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Paul on a NAU alumni Grand Canyon river trip, August 2019.

Celebrating the life and career of Paul J. Umhoefer (1955-2021)

We are heartbroken by the news that Paul John Umhoefer (Ph.D.) passed away on November 24, 2021, in Flagstaff, AZ, at the age of 66. Paul is survived by his wife Barbara and dog Bucky (named after the mascot for the Wisconsin Badgers). Paul was born on July 22, 1955, in Stoughton, Wisconsin (in the driftless area) and remained a devoted Green Bay Packers fan his entire life.

Anyone who met Paul might know him for his passions of science, travel, sports, philanthropy, politics, and current events. But Paul is perhaps best known for his passionate and charismatic personality, and his superlative storytelling. The value of his professional contributions stretch far beyond basic scientific advances thanks to his enthusiasm and initiative to build strong and long-lasting collaborations that stitched together a broad, multi-disciplinary community of geologists and geophysicists. Paul was skilled at bringing people together to examine how Earth has torn itself apart. Paul taught us to think big, be creative, and believe in the value and importance of our work.

Paul was instrumental to the geologic community and advanced our understanding in the fields of tectonics, basin analysis, structural geology, and stratigraphy. Much of his work explored the interplay between tectonics and sedimentary basins, and the arrangement, behavior, and evolution of strike-slip and oblique fault systems in both extensional and contractional settings. Paul’s research illuminated the consequential role of lateral plate motions in tectonic and paleogeographic reconstructions. His impact in these fields was significant and international, including influential research in the Gulf of California, Anatolia, Cascadia, and the Basin and Range. His sharp and critical mind made us all better scientists, with any half-baked idea being met with Paul’s classic retort of, “Whooooooaa. I don’t know.”

Paul provided valuable service and leadership to the Cordilleran Section of the Geological Society of America (GSA), serving as our Chair from 2015-2016 and serving as General Chair of the Organizing Committee for the 2018 Cordilleran/Rocky Mountain Section joint meeting in his hometown of Flagstaff. Paul’s foresight helped arrange an outdoor poster session at this meeting, years before outdoor gatherings became cool or necessary.

Paul was also a community leader as a recent Chair of the GSA Structural Geology and Tectonic Division, a strong proponent for GSA Fellows, and a leader in the design, planning, and activities related to the National Science Foundation MARGINS and GeoPRISMS programs.

Paul’s decades-long legacy of service, science, and brilliance shines bright through the 36 graduate students he advised during his ~30 years as a professor, almost entirely at Northern Arizona University. More than a mentor and advisor, Paul maintained close relationships with his graduate students and their families long after they graduated. In fact, Paul presided as officiant for 6 weddings for current and former graduate students, one as recently as Summer 2021, and all of them wearing his infamous bolo tie. For the last decade, Paul passionately organized the NAU alumni community through annual weekend gatherings and biannual Grand Canyon river trips, where former NAU geology students were able to gather, build collaborations, and friendships.

Paul’s excellence in teaching and research is exemplified in his selection as a Distinguished Professor at Northern Arizona University and in his election to Fellowship with the Geological Society of America.

There will be forthcoming announcements about symposia at future GSA meetings, formal memorials, and other activities where we will further honor and celebrate the career and life of our good friend Pablo.

Condolences to all,

Scott Bennett (Vice-Chair, Cordilleran Section, Geological Society of America),
with contributions from Mike Darin, Lisa Thompson, Sue Beard, Ramon Arrowsmith, Jim Faulds, and Barb Ralston

Image caption: Paul on a NAU alumni Grand Canyon river trip, August 2019.