks in Denver. His skills as a well-site geologic supervisor were sought by many oil and gas exploration managers, and for years Jack was known as the “dean of the well watchers.” When not wellsitting, Jack enjoyed the company of many geologists, engineers and petroleum landmen at a ritual morning coffee break in Denver. As each of the colorful coffee houses gave way to the wrecking ball in the rejuvenation of downtown Denver, “Jack’s” coffee group would move to new digs. Currently Jack’s group meets at Duffy’s, its home for the last 30 years. On every subject from fishing to football to “foxes,” the stories, exaggerations, arguments and lies of this disparate group could fill volumes.

As an outstanding photographer with a talent and the patience for catching the fabulous scenery of the Rocky Mountain region under the best lighting conditions, Jack contributed photos to many RMAG publications over the past four decades. Probably his most notable work was Mountains and Canyons: A Photographic Description of the Rocky Mountain Region, published by the RMAG in 1995. It contained 50 of Jack’s favorite large-format photographs accompanied by sketches and interpretive captions. More than 1000 copies of this book were sold, indicating just how much Jack’s photographs were appreciated by RMAG members. Over the years, Jack also took annual photos of the RMAG Board, the Rockbusters Ball, recipients of the “Pick” Awards, and many other RMAG events. In recognition of his many contributions to RMAG, Jack was awarded “Honorary Membership” in the Association in 1987.