A death in the family: Sarah (Andrews) Brown
Sarah (Andrews) Brown, petroleum geologist and author of the Em Hansen mystery series, passed away in a private plane crash along with her husband, Damon, and their son Duncan on 24 July 2019. Sarah’s murder mystery, ‘Fault Line’, was loosely based on Lee Allison’s (former Arizona State Geologist, deceased Aug. 2016) experiences as Utah State Geologist in Salt Lake City leading up to the 2002 Olympics. Through her friendship with Lee, Sarah became a friend of the Association of American State Geologists (AASG) and the AZGS and would occasionally visit and regale geologists with stories of murder and mayhem (involving geology, of course).
Sarah was an incredible person who led a very full life. The following obituary was shared with AASG members.
Sarah (Andrews) Brown, her husband, Damon, and their 25-year-old son, Duncan, tragically died on July 24, 2019, when their private plane crashed in Nebraska, on their way to their California home from an air show in Wisconsin. She was the award-winning author, pilot, artist, teacher, and professional geologist who brought the excitement of geology to the public through her mystery stories. She adeptly engaged geoscientist friends in her research, often rewarding them with veiled appearances in her books, sometimes with unfortunate outcomes. In her dozen books, geologists, paleontologists, biologists, accountants, and graduate students, among others, were murdered. Her chief alter ego, petroleum geologist turned forensic geologist, Em Hansen, demonstrated that geological principles can be used not only to solve murders and scientific problems but also to address social concerns. She painted positive pictures of petroleum, mining, environmental, engineering, and research geologists in industry, the USGS, state geological surveys, and academia. Fascination with the Grand Canyon and dedication to her USGS mentor, Eddie McKee, Chief Naturalist at Grand Canyon National Park from 1929 to 1940, allowed Em Hansen to deftly tackle creationism while rafting down the canyon (in the book Rock Bottom).
Sarah’s career gave her the background and contacts for research on her books. She earned her B.A. degree in geology at Colorado College. Her first geological job was with the U.S. Geological Survey, where she made contacts that later provided ideas for some of her books (including her yet-to-be-published biography of McKee). After earning her M.S. in Earth resources at Colorado State University, she became a petroleum geologist for Amoco and ANGUS Petroleum, which provided plots for Tensleep, A Fall in Denver, and Only Flesh and Bones.
Professional contacts also gave Sarah a long-lasting friendship with Lee Allison (later State Geologist of Utah, Kansas, and Arizona), who in 2016 also tragically passed away, and through whom other friendships developed with State Geologists and employees of the state geological surveys of Utah (Bone Hunter—with intrigue about collecting vertebrate fossils for sale; Fault Line—with questions about revealing information on hazards to the public), Nevada (An Eye for Gold—touching on fraud and endangered species), Pennsylvania (Earth Colors—using elements in pigments as poisons), Florida (Killer Dust—effects of African dust), and Colorado (Dead Dry—drought and water resources). A downturn in the petroleum industry gave Sarah the opportunity to leave the oil patch for the environmental consulting business in California (background for her book Mother Nature) and lecturing at Sonoma State University.
Sarah’s engaging personality also urged academics and law-enforcement professionals to jump at the chance of helping her gather information for her books. Reading the acknowledgments in her books is a good way of discovering a network of helpful friends and colleagues. Sarah also acquired background for her books from her youth on the East Coast. She inherited some of her artistic talents from her grandmother and father, who were recognized oil painters. Her mother, an English and religion teacher, gave her confidence to tackle writing and topics for which geology and religion occasionally collide.
The National Science Foundation awarded Sarah an Artists and Writers Grant to conduct research at McMurdo Station and field stations in Antarctica for her book In Cold Pursuit, in which the protagonist is a female graduate student who proves that her professor isn’t guilty of murdering a journalist.
Sarah was frequently invited to lecture on a wide range of topics, including geology, mystery writing, communicating science to the public, women in geology, how geologists think, the controversy between science and religion, and the life of Eddie McKee. A Fellow of the Geological Society of America, Sarah received several significant awards: the 2016 President’s Medal of the Geological Society of America, the 2009 Louis T. Benezet Award from Colorado College, the 2006 Antarctic Service Medal, the 2003 Special Award of the Association of Engineering Geologists, the 2001 James T. Shea Award of the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the 1999 Journalism Award of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, and the 1997 Journalism Award of the Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists.