Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 27 Issue 04

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Volume 27, No. 4
Pages 8 - 8

IN MEMORY OF • Bruce Malfait: 1947–2014

Ellen S. Kappel
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On October 7, dozens of colleagues, friends, and admirers of Bruce Malfait gathered in Arlington, Virginia, near National Science Foundation (NSF) headquarters, to celebrate Bruce’s life and achievements and share memories. As many of you know, Bruce died suddenly on May  9, 2014, after returning home from a fly-fishing vacation.

Bruce was renowned in the community for his long commitment to and expert management of ocean sciences programs for NSF. Shortly after completing his PhD in marine geology at Oregon State University in 1974, Bruce began his NSF career as a program officer for the International Decade of Ocean Exploration (IDOE). In 1976, Bruce moved to the newly formed Marine Geology and Geophysics section. A decade later, he took the helm of the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) office. Paul Dauphin, Bruce’s ODP deputy for many years, wrote a wonderful tribute when Bruce retired in 2006 (see http://www.tos.org/oceanography/ archive/19-4_dauphin.pdf), and returned for the recent celebration of Bruce’s life. Here are just a few of the tributes shared at the Arlington gathering, written by others who had the privilege of working with Bruce:

FRANK RACK: Bruce Malfait was a leader, a mentor, and a colleague who navigated the seas and shoals of scientific ocean drilling without expectation of reward, while overcoming many challenges. He served the community throughout his career, as skilled manager, efficient administrator, trusted advisor, deep thinker, and Jedi master—sensing disturbances in the Force and guiding the community to recognize and respond to dangers as well as opportunities. He was very skilled at guiding groups of people to a consensus or decision…through subtle changes in body language or brief comments addressing key points in a heated discussion, which challenged everyone to improve their game and better understand the issues and potential outcomes arising from a particular course of action. 

BRAD CLEMENT: Like many, many people, I owe a great debt to Bruce. In the short time that I worked with Bruce, he taught me more about science and the people who do it than one can imagine. Most amazingly, he conveyed most of that information with silence. Bruce was a man who was not afraid or intimidated by letting silence descend upon a discussion.  I can so vividly remember that cocked head and askance view that would accompany a seemingly endless silence, as Bruce forced you to rethink whatever nonsense had just come out of your mouth. After letting you squirm just enough, Bruce would usually throw you a lifeline…

STEVE BOHLEN: Bruce was a master strategist and was a friend to the scientific community in ways that only a few of us who worked on the inside could possibly know…He foresaw the importanceof scientific ocean drilling to the many policy debates of today long before anyone else. He served science and society so well and with such accomplished skill that many of his contributions went unnoticed. Bruce liked it that way. He was committed to scientific excellence, and no one worked harder on behalf of science and the scientific community. 

KEIR BECKER: I was privileged to play a small role in the formation of IODP [Integrated Ocean Drilling Program], in which Bruce played such a major role. Like Kiyoshi Suyehiro, I remember Bruce for his intense attention to all that was said in various IODP planning groups. Often, after long and inconclusive debates, we would turn to Bruce for a definitive resolution from NSF perspective. He would almost always pause a moment to craft his words carefully, then speak concisely and clearly—and with a wry sense of humor— to set us back on track. It often seemed like he knew in advance the best conclusion the group should reach, but he also knew it was best to let the group reach that conclusion without imposing it from above.

I worked with Bruce for a dozen years when he was the ODP director at NSF and I was an ODP program manager at Joint Oceanographic Institutions. ODP was very fortunate to have Bruce at its helm for so many years. He steadily and calmly navigated the program through a variety of challenges and ensured that the community had a strong program and a state-of-the-art facility to use for geoscience research. The ocean sciences community will sorely miss one of the drilling program’s shrewdest and savviest champions. 

— Ellen S. Kappel, Oceanography Editor


Kappel, E.S. 2014. In memory of Bruce Malfait: 1947–2014. Oceanography 27(4):8, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2014.97.