In memoriam: John R. Glew (1942 -2019)

Updated: Nov 11, 2019

John P. Smol (Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Lab (PEARL), Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario)

Reference: Smol, J.P., 2019, In memoriam: John Robert Glew (1942-2019), Journal of Paleolimnology, 62, 315-318.

It is with profound sadness that I report the passing of John R. Glew on Feb 19, 2019 – he died very suddenly, but peacefully, in his sleep.  He was 76 years old.

I met John when I was in my 20s, within a few days of receiving my professorship, when I happened to be in the Geography Department at Queen’s University. John had remarkable skills in both science and instrument development, having been a tool and die maker in Sheffield before he immigrated to Canada in 1968.  Following work at Sperry Gyroscope Corporation in Ottawa, a company manufacturing precision electronic equipment for the naval and aircraft industries, John enrolled in a Bachelor of Science program in Geography at Trent University as a mature student, graduated, then received a Bachelor of Education from Queen’s University. He then taught for a few years in Northern Ontario before enrolling as a MSc student at McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario) and received his degree in physical geography. He then returned (now in his 40s) to Queen’s University (Kingston, Ontario) as a PhD student in Geography, but his career path changed direction and he began working with me and colleagues at the young PEARL lab, designing and building specialized equipment and making remarkable drawings.

John is best known for his various Glew sediment corers and extruders (first designed for our early acid rain work, where we required high-resolution records of lake ecosystem changes). These instruments included the original Glew (1989) gravity corer and Glew (1988) extruder, and then the mini-Glew corer (Glew 1991), which proved invaluable for our High Arctic work, coring through a single ice auger hole, and largely replaced small sediment corers that were unreliable. He later modified his designs with adaptations for deep-water (Glew 1995) and then shallow-water (Glew and Smol 2016) coring. His innovations also included modifying piston corers, including pistons with pressure-release valves.  John’s creativity and technical skills, coupled with his understanding of the physics and mechanical details of sediment coring and extrusion, were key to the success of his many designs. His co-authored summaries of the overall protocols and challenges of sediment coring (e.g. Cumming et al. 1993, Glew et al. 2001) remain valuable sources for newcomers and seasoned paleolimnologists alike.

John’s paleolimnological equipment is in use on all 7 continents. Not surprisingly, he was an inaugural winner of the International Paleolimnology Association Service Award, which was presented in Glasgow in 2012 for “dedicated work in developing and improving new corers and samplers used by paleolimnologists worldwide”.

John’s remarkable mechanical skills were indispensable in the field – for many of my High Arctic field seasons he was my right hand (and often my left hand as well).  He could fix almost anything, from field gear to small motors to electrical equipment, to infrastructure torn apart by polar bears!

In addition to his technical and creative skills, John was an accomplished artist, working mainly in watercolours. John’s artistic talent combined with his geological knowledge provided him with a unique skill set that brought to life complex landscape processes that he beautifully illustrated. John illustrated all of my books, such as the 2 volumes of the chrysophyte cyst atlas (Duff et al. 1995, Wilkinson et al. 2001) as well as my paleolimnology textbook (Smol 2008), amongst other volumes. 

John officially retired a few years ago, but continued on as a part-time employee with me at PEARL.  We saw him almost every day.  I had coffee with John the afternoon before he died, and he was argumentative and entertaining as usual.  He was my closest friend and sharpest critic for 35 years. He will be sorely missed.

John is survived by his brother (Peter Marshall-Glew) of Victoria (British Columbia) and his family, as well as thousands of friends.

Josh Thienpont blended the recording of our tributes with the slides we had to make the following video of the event.

Cumming, B.F., Glew, J.R., Smol, J.P., Davis, R., and Norton, S.  1993.  A comment on "Core compression and surficial sediment loss of lake sediments of high porosity caused by gravity coring". Limnology and Oceanography 38: 695-699.

Duff, K., Zeeb, B. and Smol, J.P. 1995.  Atlas of Chrysophycean Cysts. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht. 189 pp.

Glew, J.R. 1988. A portable extruding device for close interval sectioning of unconsolidated core samples. J. Paleolimnology 1: 235-239.

Glew, J.R. 1989. A new trigger mechanism for sediment samplers. J. Paleolimnology 2: 241-243.

Glew, J.R.  1991. Miniature gravity corer for recovering short sediment cores.  J. Paleolimnology 5: 285-287.

Glew, J.R.  1995.  Conversion of shallow water gravity coring equipment for deep water systems.  J. Paleolimnology 14: 83-88.

Glew, J.R. and Smol, J.P. 2016. A push corer developed for retrieving high-resolution sediment cores from shallow waters. J. Paleolimnology 56: 67-71.

Glew, J.R., Smol, J.P. and Last, W.M. 2001. Sediment core collection and extrusion. Pages 73-105. In: Last, W.M. and Smol, J.P. [Editors]. Tracking Environmental Change Using Lake Sediments. Volume 1: Basin Analysis, Coring, and Chronological Techniques. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht.

Smol, J.P. 2008.  Pollution of Lakes and Rivers:  A Paleoenvironmental Perspective. 2nd edition.  Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.  383 pp.

Wilkinson, A.N., Zeeb, B. and Smol, J.P. 2001.  Atlas of Chrysophycean Cysts, Volume II. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht. 180 pp.

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