Gerald Cooray

Recipients of Honorary Awards

Gerald Cooray

Award presented in Calgary, 2003

Introduction by Alan Morgan

At each meeting of the General Assembly the International Geoscience Education Organisation honours Earth Scientists and Educators who have made a significant contribution to the field of Geoscience Education. At this, the 4th meeting of IGEO, I am delighted to announce the names of two Earth Scientists who will be added to the distinguished group of educators that have been recognised in the two previous GEOSCIED meetings in Hilo, Hawaii and in Sydney, Australia.

Percival Gerald Cooray
This afternoon it gives me great pleasure, mixed with a sense of profound loss, in recognising Percival Gerald Cooray, of Sri Lanka, as the recipient of a 2003 award. Gerry, as he was known to his many friends, is not with us today at least not in a physical sense, although I am sure he is with us in spirit. Unfortunately he died early this year, quite unexpectedly, on January 4th in his 82nd year.

A Lankan colleague writing his obituary noted that “Professor Cooray was a born geologist and died a geologist”. Perhaps this is the best epitaph that anyone in this audience could have, but some explanation is required to explain his background and stature. This exposé might additionally serve to explain why there was a very real sense of loss on his passing, particularly in southern Asia, but also in many other parts of the world.


Peter Cooray opening the Second Southeast Asian Geological Congress at the Galadari Hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in January 1995.

Gerry Cooray was born in Kuala Lumpur in 1920. His degrees were obtained from The University of London (1942) in Geography followed by a First Class Honours degree in Geology, also at London a decade later. In 1960 he completed his London “hat trick” with a Ph.D in Geology, and at the same time received a geology diploma from Imperial College. Whilst working on these degrees he was employed at the University of Ceylon and as a geologist with the Geological Survey Department, Sri Lanka.

In 1967 Gerry moved to the University of Ife, IfeIfe, Nigeria, as senior lecturer, then in 1974 to 1976 as Dean of the School of Mines, University of Zambia, Lusaka. From Lusaka he moved to become Principal geological editor, Directorate General of Mineral Resources, Saudi Arabia as well as Professor of Geology, King Abdul-aziz University, at Jeddah. He returned to Lusaka as Professor of Geology and Head, Department of Geology, University of Zambia, before returning again to Sri Lanka in 1988.

After his return to Sri Lanka, Gerry and several other geologists pushed for Geology, or Earth Science, to be introduced into our schools from an early age. However, they discovered that elements of Earth Science already existed in the two main “Ordinary Level” courses, but that they were being taught by persons who had little or no knowledge of the subject (Sounds familiar)!. In his capacity as Chairman of COGEOED, he conducted a two-day workshop on Earth Science for schools, an activity that has now been taken over by the Geological Society of Sri Lanka, who hold several annual workshops for teachers in various provinces. Gerry lived long enough to see the subject “Rocks and Minerals” introduced in Year I0, and he was delighted that his efforts in this area ultimately bore fruit.

In Sri Lanka he held positions at Peradenya University, as Senior Research Associate, Institute of Fundamental Studies. Gerry concluded his formal working career as a visiting lecturer, in the Department of Geology at Peradenya, but remained active after his retirement. His obituary noted that he was “… gleefully working away on a geology book until the very day that his death occurred.”

This recognition by IGEO is, perhaps, the last of a series of distinguished awards. Professor Cooray was a founding member of the Ceylon Association for the Advancement of Science (1945); a Fellow of the Geological Society of London; foreign member of the Geological Society of Finland; honorary life member of the Geological Society of Sri Lanka, for which he served as President in 1993. He was also an Honorary life member of the Geological society of Zambia, and elected Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences in Sri Lanka in 1990. In 1995, the Geological Society of America bestowed upon him the highly prestigious title of Honorary Fellow of the society, joining him with notables such as Kingsley Dunham, John Allen, Harry Whittington, Bill Fyfe, Ken Hsü and Neil Armstrong.

In the international sphere, Professor Cooray was heavily involved in a variety of geoscientific activities. With his colleagues from the SAARC region, Japan, U.K., African continent, Germany, Australia, Canada and the U.S., he contributed immensely to the dissemination of geoscientific knowledge in the less developed countries.

One of his most notable achievements was to get the geoscientists of Pakistan to hold the first South Asian Geological Congress (GEOSAS) in 1991. This resulted in his being given a title “The Godfather of GEOSAS”, and his real moment of glory was in 1995 when he spearheaded the organization of the highly successful GEOSAS II held at the Galadari Hotel, Colombo.

His interaction with IGEO commenced at the first conference in Southampton in 1993 where Gerry gave the closing keynote address. He will perhaps be best remembered for his workshops in writing and communication. Dr. Cooray conducted over 40 workshops in geoscientific, scientific, and geotechnical writing in Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Zambia, in which almost 1,500 scientists participated. Gerry was the author of Association of Geoscientists for International Development “best seller” Geoscientific Writing and Editing. He was a Life member of AGID for which he served as a member of Council (198084) and as President (198488). Soon after, he was invited to be the Chairman of the IUGS Committee on Geoscience Education and Training (COGEOED) of UNESCO.

Perhaps one of his last accomplishments was to push for, and see established, a Faculty of Ocean Sciences and Fisheries at Ruhuna University.

At the time of his death Gerry was co-editing a book, “The Geology and Mineral Resources of Sri Lanka” to coincide with the centenary of the founding of the Geological Survey of Sri Lanka in 2003. This book will be one of his many epitaphs. And so, for these and many other reasons, we are pleased to honour Professor P.G. Cooray at this, the 4th meeting of GEOSCIED.

Alan V. Morgan (read by the Chair of IGEO, Ian Clark)

One of Peter’s last accomplishments was to see the opening of the Faculty of Ocean Sciences and Fisheries at Ruhuna University, Sri Lanka.