Doris Malkin Curtis Medal
In 2007 the Gulf Coast Section SEPM established a new award, the Doris Malkin Curtis Medal, which recognizes geologists for their career contributions in the development of new concepts for understanding the geology of the Gulf of Mexico Basin and other basins globally. The award is named in honor of Doris Malkin Curtis, one of the pioneers in studying the paleontology and stratigraphy of Gulf Coast Geology. Dr. Curtis worked in the Gulf Basin for more than 50 years, and served the geologic profession in many ways.
Doris was born and reared in Brooklyn, New York, studied for her bachelor’s degree at Brooklyn College, and completed her doctorate at Columbia. Her dissertation involved the biostratigraphy of the Miocene of the Atlantic Coastal Plain. As a graduate student she worked at the American Museum of Natural History on the Catalogue of Foraminifera. In 1939, she moved to Houston to seek employment in the petroleum industry. After working a few years with several small companies, Doris was hired by Shell Oil in 1941. Her initial assignment was as a paleontologist. Subsequently, she worked as a stratigrapher and as a geologist. From the beginning of her career, she was active with the Houston Geological Society by chairing committees and authoring technical papers on Gulf Coast stratigraphy. As exploration interests shifted, she was relocated to exploration offices in Baltimore and Tallahassee.
In 1950, the first phase of her Shell career ended when she married a Shell geologist. Not wanting to put aside her talents as an earth scientist, she joined the faculty of the University of Houston as an assistant professor and taught there for two years. It was about this time the now famous American Petroleum Institute Project 51 was gaining momentum and Doris, sensing the importance and scope of its program, immediately recognized a research challenge in which she wished to participate. She joined Scripps Institute of Oceanography as an associate research geologist and completed a detailed study of the biofacies of ostrocod assemblages in relation to the various environments of deposition of the northwest Gulf of Mexico.
Doris resumed her teaching career in 1954 by joining the faculty at the University of Oklahoma. After five years as an assistant and associate professor of geology specializing in sedimentology, she returned to Shell Oil in 1958 and was assigned to the Special Studies Group in the Baton Rouge office of the South Louisiana Exploration Division, which relocated to New Orleans in 1960. It was in this assignment that she initiated regional studies of time-synchronous deltas in the petroleum-rich Miocene of Coastal Louisiana. In 1970, a synthesis of this important work was published in SEPM Special Publication No. 15, Deltaic Sedimentation: Modern and Ancient.
In 1975, Shell Oil transferred Doris back to Houston, her original petroleum turf, to work in their International Ventures Group, and later, took a research assignment at Shell Development Company, from which she retired in 1979. After retiring, she formed a consulting firm with Dorothy Jung Echols, her friend and colleague for more than fifty years.
During her long career, she authored more than thirty papers on paleoecology, biostratigraphy, ostracods, transgressive and regressive sedimentation, deltaic sedimentation, and on source and migration of hydrocarbons in the Cenozoic of the Gulf of Mexico Basin.
Doris took a very active part in all professional organizations of which she was a member and always tried to better public understanding of the petroleum industry. While working in New Orleans, she became active in the League of Women Voters and became president of the organization. Through her leadership as a member of the Environmental Quality Committee of this organization, she presented facts about the industry’s role in conservation and its contribution to pollution control. Because of her achievements with this committee, and especially being a recognized authority in the petroleum professional community, she was selected in 1967 as one of four delegates of the United States to participate in an exchange visit to the USSR. On this tour, she had an opportunity to see the petroleum provinces in the Baku area on the Caspian Sea and other areas in European Russia.
Limitations of space preclude a complete list of Doris’ many achievements in her service to scientific and professional organizations. To have known her was to experience her sincere dedication and interest in all facets of geology. Her professionalism manifested itself in volunteering and accepting assignments of increasing importance in many of the organizations of which she was a member. In addition to being president of the Geological Society of America, 1990-1991, Doris served as president of SEPM Society for Sedimentary Geology, 1978-1979, and president of the American Geological Institute, 1980-1981. She was a fellow of the Geological Society of America and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and served as chair of the National Academy of Sciences’ U.S. National Committee on Geology, as well as serving as a member of other NAS committees from 1979 to 1990. She was an honorary member of SEPM Society for Sedimentary Geology and the GCSSEPM. Doris was listed in American Men and Women of Science and Who’s Who in America. Two achievements of which she was especially proud were her selection to participate as a shipboard sedimentologist on two legs of the Deep Sea Drilling Project in 1978-1979 and in 1983, an experience described by her as being “as fascinating as a trip to the moon.”
Doris was a coveted guest lecturer and had given numerous invited talks on various geologic topics. In March 1991, while President of GSA, she was a guest speaker on women’s issues at Indiana University in conjunction with Women’s History Month. It was on this trip that she had the first indications that she was not well. She cancelled the remainder of her speaking tour and returned home to Houston. On March 12, she was diagnosed as having acute leukemia. Fortified with frequent blood transfusions, Doris made several more trips as GSA President. However, on April 4, she was admitted to M.D. Anderson Hospital. After a little more than two months of intensive treatments, she expired on May 26, 1991.
To have known and worked with Doris for many years was a special privilege. Her positive outlook and “can-do” attitude towards life and her science never allowed for pessimism or gloom. With her charismatic personality and cosmopolitan experience, it is not at all surprising that she achieved so much and was so genuinely appreciated by all.
Edward B. Picou, Jr.