Gilles O. Allard
Professor of Economic Geology
and Second Head of the Department of Geology
of the University of Georgia

        Dr. Gilles O. Allard is Professor Emeritus of Geology at the University of Georgia, having served on the faculty of the Department of Geology from 1965 to 1991.  He is the Department's most beloved professor of all time, treasured for his rare combination of expertise, intensity, wisdom, generosity, and humor.

 

From Quebec to Brazil

        Dr. Allard was born in a small town in southern Quebec in the late 1920s, and thus his native language was the French of the Quebecois.  He was born to a family with little money and raised during the hard years of the Great Depression.  His family nonetheless was dedicated to the education of its children, setting the stage for his successful career and life.

        Dr. Allard studied at the University of Montreal and earned a B.A. in Languages in 1948, winning first prize in French composition.  He then embarked on a different study of a different language, joining the Canadian Officers Training Corps with part of the goal being to learn English.  However, he soon found that the English that one learned in the military had many words not appropriate in polite conversation.  He did this in a nation and army in which there was considerable discrimination, not wherein people of one skin color discriminated against those of another but in which English speakers discriminated against those who spoke French.

        In his early studies at the University of Montreal, science had mostly meant hours in smelly chemistry labs.  One course revealed the glory of science outdoors as geology, and he turned to this immediately.  He earned a B.S. in Geology from the University of Montreal in 1951, winning the Retty Prize in Economic Geology, a sign of things to come.  He spent the summer of 1950 as a field assistant in Labrador to James Harrison, who would go on to be Director of the Geological Survey of Canada.  Harrison had earned his graduate degrees at Queens University in Ontario, and he insisted that Gilles go there for his M.S.  The faculty at Queens included some of the giants of Canadian geology, including J. Willis Ambrose, a graduate of Stanford and Yale who had been president of the Geological Association of Canada in 1947, and whose name would later be given to the GAC's Ambrose Medal.  Also at Queens was James Edwin Hawley, who earned his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin and who went on to win the Willet G. Miller Medal, the Logan Medal, and the Barlow Memorial Prize.   Ambrose and Hawley were Gilles's advisors for his M.S. research.

        While still a student at Queens, Gilles's work for the Quebec Department of Natural Resources took him to Chibougamau in central Quebec, a remote site at which he would make mining history over the succeeding decades.  In his first summer, in 1952, he discovered a copper deposit at Siderite Hill, while the prospectors hired by the claim's owner spent their advance money drinking in town.  That year he laid claim to another great resource when he married Bernadette Martineau.

        Gilles finished his M.S. at Queens in 1953, with his thesis on Chibougamau.  Ambrose directed him onward to work on a Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins, where a remarkable faculty including Aaron Waters, Ernst Cloos, Joseph Donnay, and Francis Pettijohn had recently been assembled.  However, Gilles and Bern soon found that they could not afford the tuition at Hopkins, and Gilles told his professors he would have to give up and go home.  At this point Ernst Cloos arranged a tuition remission for the outstanding young student, and Gilles was able to continue his studies, holding a fellowship in 1954 and 1955.  Among his fellow students at Hopkins was a young Georgian named Vernon Hurst, who would go on to be the first head of the Department of Geology of the University of Georgia.

        In the summers, Gilles continued his work at Chibougamau, with Bern accompanying him to live in the leaky rotten log cabins abandoned years earlier by diamond drillers.  Gilles' hard work led to the discovery in those summers of the Dore Lake Complex, an Archean layered intrusion that had been folded and metamorphosed to greenschist facies.  In 1955, he began work as Exploration Manager for Chibougamau Mining and Smelting (CMS).  This meant that he had left Hopkins without finishing his dissertation, and Aaron Waters was soon sending him threatening letters.  With much coloring of maps by Bern, Gilles defended his dissertation about Chibougamau in the fall of 1956 and became Dr. Allard.

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        Life at Chibougamau was hard.  Gilles and Bern lived in a company house, with their only power from a diesel generator that failed periodically.  The town was on a Pleistocene lake bed, so that conditions alternated between duststorms and snowstorms.  One of the hardships of Chibougamau was of course the cold.  Once, flying back to Chibougamau with one of their babies, Bern wisely packed a full baby-bottle.  The flight was in a very small plane, with the pilot just behind the engine. When the baby started to cry, Bern pulled out the bottle from her luggage - and the plane was so cold that the bottle had frozen.  However, the pilot put the bottle close enough to the engine to warm it back to the milk's liquid state, and soon the crying baby was happy again.

