A good teacher is a rare and precious thing. Raymond W. Stephens, Jr. was the "type section" of a great teacher. Ask a fellow geologist what made him decide on the earth as a career and you will hear one of the following: I have collected rocks and minerals since I was a child; I have always been fascinated by mountains and dinosaurs; I took Dr. Stephens' freshman geology class as an elective.
Teaching was second nature for Ray. He was born April 20, 1928 in Marietta, Georgia, the only child of Alice and Raymond Stephens. His mother was a school teacher and his father was a principal/coach. His parents instilled in him a love of education, sports and hard work.
Upon graduation from high school, Ray enrolled at the University of Georgia. After two quarters, he left college to enlist in the Navy at the age of seventeen. He served during the tail end of WWII in the Bureau of Naval Personnel, Washington, D.C. After serving in the Navy, Ray returned to college at the University of Georgia and graduated in 1951 with a B.S. in Geology. Ray was then called to serve in the Korean War. Before reporting for duty, Ray married his college sweetheart, Julia Ellen Askew, the daughter of a University of Georgia professor. He served in the U.S. Air Force as the commanding Officer of an Early Warning Radar Base in Alaska.
Ray fulfilled his second round of military duty and enrolled as a Master of Science candidate in the Geology Department at Louisiana State University. He received his M.S. in 1956 and Ph.D. in 1960, both in Geology. During his stay at LSU, Ray studied under some of the finest geological minds in the academic world. His mentors were Dr. Heinie Howe and Dr. Grover Murray. He also received his first exposure to teaching when he was instructor/manager of the LSU geology field camp for numerous sessions from 1954 to 1958.
Shell Oil Company was Ray's first employer after graduating from LSU. His six years at Shell were a time of personal and professional growth. He joined Pubco Petroleum as a District Geologist in 1966, but the lure of the academic world came calling. Ray joined the faculty of the young Louisiana State University in New Orleans Geology Department in 1969. Ray rose through the ranks to become Professor and served two years as Assistant Dean of the College of Sciences.
It was during his teaching days at the University of New Orleans that Ray developed an innovative course in Subsurface Geological Methods. This course enabled students to apply the academic principles of geology to the real world problems of oil and gas exploration. More than any geology class, Ray’s Subsurface Geological Methods prepared college students for immediate employment in the oil and gas industry. In every class he taught, Ray brought a special blend of technical expertise coupled with an engaging personality of wit and charm.
In 1981, Ray returned to the oil industry full time, and in 1982 he formed a consulting partnership with former student, Jack Thorson. The Stephens and Thorson geological partnership remained active for 33 years. Ray successfully managed a dual career of independent geologist and consulting professor until he retired from UNO in 1990, when he was named Professor Emeritus.
In 1988, Ray joined Governor Roemer's Cabinet as Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources in Baton Rouge. He also was elected Chairman of the Mineral Board, the first person in Louisiana to serve in this dual role. In a unique career, Ray was successfully involved in three different aspects of the geology profession: industry; academia; and government.
Ray joined the New Orleans Geological Society in 1966 and became First Vice President of NOGS in 1969, Program Chairman of the Annual Meeting of the Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies in 1971, President of NOGS in 1973, and President of GCAGS in 1977-78. Ray was awarded the Distinguished Service Award by GCAGS in 1985, GCAGS Honorary Membership in 1998 and was made an Honorary Life Member of NOGS in 1990. He joined AAPG in 1965 and was actively involved as a delegate, section officer and committee member. Ray was also a member of the Society of Independent Professional Earth Scientists.
Family was always the most important part of his life. After his first wife, Julia Ellen, died in 1975, he raised his two children, Steve and Amy, and at the same time managed a diverse and demanding career. Ray and Loretto M. (Retta) Babst were married in 1982. Retta added the stability that comes from a wonderful partner and she and Ray spent 33 remarkable years together.
The example Ray has set for us all is possibly his greatest teaching accomplishment. He led a life of unsurpassed personal character and professional integrity.
Jack M. Thorson