Norman H. Foster, the recently announced winner of AAPG's Sidney Powers Memorial Medal for 1999, died in Denver on New Years Day following a lengthy and courageous battle against cancer. He was 64.
His death ends the career of a former AAPG president who brought success and vision to not just AAPG, but to the oil industry and the science of petroleum geology.
Even in the final days of his life Foster continued to exemplify the qualities of optimism, enthusiasm, dedication and generosity of spirit that marked his career. Those figured most recently in the addition of the Sidney Powers Memorial Medal, AAPG's most prestigious award, to the long list of his achievements.
Foster's family is planning to be present in San Antonio to receive the Powers Medal - the first posthumous presentation of the award in AAPG history.
Foster, to the end, remained full of plans and ideas, motivation and anticipation, said one friend and colleague who spoke with him in late December.
"He was really looking forward to the annual meeting. He wanted so much to be there to accept the award," said Ted Beaumont, Tulsa consultant and a long-time collaborator with Foster on AAPG's 32-volume Treatise of Petroleum Geology project, as well as (with Dick Vincelette) the highly successful AAPG short course, "Creative Thinking in Petroleum Exploration."
Foster was notified of his selection as the 1999 Powers medalist in early October last year.
"The latest medical report on his illness at that time was not encouraging," Beaumont said, "but the announcement of the award really gave him a boost. He was confident that in April he'd be in San Antonio to accept the award. He told me wild horses couldn't keep him away.
"His optimism was genuine," Beaumont continued. "It was very typical of Norm to focus on the positive, both in his personal life and professionally."
Inspiration and Success
Foster's interest in earth science traces back, like so many others, to childhood rock collecting. He grew up in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York where his parents were members of an artists' colony.
A neighbor, William King Gregory, a well-known paleontologist and curator of fishes at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, took young Norman and a classmate on fossil collecting outings in the Devonian outcrops of the Catskills, and explained the geology of the Catskill delta.
Gregory's influence, reinforced by the Foster's keen interest in science - particularly astronomy and geology - planted seeds of interest that germinated and took root years later at the University of Iowa.
After taking a basic earth science course and lab, Foster was hooked. He quickly switched from his original major, drama, to geology. He received a bachelor's degree in 1957 and a master's degree in 1960, both from Iowa.
In 1963 he completed work on his Ph.D. in geology at the University of Kansas.
His geological career began in 1962, with Sinclair Oil Corp., in Casper, Wyo.
That "started my quest of exploring for oil and gas in the Rockies," Foster wrote in 1993.
Later, he transferred to Denver and was appointed exploration team leader for the Williston Basin. The group was so successful that Sinclair organized its entire Denver region into teams, a move that resulted in the discovery of a number of new fields in the Williston, Powder River and Wind River basins.
When Sinclair merged with Arco in 1969, Foster was offered a position by Tom Jordan on his newly formed Trend Exploration Ltd. team. This association brought expanded opportunities to work overseas and to participate in a number of important discoveries, including the giant Irian Jaya field in Indonesia.
Foster's identification of geomorphic anomalies related to compaction structures provided the key to locating seismic lines in jungle country to locate the oil-bearing Miocene reefs and resulted in "one of the most economically successful plays in Indonesia," according to Robert J. Weimer, past AAPG president and longtime colleague.
In 1979, Foster became an independent geologist and continued to prospect both in the United States and abroad. Increasingly, he devoted more time to the betterment of his science and profession through his involvement with AAPG and other professional groups.
He regarded these activities as "some of my most rewarding experiences in geology."
In 1993 he wrote, "Serving as president of AAPG was a big honor. It afforded me the opportunity to help lead and shape the present and future course of our science and profession.
"One of the most fulfilling aspects was meeting and becoming friends with many outstanding people from all over the United States and throughout the world people I would never have known otherwise.
We all stand upon the works of those who have gone before, and we rely upon our colleagues," he wrote. "I have always desired to contribute something of value to my peers and to those future generations to come. I believe that those who search for and find petroleum and other natural resources are in a noble and valuable profession. The wealth they create with their discoveries is very valuable to society as a whole.
"I love the thrill of discovery and the deep satisfaction of knowing that I am contributing to the wealth of this and other nations for the benefit of all mankind."
A Career of Distinction
Foster, in addition to being named the Powers medalist, received formal peer recognition many times during his career.
Within AAPG, he was the recipient of the Levorsen Award (1980), two Certificate of Merit awards (1987 and 1992), the Distinguished Service Award (1985), a Special Award for his work on the Treatise (1991) and Honorary Membership in 1993.
His record of service to the Association is outstanding. As a national officer, he was president of AAPG for 1988-89, president-elect for 1987-88 and treasurer for 1982-84.
He was elected to the House of Delegates for two terms; served as a Distinguished Lecturer, AAPG's representative to the International Union of Geological Sciences; member and chairman of the AAPG Advisory Council; technical program chairman for the 1972 annual meeting; symposia organizer and speaker; and chairman and member of numerous committees.
He was a member of the AAPG Foundation Corp. and an AAPG Trustee Associate since 1979.
From the Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists, Foster received the A.I. Levorsen Award, the Explorer of the Year Award in 1980, Honorary Membership and the Distinguished Service Award. Over the years he held every executive committee office, chaired and served on many committees and presented numerous talks and papers.
His professional activities extended to many professional and academic organizations, including GSA, SEG, SPE, SIPES, SEPM, the National Academy of Sciences and others.
He was honored by University of Iowa, where he earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in geology, as a recipient of its "Geology Distinguished Alumnus Award."
The University of Kansas, which conferred his doctorate in geology in 1963, also recognized his efforts on behalf of the university with the Haworth Distinguished Alumnus Award.
Clearly, Norm Foster made good use of the years allotted to him. No more apt description of his career could be made than the citation which will accompany the presentation of his Sidney Powers medal:
"To Norman H. Foster, enthusiastic leader and untiring advocate of our noble and valuable profession,' successful finder of energy and mineral resources, whose creative thinking and dedicated service have had a positive impact worldwide on the science of petroleum geology and on those who practice it."
Foster's daughter, Kimberly Gameau, said her father "was thrilled and deeply honored to become a Sidney Powers medalist.
"Over the years, he'd spoken with great admiration and respect for others who have received the award," she said, "so I know it meant a lot to him."
She said he "never wavered from his intent to be in San Antonio for his award. "To the very last moments of his life," she said, "he remained optimistic."
He also remained passionate about life, his family and his work. In a memorial service eulogy, Foster's son-in-law, Ben Gameau, described him as "a man of many passions, many interests and many talents."
"One of his great passions was golf," he said, telling how he began caddying as a boy, eventually becoming caddie master at the Woodstock Country Club in 1950 while he was in high school. He won the club's championship in 1953 and continued to enjoy playing golf throughout his life.
"He said the sport of golf, he thought, was the sport that was truest to life. Golf courses are filled with sand bunkers and water hazards. You have to battle the elements on bad days, and yet on the good days, you get to enjoy the beautiful outdoors, the sounds of the birds and the beautiful roll of the fairways and greens."
Foster played his last 18 holes in 1997 at the Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists annual tournament. His foursome won the tournament - "a satisfying finish to a lifetime filled with great golf," Gameau said.
Gameau also remarked on Foster's passion for his profession.
"Throughout his career, he accomplished so much. He published over 90 books, abstracts and papers and received many awards.
"I think Norm's passion and interest in the exploration for oil and gas went beyond a love of work," he continued. "As his friend Keith Murray, so accurately put it, his work truly became a way of life."
Gameau also told of Foster's love for his family, referring to the story of how he and Janet, his wife of 42 years, first met on a blind date at the University of Iowa, and how at first glance he felt she could be the one for him.
Both Kim and Stephen, Foster's children, regarded Norm as "a tremendous father ... their anchor, their foundation, their best friend."
Friendship and friendliness were characteristic of Foster's personality. They were special talents that fueled his ability to organize people and get things done.
"Norm was the epitome of what a professional petroleum geologist should be," Beaumont said.
"He shared his ideas through verbal exchange with other geologists, in formal talks and through publications. He led field trips, worked on committees and held office in his professional organizations.
"But even beyond that, he was one of the kindest and most supportive individuals I've ever met. He was also encouraging to his colleagues; took time to listen and to really care about what others thought.
"I think what it boils down to is integrity."