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Published March 1993 | public
Journal Article

Recollections of Kirk Bryan: A biographical sketch


To appreciate Kirk Bryan fully, one had to know him personally. His forte was relationships with people. He was a people's person from beginning to end. In the words of one observer, "he exuded human warmth." Kirk's scientific work was substantial but his still greater contribution to geomorphology was the host of able students he taught, inspired, and motivated. Although now passing from the scene, these people at their zenith were among the leaders in geomorphological research and teaching in North America. One of the higher honors attainable by scientists in the United States is the National Medal of Science, established by the Congress in 1959. Through 1991, 304 awards had been made, only 6 of which were to earth scientists. Out of that 6, one third were Kirk's students, a small statistic to be sure, but impressive testimony to Kirk's influence on budding scientists. It was about ten years after I finished graduate work at Harvard before I realized that Kirk was the best college teacher I had ever had. Kirk was so highly intuitive in his reasoning that many of his ideas seemed to float down from the heavens. This bothered me and created skepticism concerning many of his pronouncements. Consequently, I spent long hours searching the literature and developing my own thoughts with the objective of proving the good professor wrong. In most instances I ended up concluding that he was right, but I never understood why until I worked things out for myself. It finally dawned on me that Kirk had forced me to self-educate. I have since concluded that training students to self-educate should be a major objective of any college education -- hence my high regard for him as an educator.

Additional Information

© 1993 Elsevier Science Publishers B.V. Received December 17, 1991; accepted after revision September 10, 1992. Kirk Bryan, Jr., the informal family archivist, has generously provided copies of memorial articles and his own detailed account of family life and history, and the other Bryan children, Richard, Catherine, and Margaret have provided useful details. I am indebted to Vance Haynes for the loan of photographs and the opportunity to review his file of letters from former Kirk Bryan students and associates. The manuscript benefitted from critical editorial readings by Heidi Anderson, Jean Sharp, Kirk Bryan, Jr., and especially nephew G. Edward Bryan. Critical comments and suggestions from C.R. Twidale and an anonymous reviewer were helpful.

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