Geology professor passes away at 66

Geology professor and deputy director of the University Honors Program, George Stephens, passed away earlier this week. He was 66.

Stephens, who died on Monday had been hospitalized in October, said Maria Frawley, director of the University Honors Program. Professor Marie Price said he died of a stroke.

Stephens had a long history with the University. He had been a professor of geology since 1978. He also received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geology from GW in 1967 and 1969, respectively.

Stephens was known for his passion for geology and sharing it with his students, Frawley said.

“He was an extraordinarily devoted professor. One day he was telling me about a class he taught that had gone well, and he said he was so happy, he wanted to skip back to his office. Even as a senior professor, he still felt that much excitement when a class went well,” she said.

Professor Larry Medsker taught Stephens’ class while Stephens was in the hospital, and professor Oscar Zimerman will take over Stephens’ class starting next week.

Kathleen O’Siadhail, Stephens’ friend of 21 years and former geology student, called Stephens “one of the warmest and kindest people you’ll ever meet,” adding that he was one of the best teachers she had at GW.

“Every student who had him loved him,” she said.

O’Siadhail, who took structural geology, physical geology, field methods, and geophysics with Stephens, said he described himself as “infinitely flexible” and he never imposed due dates. She said students were often frantically finishing assignments outside his office on the last day of the semester.

Stephens had an impact on students who only knew him for two months in their honors course on Scientific Reasoning and Discovery.

Freshman Alnawaz Devani said in an e-mail, “I sincerely miss his humor, curiosity, and teaching style. I can always imagine him smiling whenever I enter the classroom or hear anything about nature.”

Colleagues said Stephens was very devoted to teaching and his family, which freshman Abby Bergren recognized as well.

“He was passionate about three things: his family, his students, and rocks,” Bergren said in an e-mail.

Stephens was known for giving extra time to his students and taking them on field trips to local geological sites outside of class.

“He led the annual honors hike into the Appalachian Trail of Maryland, where he seemed to be in better shape than I am. He led us on a roughly five-mile walk, all the while talking about the formation of the Appalachians several million years ago. It is such a shock that he has passed on, and our class is still reeling from his sudden departure,” freshman Brian Dittmeier said in an e-mail.

Stephens continued to teach geology courses, though he was a part of the geography department, because the geology department was dissolved in the 2004-2005 academic year.

The flags in front of Rice Hall will be lowered on Thursday, and a wreath will be placed at Professors’ Gate in Professor Stephens’ memory. He is survived by his wife Suzanne and two children, Sarah and Christopher.

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