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In Memoriam: John M. Hunt

John M. Hunt

Media Relations Office

media@whoi.edu

July 26, 2005

(508) 289-3340

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announces with great sorrow the death July 23, 2005 of Scientist Emeritus John M. Hunt of Falmouth at the Royal Nursing Center in Falmouth after a brief illness.  He was 86.

John Meacham Hunt was born December 1, 1918 in Cleveland, Ohio. He received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Western Reserve University in 1941, a master’s degree in petroleum chemistry from Pennsylvania  State University in 1943 and a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Penn State in 1946.  During his doctoral studies he worked as an assistant in petroleum refining, analyzing gasolines from worldwide refineries for toluene to make TNT, the development of aviation lubricants and hydraulic fluids, and liquid-liquid extraction columns for hydrocarbon purification.  After completing his doctorate, he served as an instructor in chemistry and worked under contract with Esso Research to develop a process to polymerize propylene with sulfuric acid.

In 1947 Standard Oil of New Jersey (Exxon) offered him a postdoctoral appointment to study motor fuel synthesis, but when his industry contact was transferred to Tulsa, Oklahoma to start a chemical group in the geology section of a subsidiary of Standard Oil, John decided to head west and accepted a position to develop new ways to find oil.  He took a night course in geology at Tulsa University and was named a research chemist in 1948, initiating geochemical research at the Jersey Production Research Company in Tulsa. John held subsequent positions with the firm  between 1948 and 1963 as head of production research, assistant to the manager of the geological division,  as a research associate responsible for exploratory research in geochemistry, and from 1956 to 1963 as head of geochemical research. He was particularly interested in the origins of petroleum, including how it is generated within the earth, and visited petroleum research centers in many countries.  He spent five weeks in the fall of 1962 in the Soviet Union and Hungary as a member of a U.S. delegation of petroleum geochemists.

In 1964 John joined the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution staff and served as Chair of the Department of Geology and Chemistry from 1964 to 1967 and as Chair of the Department of Chemistry from 1967 to 1974. As department chair, John led an expansion of the Chemistry Department that included diversifying and adding depth for chemical oceanography and marine geochemistry research at WHOI.

During his career at WHOI he made a number of cruises, serving as chief scientist on expeditions to the Red Sea in 1966 and Black Sea in 1969 on Atlantis II, returning to the Black Sea on the Glomar Challenger in 1975.  He was named a Senior Scientist in 1974 and retired in 1984, when he was named a Scientist Emeritus.

WHOI colleagues note: "John was wonderfully adept at synthesizing various aspects of organic geochemistry in sediments as it pertained to petroleum origin, migration, and accumulation in reservoirs. He was always attentive at scientific talks and would frequently be heard at coffee breaks approaching speakers with 'Say, may I have that slide on... for my collection?' John always gave full attribution and wove together these slides and ideas into an overview of geochemical and geological processes, often proposing compelling new insights."

A world leader in the field of petroleum geochemistry, a field he was instrumental in founding, John Hunt served as a mentor to many researchers.  He worked for many years with Jean Whelan and colleagues at WHOI, and when he retired Jean continued the lab where she and many others hav benefited greatly from John's uncanny ability to quickly pick out the most important aspects of any problem.  His most recent work focused on petroleum migration and led directly to Jean's current work investigating the importance of moving gas both in the ocean and in subsurface petroleum reservoirs.   

John Hunt was the recipient of numerous international honors. He was awarded the Karcher Medal in 1979, and was the first American to receive the Treibs Medal of the Geochemical Society in 1982. In 2002 he was awarded  the Gold Medal of Honor of the Albert Einstein from the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences.  He served on numerous national committees, including vice chair of the National Academy of Sciences Workshop on Inputs, Fates and Effects of Petroleum in the Marine Environment in 1973.

He was a member of numerous professional organizations, including the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, American Chemical Society, Geochemical Society, European Association of Organic Geochemists, American Geophysical Union, and Sigma Xi.  John was the author or co-author of more than 110 publications on petroleum geochemistry. He wrote the 1979 and 1996 reference textbooks,  Petroleum Geochemistry and Geology, which is considered a classic reference in the field and is still used in petroleum geology courses worldwide. He also held several patents, and lectured about the origin and migration of petroleum in numerous cities in 34 countries. 

Beyond his professional pursuits, John was interested in aviation history, particularly World War I fighter planes, and in cartoons and cartooning, keeping an extensive book collection on both of these subjects. He loved a challenge. At the age of 22 he rode a racing bicycle around Lake Erie with his best friend, a feat accomplished in 10 days. In middle age he took up distance running, and at the age of 62 he ran the New York City Marathon with his wife Phyllis.

He is survived by his wife, Phyllis Laking Hunt of Falmouth; a sister, Virginia Dietrich of Wooster, Ohio; two sons, Randall Keith Hunt and Lawrence Lee Hunt of Houston, Texas; and three grandchildren.

Visiting hours will be held Thursday, July 28, from 6 to 8 p.m at Chapman, Cole & Gleason Funeral Home, 475 Main Street, Falmouth.  A Funeral Service will be held Friday, July 29, at 11:00 a.m. at the funeral home, with burial to follow in Oak Grove Cemetery in Falmouth.

Memorial donations may be made to the Bob Hope Parkinson Research Center, 1501 NW 9th Avenue, Miami, FL 33136-1494.

Originally published: July 26, 2005