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Reds Wolman, Johns Hopkins geography prof, dies at 85

Emma Brown

M. Gordon Wolman, a professor of geography at Johns Hopkins University for more than 50 years, died Feb. 24 at his Baltimore home. He was 85.

Known by everyone as "Reds" for his bright shock of hair (which eventually became gray), Dr. Wolman was reportedly as beloved by his students as he was famous for his scientific contributions -- and that's saying a lot.

As a U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist during the 1950s, he and his colleague Luna Leopold published pioneering studies on how and why rivers change -- studies that are now the foundation for modern water-resources management and river restoration and engineering.

The pair wrote, with John Miller, the 1964 textbook "Fluvial Processes in Geomorphology," considered a seminal work. When I asked geomorphologist David Montgomery, a professor at the University of Washington, whether anyone still uses the book today, he chuckled and said he keeps three copies on his shelf.

"He was one of these iconic figures that helped transform a discipline," Montgomery said. "And then you meet him, and he's nice to you! ... Science is full of people who are full of themselves. Reds wasn't one of those guys. He was genuinely excited and curious about the way the world worked."

Dr. Wolman was also a fan of bowties and dairy cows. Check out his full obituary, Johns Hopkins' memorial page and a fabulous video explaining his work with Leopold.

By Emma Brown  |  March 1, 2010; 6:31 PM ET
Categories:  Emma Brown , Science  
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a great line in today's obit of Helen Roumel:

In January 1961, dressed as a Greek goddess, Mrs. Roumel rode in a float during President John F. Kennedy's inaugural parade.

Those are the kinds of personal insights that make reading your obituaries such a delight!

Posted by: zhurnaly | March 2, 2010 8:14 PM | Report abuse

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