A Celebration of Paul Schenk's Life February 29, 1937 ‑ April 10 2000

written by Barrie Clarke for the dedication of the Killiam Plaza Tribute Plaque.

I could not have spoken three days ago because I was too upset, but this gathering is a celebration of Paul's life, and that makes it much easier because there is so much to celebrate.

First, and foremost, for us in the Earth Sciences Department, Paul Schenk was the consummate academic scientist:

  • he had the unfailing curiosity and spirit of inquiry, the hallmarks of a research scientist (through his illness he continued to work on his science, and just three weeks ago today he readily accepted my offer to loan him a CD of fiddling sensation Mark O'Connor because he still wanted to learn)
  • he experienced the thrill of discovery, and his joy was uncontainable (latrine - most people would be too embarrassed to do geology in the washroom of a hotel; the rest would be too embarrassed to have their picture taken; and only Paul would do both of those, and put the picture in public view)
  • he had the strong urge to share his excitement, making him a super dedicated teacher

And what an enthusiastic teacher he was! Year after year he would bring 300 million year old carbonate rocks alive at field school, as if he were seeing them for the first time. He trundled tonnes of rock and millions of 35 mm slides to his classes - he brought the outdoors indoors for his students. And he was the only professor I know who, even after 30 years of teaching, would routinely trash his lecture notes and start all over again. Why? Because, against his own high standards, those notes were still not good enough. He simply refused to believe that perfection wasn't possible, and he was determined to find it.

They say a topologist is a person who can't tell the difference between a bagel and a coffee cup. Paul then must have been some kind of topologist also, because he couldn't tell the difference between a door and a bulletin board. His office door was continuously festooned with a record of many of the things he loved, both scientific and sentimental. And that decorated door spawned posters that stealthily crept like vines down the corridors. As usual, Paul was the leader, and eventually we all copied his example.

But, Paul was a leader in more significant ways. He led us as a democratic chairperson of the Department in the early 80's, but more importantly he led us perennially in things as disparate as computer applications, multivariate statistics, cathodoluminescence, and innovative teaching techniques. And he even led more in his research field more than we did in ours, but we loved him anyway.

Now it's time for the quiz. I am going to mention a phrase. What memories and whose name do you associate with the following phrases:

Phrase Memory Who
the entire Meguma layer?  a risque poster  Paul Schenk 
a chip of Africa?  Meguma-Morocco  Paul Schenk 
carbonate mounds in the Macumber?  in his office  Paul Schenk 
the big departmental drug bust?  cops everywhere  Paul Schenk 

In summary, Paul was an uncomplaining, unconventional, unpretentious, wonderfully humorous, enthusiastic, lovable-kind-of-crazy, and totally unique guy. There won't be ever another person like him. We in Earth Sciences at Dalhousie are so fortunate to have had this remarkable and distinguished man as our colleague and friend for the last 30 years.

Thank you Margot, Margaret, and Catherine for sharing him with us.

Barrie Clarke
2000 / 04 / 14