Geology Professor Herman Roberson dies

Professor Emeritus of Geological Sciences Herman Roberson, 77, died Friday, March 16, of complications of COPD and fibrosis. He earned his doctorate from the University of Illinois and joined the faculty at Binghamton University in 1959, pursuing research interests in clay mineralogy and environmental law. He retired in 2000, but returned as an adjunct professor until 2003.

James Sorauf, professor emeritus of geological sciences, said it was exciting to be a geologist at Binghamton in the early days of the department. “In 1962, geology was a four-man department, and Herman had the second longest time, coming just after Don Coates arrived in Binghamton. After Herman, Hugh Hunter arrived in 1961, and I arrived in 1962,” Sorauf said. “Those were exciting days for a young geologist, professionally and academically. We all enjoyed it immensely.”

Sorauf recalled Roberson as very reasonable to work with. “Herman was a guy who had firm opinions and never hesitated to make them known, but at the same time was generally ready to give, as long as he was in a give-and-take situation,” said Sorauf, who said Roberson also was “truly a key figure in the development of the Environmental Studies program.

“He even spent two years at the University of Kansas Law School … preparing himself for environmental law,” Sorauf added.

“He also was fun to be around, as he would get excited and the pitch of his voice would rise and his Texas accent would get more and more obvious,” Sorauf said.

Long-time friend and colleague James Brownridge continued to work on research projects with Roberson until shortly before he died. “For many years even after he retired we continued to work on research projects on clay,” Brownridge said. “No papers resulted yet, but we had great conversations and something may result in the future, and he’ll be acknowledged.

“He had a general curiosity about how things worked and why they worked the way they did,” said Brownridge. “He would look at a problem and wonder why: ‘What can we find out about this?’”

Characterized as easy-going and easy to get along with, Roberson “was not abrasive at all, but could make firm and positive decisions,” Brownridge said. He was also forward-thinking and a lover of the environment.

“Clays are used in the environment,” Brownridge said, mentioning that landfills can be lined with clay because it is impervious and a very good material. “Herman took a sabbatical and studied law, not for a degree but to be able to teach environmental law.”

Roberson is survived by his wife Jeannette, two sons and daughters-in-law, four grandchildren and two brothers.