Dr. G. Kenyon (Ken) Rutherford
Department of Geography and Planning
Professor G. Kenyon (Ken) Rutherford – known to his colleagues and friends as Ken, or simply G.K. – died suddenly of a heart attack on a warm summer Sunday evening in August 25, 1996.
Ken’s scientific life spanned five decades and spanned almost as may continents. Born and raised on the South Island of New Zealand, and following a short period of service in the Royal New Zealand Air Force in the final years of the Second World War, Ken attended the University of New Zealand at Canterbury where he earned a B.Sc. in Chemistry and Geology and an M.Sc. in Geology. Ken then journeyed half-way round the world to pursue his postgraduate studies in Norway, first earning a Diploma in Agriculture from the Agricultural Academy in Oslo and then, in 1959, a PhD in Agricultural Science from the Agricultural University of Norway at Vollebekk for his research on the formation of forest soils.
Following research positions in Trinidad and Australia, Ken joined the department of geography at Queen’s as an Assistant Professor in 1963. From that date until his death, Ken was a prominent and active member of the university and the Kingston community where he held office in a number of important community organizations. He was promoted to Professor in 1970 and granted the title of Professor Emeritus in 1992.
Ken quickly established himself as a leading scholar in the field of soil science and enjoyed a well-deserved international reputation. The author of three books and over a hundred articles, chapters and technical writings, he had a major impact on his chosen field. His field research on the properties of soils took him to many different parts of the world including the Caribbean, Australasia, Polynesia, Nepal, Israel, Greenland and various parts of Europe. His early research focused on the formation and weathering of tropical soils in the context of agricultural development. However, he was probably best known internationally for his contributions to our knowledge of clay mineralogy. In his capacity as Chair of the UNESCO International Working Group in Soil Micromorphology, Ken also played a leading role in the development of the field of soil and sediment microscopy and brought the 4th International Working Meeting of this scientific organization to Queen’s in 1973.
Ken served two separate terms as president of the Canadian Society of Soil Science, he was an Associate Editor of Geoderma, the leading international journal in his field, and had served as a member of, or advisor to, a number of international organizations.
Apart from his commitment to scientific research, Ken's most appreciated talent has been his unwavering dedication to the education of students. His teaching was always at the centre of his academic work and he was greatly admired and respected by the many undergraduate and graduate students he taught and supervised. Especially I want to highlight the central role Ken played in the teaching of environmental science in this faculty.
In the late 1970s, and out of his own very deep personal concern for the future of the planet, Ken, while maintaining his life long interest in clay minerals and clay soils, significantly shifted the focus of his research and teaching towards three important environmental issues in Canada; the impact of acid precipitation on aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, the reclamation of lands disturbed by mining and smelting operations and the environmental impacts of waste management. Much of this research was done in collaboration with his good friend and colleague from Chemistry, Gary vanLoon. Ken was doing environmental science long before it became fashionable to do so.
Even though Ken reached formal retirement age in 1990, he continued to publish and teach. He was responsible for the development and teaching of a course titled “Geographical Perspectives on Global Change” which became a core required course in the Environmental Science B.Sc. program. In fact, just days before his death in August he had finished teaching this course as part of the Summer Term offerings in Arts and Science.
I hope that I have been able to convey to you something of the very significant and important contribution that Ken made both to Queen’s and to science and Canada and internationally. He was truly a citizen of the world; this was reflected in his own journey through life, in his work and academic career, in his internationalist outlook and concern for the social well-being of others, and even in his own family where his five children, now grown to adulthood, are spread to several corners of the earth. His was a varied and productive life lived to the full and to the end and he will be sorely missed.
- John Holmes