        Gilles's work soon involved an unprecedented exploration effort, with twenty-one drills operating on the ice of Chibougamau Lake to drill 168,000 feet of core, during winters in which the temperature would drop to -68°F, or -55°C.  This led to the discovery of the Henderson Mines I and II, which over the subsequent thirty years would yield 271 million pounds of copper and 347,677 ounces of gold.

        In 1958, Gilles was offered a job at the University of Virginia, and Bern and Gilles decided that it was time to raise their children in a more hospitable environment than the frigid cold and remote setting of central Quebec.  However, UVA had a poorly administered department then, and the job was a disaster.  At about the same time, Aaron Waters was offered a teaching position with Petrobras, the Brazilian national oil company.  Waters had other commitments, and he passed the offer along to Gilles, and in 1959 the Allards were on their way to Brazil for a two-year excursion that lasted for five years.

 

The Allards in Brazil: 1959 to 1964

        Gilles's work for Petrobras involved a heavy teaching load at the company's school and mapping projects in the deserts of the state of Sergipe.  This work led to the discovery of the Propria Geosyncline, a previously unrecognized Precambrian province in the Brazilian Shield.

        The Allards lived in Salvador, the capital of the Brazilian coastal state of Bahia.  One of Bern's most memorable surprises about life in Brazil came when Gilles's was on his first field trip.  In the evening, a man came to say that her husband had sent a package that the man had placed in her back yard.  The next morning, Bern looked in her back yard and found a dead anaconda.  She had no idea what to do with it, but a neighbor indicated that he knew exactly what to do and disappeared with the snake.  A week later, the neighbor delivered the anaconda's skin, on one side the scaly skin expected of a snake and on the other a beautiful soft white leather.  When the Allards came to Athens, the anaconda's white leather became a wall-covering in their home, and eventually it was passed on to their son Mitch.

        As the political situation in Brazil evolved, the Allards were advised to leave, but they stayed until the military coup d'état of April 1, 1964.  With their children already out of the country with Bern's sisters in Quebec, Gilles and Bern set of on a trip up the Amazon.  When a planned plane trip to the Andes failed because the plane on which they would have ridden crashed, they instead took a freighter up the Amazon, the only passengers on a ship on which the captain was English and the crew Brazilian - and Gilles and Bern the translators.  The goal was of course to visit and sample famous mines in Chile and Peru, which was accomplished with daring trips across spectacular Andean roads in jeeps carrying dynamite to the mines.

        After returning to the Northern Hemisphere, Gilles took a temporary position at the University of California at Riverside.  This gave Gilles the opportunity to visit and sample famous mines in the southwestern United States.  However, when Vernon Hurst came out for a meeting in California, Vernon asked his old Hopkins officemate Gilles what he was doing, and Gilles replied that he was looking for a job - and Vernon said he had a job to offer.  Soon the Allards were on their way to Athens for the beginning of classes there in the fall of 1965.

 

Gilles Allard at the University of Georgia: 1965 to present

        At UGA, Gilles soon earned a grant from the National Science Foundation to test the then-remarkable hypothesis that geological features in South America could be traced in western Africa.  Specifically, this project was for research in Cameroon and Gabon to find a continuation of the Propria Geosyncline that Gilles and Fred Humphrey had discovered in Brazil.  Despite the challenge of field work in the west African jungles, the continuity was confirmed, and Gilles went on to present his work at the Third Gondwana Symposium in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1967 and to publish his results in the prestigious journal Science.

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        After Gilles came to UGA, his research in Chibougamau continued from 1966 to 1987 with a huge mapping project for the Quebec Department of Natural Resources.  Many students were trained in this program and then went on to careers as economic geologists.  These years of work led to the discovery of a world-class vanadium deposit in the Lake Dore Complex.  Today, Parc Allard in Chibougamau stands as public testimony to Gilles's many years of work there.

        At UGA, Gilles was joined by Robert Carpenter to form a remarkable program and partnership in Economic Geology that became the principal focus of the Department of Geology.  In 1969, Gilles was asked to take over as head of the Department, a challenging position because of the combative personalities in the Department.  Always one with a plan, Gilles spent an evening at a GSA meeting persuading Norman Herz, another Johns Hopkins Ph.D., to come to UGA to take over as head.

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        The years of 1987 and 1988 were a transition in Gilles's work, as he concluded his research in Quebec and began a large mapping project in east-central Georgia that extended from 1988 to 1992.  This project involved geologic mapping of twenty-three quadrangles east from Athens and from Lexington to the Savannah River, and from Thomson to Woodville.  As before, many students were trained in this effort, which Gilles finished after he retired.

