In Memoriam: John Hayes


The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announces with great sorrow the death of retiree John Hayes at his home in Berkeley, California, on February 3, 2017, of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Hayes was a geochemist, receiving a B.S. from Iowa State University in 1962 and a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1966. He was a professor at Indiana University for 26 years, then in 1996 became director of the National Ocean Sciences Accelerator Mass Spectrometry facility at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) until 2006, and also served as a professor at Harvard University.

“John Hayes was truly a scientist’s scientist, an incredible scholar who took joy in studying the natural world,” said Bill Jenkins, emeritus research scholar at WHOI. “He had a uniquely deep understanding of geochemistry. John was a role model and mentor to a generation of organic biogeochemists and a warm, caring human being who was a delight to know.”

Born September 6, 1940, in Seattle, Washington, John Hayes grew up in Montana and Iowa, attending 13 schools before graduating from high school in Perry, Iowa, as his family moved regularly for his father’s job with the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. In 1962, he married Janice Maria (Boeke) Hayes of Hubbard, Iowa, whom he met at Iowa State University. They celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary before her death in 2013.

As a scientist, Hayes’s work on organic isotopes and reconstruction of ancient conditions provided evidence of the development of the carbon cycle over geologic time, the timing of evolutionary events such as the development of photosynthesis, and the development of the global environment. He performed field work around the globe, including on the R/V Atlantis and in the submersible Alvin, and in Western Australia, South Africa, and the Canadian Arctic.

"John was generous, kind, and honorable, and had a slew of accolades and honors," said Chris Reddy, a marine chemist at WHOI. “What I will miss the most were his mannerisms when pondering a science question: Sitting back in his chair with a raised eyebrow and arm resting behind his head, he would pepper you with questions. And then silence. Finally, with his radio-quality voice, he would elegantly describe the science, guide you on how to solve your problems, and provide suggestions for future research. And then he would encourage you, fueled with excitement, to continue. Meeting with, and more often calling, John was my scientific elixir."

Hayes was a member of the American Geophysical Union, the American Society for Mass Spectrometry, and the European Association of Organic Geochemists. He authored two textbooks, four book chapters, and nearly 200 papers, and mentored students and assisted colleagues in countless ways. Hayes was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1998, and a Foreign Member of the Royal Society in 2016. Hayes served as a Captain in the United States Army from 1967-1968, detailed to the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.

John and Janice Hayes were enthusiastic travelers throughout their lives, always willing to detour for, or plan a trip around, good restaurants and fine wine. He was an experienced photographer, a flutist and lover of classical music, and a baker who made six loaves of bread nearly every weekend while his children were growing up. In Berkeley, he was a member of the Epworth United Methodist Church and the Berkeley Camera Club. He had an unpretentious approach to life in and out of the laboratory; “Look for the good in people” was his bedrock philosophy. As he rejoins the carbon cycle, he would like to remind us all to take action to combat global climate change.

Hayes is survived by his children James T. Hayes of Honolulu, Hawaii, Anne Hayes Hartman of Oakland, California, and Rachel M. Hayes of Nashville, Tennessee, and by his grandchildren Diego Enriquez, Johanna Hartman, Sarah Hartman, and Rylan Hayes. His children and grandchildren were all with him on the day he died.


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(Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)