Obituary Notice: George Hemingway: Thirty-Year Scripps Biological Oceanographer


George Thomson Hemingway, a seagoing biological oceanographer and academic administrator who spent more than 30 years at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, died peacefully on Nov. 8, 2015, at his home in Nehalem, Ore., following a lengthy battle with prostate cancer. He was 75.

Hemingway served in the Scripps Marine Life Research Group (now part of the Integrative Oceanography Division) and made significant contributions to the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI), considered one of the world’s leading fisheries oceanography observing programs.

“George was a pillar during a structurally difficult period for CalCOFI,” said Dave Checkley, a Scripps Oceanography biological oceanographer and director of Scripps-CalCOFI. “His commitment and humanity helped CalCOFI endure and thrive, including fostering ties between U.S. and Mexican scientists and students studying the California Current.”

Hemingway, who retired from Scripps in 1999, is widely known for building collaborations with Mexican research institutions. His career included a two-year term as biology department chair and professor of marine sciences at Ensenada’s Autonomous University of Baja California.

“If I were to pick out one contribution above all others, it would be the close ties he forged between CalCOFI and our Mexican colleagues,” said Elizabeth Venrick, a Scripps research oceanographer and former director of Scripps-CalCOFI.

Hemingway also mentored undergraduate students in marine sciences as associate investigator of the Sea Grant project in partnership with San Diego State University, and served as coordinator of Scripps’s Interamericas Program.

He was honored with a medal of achievement from the San Diego Chapter of Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society.

An ordained Episcopal minister and Canon to the Dioceses of San Diego and Oregon, Hemingway presided over a number of weddings, baptisms, and memorial services for colleagues and students at Scripps and the broader UC San Diego community.

Born in Corvallis, Ore., Hemingway benefited from a broad mix of experiences as a Navy child, including time as a teenager in Italy after World War II. Following two years of service in the United States Army Artillery, Hemingway earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology and a master’s degree in biology from San Diego State University. He received a doctor of ministry from the George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Newberg, Ore.

He is survived by his wife Jean, daughter Gillian Hemingway Asch, son-in-law Jonathan Asch, grandson Aaron, siblings Lynne Cordiner, Gail Decker, Laurie Hemingway, and Ian Hemingway, and several brothers- and sisters-in-law, cousins, nieces, and nephews.

Memorial services will be held at 11 a.m. on Dec. 12 at St. David’s Episcopal Church, 5050 Milton Street, San Diego; and at 11 a.m. on Jan. 23 at St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church, 36335 Hwy 101, Nehalem, Ore.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to support fellowships for Scripps Oceanography master’s and PhD students: (Fund # F-1438 Mexican Marine Sciences Scholarship Fund or Fund # F-1116 Shirley Boyd Memorial Fellowship); or toward the purchase and planting of native vegetation at the God’s Valley Meadows Restoration site in Nehalem, Ore. Donations can be sent to: Lower Nehalem Watershed Council, PO Box 249, Nehalem, Ore.,97131 (Contact Alix Lee for information: 503-368-7424 or

Colleagues wishing to express condolences are invited to submit messages for web posting to

Tributes to George Hemingway

• George and I were acquaintances both when I was a graduate student and after I returned to Scripps in 2007. The best source for the story of his time here at Scripps is to be found in the Perspective on CalCOFI that he contributed to Sam McClatchie's book, Regional Fisheries Oceanography of the California Current System (2014), pp 175-178. He first came to Scripps as a boy of about 16, funded by an NSF Summer Scholar program. For two summers he worked for Carl Hubbs, which initiated him into working in Baja, into time series, and into what we would today call “citizen science.” Among other tasks, he and two Hubbs’ technicians, Al Stover and Aert Flechsig, drove down rutted dirt tracks to collect data sheets with daily water temperature readings from Mexicans living along the coast.

Nine years later, following college and a time in the Army, he returned to begin his 33-year career at Scripps as part of the CalCOFI program. Over that time he went to sea on about 14 vessels, including the Alexander Agassiz, Ellen B. Scripps, David Starr Jordan, and New Horizon. Over the years he worked as a sea-going technician, taught a course called “Practical Oceanography” to a number of Mexican colleagues, and eventually served as CalCOFI Coordinator from 1979-82 and then intermittently until 1993, when he again took on this role until 1999, when he retired.

The UC bureaucracy at that time was apparently no less frustrating than it can be today, and one of his best stories tells how he and Dick Schwartzlose arranged for a Mexican vessel to undertake CalCOFI cruises as a temporary replacement following the retirement of the Agassiz. The agreement was signed off by the Mexican authorities but then languished for months in the office of the President of UC. After several phone calls to the President’s office received the customary brushoff, George decided to fly to Oakland to obtain the signed papers. He arrived early in the morning at the President’s office and was greeted by a VP who thanked him and told him the papers would be sent to San Diego after they had been properly reviewed. George told him he preferred to wait for the papers and sat down. As George tells it, “at about 1:00 a secretary brought me a half a sandwich left over from the staff lunch and said, ‘I don't think you'll get them today.’ I said ‘I'll wait.’ She went back inside and I heard slightly elevated voices. She came back outside and smiled at me. At about 3:30 she brought me some coffee. At 4:30 she left for the day. At about 5:15 the VC came out and said, ‘Here are the fully executed documents. There is a car and driver waiting down stairs. He will take you to the airport. We have a reservation for you on the 6:30 flight. Don’t ever do anything like this again!’ I thanked the VC and acknowledged my presumption, bowed out and left, papers in hand, flew back to San Diego and called Dick [Schwartzlose], and said, “‘Dick, we have a ship.’”

In addition to an M.Sc, George held a D.Min. and officiated at least several Scripps weddings. George was also an avid sports fisherman and conservationist. After retiring, he moved to Oregon and proudly served as Chair of the Lower Nehalem Watershed Council. George had grit and determination, humility and chutzpah. He will be missed by all those whose lives he touched.

Tony Koslow, research oceanographer (emeritus) and former director of Scripps-CalCOFI

Related Image Gallery: George Hemingway

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