Biography — Archibald Gordon MacGregor

Archibald Gordon MacGregor

Johnstone, G S ARCHIBALD GORDON MacGREGOR MC, CG (Belge), DSc, FRSE (1894-1986). Proceedings of the Edinburgh Geological Society, 153rd Session 1986–1987. No. 17, December 1987. (Reproduced here with kind permission of the Edinburgh Geological Society.)

Archie MacGregor, who died at his home in Edinburgh on 19th December 1986 at the age of 92 was one of our most distinguished Fellows. He was President of this Society from 1942–44, and received the Clough Medal in 1968. He was formerly Assistant Director of the Geological Survey of Great Britain in charge of the Scottish and Newcastle area offices and, although his writings on petrological science extended to areas beyond the UK, it will be by his major contributions to Scottish geology that most people here will remember him.

He was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the son of James MacGregor FRS who moved the family to Edinburgh when he became Professor of Natural History. At least during the time when the writer knew him Archie took great delight in pointing out that, as he had retained his Canadian passport, he was not really in any way responsible for the ills which affected the UK! Be that as it may, he was educated at Edinburgh Academy and Edinburgh University, his higher studies being interrupted by his service in the Royal Engineers (Signals) from 1915–19 during which he was awarded the Military Cross and the Croix de Guerre (Belge) — valiant service indeed. He returned to the University and graduated in Pure Science, with special distinction in Geology in 1921.

He joined the Geological Survey in that year and served during a time which many of us may consider was the golden era of Scottish geology, in company with such legendary heroes as J E Ritchie, E B Bailey, H H Read and W Q Kennedy. Archie was in no way a lesser scientist, although he was perhaps less in the popular eye. He made a reputation in petrological science with his studies of Carboniferous and Permian igneous rocks, notably in the Midland Valley and especially in north Ayrshire. His review paper on 'Problems of Carboniferous-Permian volcanicity in Scotland' published by the Geological Society in 1948 is still considered a standard work. He was invited to join the Royal Society Expedition to Montserrat in 1936 and subsequently published internationally respected major contributions to the Societies reports. In that year also he became a member of the International Association of Volcanology, serving as Vice President from 1948–53. He was awarded a D.Sc. from Edinburgh University in 1938 and was author or co-author of more than 80 publications, including papers, memoirs, and reports covering a wide field of geological endeavour and including many on mineral resources. He received the Murchison Fund (1940), the Murchison Medal (1960) and received the Coronation Medal in 1953. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and Member or Fellow of the Geological Societies of London and Glasgow, the Geologists Association and the Mineralogical Society.

Archie was a man of rigid scientific integrity and was meticulous in both his mapping and recording. He had a tendency to discourage what he considered to be writings based on insufficient evidence, striving for the definitive statement based on incontrovertible fact. This striving for scientific perfection could be rather intimidating to junior officers, to several of whom he appeared rather remote and inflexible. In fact he enjoyed being faced with reasoned argument and had a tremendous sense of pawky humour. Once one had 'made the grade' with him he was a marvellous field companion, deeply interested in what he was being shown in the field and delighting in carrying on an argument in situ, even when high up on a rain-soaked, misty Scottish hillside.
Even in such inclement circumstances, his sense of the ridiculous could show through. Two incidents come to mind.

On one occasion he, the writer and two other companions got adrift on a steep, forest-clad, craggy hill, high in the rain and mist, as we had payed more attention to the geology than to the topography. At first we searched for an escape route as a party, but to no avail. Then we acted as individual scouts sent radially, with signals in Morse code from the whistle of a centrally placed Archie (shades of 1915!). That also failing, he surrendered control of the situation to his more active juniors. He sat down in the pouring rain on a tree stump, pulled his sou'wester down over his ears, filled his pipe, reversing it bowl down and glinted through his glasses. "You got me into this - you damn well get me out!" Obviously we did eventually, but the story became legend. The writer, about the same time had a distressing tendency to fall into rivers when in his company. This characteristic was being dryly described by Archie to another companion in a rather fraught situation, "About now, Johnstone will fall into the burn". I promptly obliged and, surfacing from the depths of a 10-ft deep pothole, was in time to hear his remark, "You see what I mean!" The apparent lack of sympathy was belied by a broad grin and the award of a share of his thermos flask - "to warm you up". There was, however, no suggestion that our geological investigations should be interrupted!

Even after retiral Archie MacGregor kept up a keen interest in geology and the Geological Survey. He read its publications extensively, and as they came out would phone to discuss the rights and wrongs of theory and speculation (or indeed to criticise what he considered to be abandonment of principle for rapidity of publication). Even in his late 80s he treated the writer to some incisive discussion and questioning, which showed how interested he was.

Archie owed much in his later years to the support of his wife Kathleen, whom he married in 1940. She survives him, as does one of their two daughters.