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        In his career at UGA, Gilles became the Department's best-loved professor.  Eleven times he won the Professor of the Year Award given by the department's graduate students each year.  Three times he won the Teacher of the Year Award given by the department's undergraduate students each year.  He won the University of Georgia's Silver Bowl for Excellence in Teaching in 1968, and was the Sandy Beaver Teaching Chair of Geology from 1978 to 1982. He supervised twenty-six students completing master's degrees and six doctoral students.

        Gilles's popularity with students was not because his courses were easy, but in fact because they were so challenging.  Students who weren't paying attention were commonly pelted with erasers or chalk thrown by Dr. Allard.  In about 2013, more than two decades after Dr. Allard's retirement, an alumnus rose during the Geosciences Colloquium in Room 200A to point to a spot in the middle of the room saying "that's where the piece of chalk was when I first saw it coming at me."

        Dr. Allard's awards for teaching are all the more remarkable because he also won so many awards for his research too.  The four most prestigious awards, any one of which would be a capstone of a great career, were the Duncan Derry Medal of the Geological Association of Canada in 1989, the Grand Prix de Mérite Géoscientifique de l'Association des Géologues et Géophysiciens du Québec in 1996, the A.O. Dufresne Exploration Achievement Award of the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum in 1998, and the Jean Descarreaux Prize of the Association de l'Exploration Minière du Québec in 2003.  The citation for the Dufresne Award read

In recognition of his major contributions to the understanding, exploration, and development of the Chibougamau mining camp and for his skill in disseminating information to the geological community and inspiring future geologists.
With regard to the Duncan Derry Medal,
The medal honors outstanding economic geologists who have made major contributions to economic geology in Canada and have exhibited skill and stature in disseminating information to the geologic community and in inspiring future geologists,
and with regard to the Jean Descarreaux Prize,
This prize is awarded to recognize the career of an entrepreneur who, by his work over many years, has contributed in a significant manner to the development of mining entrepreneurship in Quebec.
 
        A different sort of honor is to be invited to speak at universities and meetings.  In 1984 to 1985, Gilles the Distinguished Lecturer of the Canadian Institute of Mining, giving nineteen lectures across Canada.  In 1992-1993, he was the Thayer Lindsley Visiting Lecturer of the Society of Economic Geologists, similarly touring to lecture at numerous universities.  In 1981 he was invited by the Canadian Institute of Mining for a lecture tour to three Quebec universities, and in 1984 he was invited by the Canadian Institute of Mining for a lecture tour to five universities in Ontario.  In 1975 he was invited by the University of Geneva in Switzerland to give an entire course, and among the many universities at which he has been invited to lecture are the Universities of Heidelberg, London, and Durham, and the Ecole Nationale des Mines in Paris.  His invitations to speak at conferences included meetings in China, Peru, and South Africa.

        The thirty-four papers published by Gilles spanned the years from 1960 to 1995.  They include papers in Science, the Geological Society of America Bulletin, and the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences.  They were accompanied by innumerable technical reports, as well as laboratory manuals used both at UGA and published nationally.

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Gilles in retirement

        With Gilles' retirement, Doug Crowe joined the Department to continue the tradition of Economic Geology at UGA.  Gilles was soon leading Doug on impossible treks through the briars and brush of the Piedmont to see obscure exposure of gneiss and saprolite.  Gilles also taught Doug how to garden in the clay soils of Georgia.  Doug encouraged Gilles to catalog his huge collection of ore samples, leading to the Allard Collection now accessible on the World-Wide Web.  Gilles generously donated his spectacular collection to the UGA Museum of Natural History.

        Gilles' retirement has of course been active.  His new career involved lecturing on cruse ships, participated in thirty-six cruises, several of which went to Antarctica.  In the process, Gilles became an expert on the history of the exploration of Antarctica, as well as on that continent's geology.  He also lectured on continental-scale and round-the-world jet trips.  These travels took him to the Arctic, Greenland, Alaska, the Caribbean, Chilean fjords, and the Dalmatian coast, as well as twenty trips to Antarctica.

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        At the time of his retirement, Dr. Allard's former doctoral advisee Jeff Reid led the establishment of the Bernadette and Gilles Allard Fund to support the field research of the Department's graduate students.  Thus Gilles made the transition to a new career as fund-raiser for the Department.   It is a testimony to how Gilles inspired generations of students that the Allard Fund has been a great success, with a growing endowment that has supported student research in many places for many years.

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        In his retirement, Gilles remains a fixture in the Department.  No longer reminding students to keep busy, he now instead greets male faculty members by asking, "Why aren't you working, you play-boy?"    In April 2015, the Department celebrated Gilles' fiftieth year at UGA with a banquet attended by dozens of his former students, as well as by many of his colleagues.  The event was punctuated with two standing ovations.  The next week, Gilles was back in his office, starting on another fifty years.

 

 


 

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