Robert James Tracy, a longtime professor of geology and a former department chair of the Department of Geosciences in the Virginia Tech College of Science, died Sunday, Jan. 6, in Blacksburg. He was 74.

Tracy’s research included electron microprobe dating of monazites, especially targeted dating of thermal pulses and shearing events, tectonic interpretation of monazite dating, ultra-high temperature processes in contact metamorphism, imaging and interpretation of fine-scale chemical zoning in metamorphic garnet, and the metamorphic and tectonic relationships that formed the structure of the Appalachian Mountains.

His research also took him to western New England and the Scottish Highlands.

He joined Virginia Tech in 1986, later serving as chair of the Department of Geosciences from 2005 to 2008, and also served as director of the Museum of Geosciences. Prior to his arrival in Blacksburg, Tracy was a research fellow at Harvard University, then worked as an assistant and associate professor at Yale University. He holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from, respectively, Amherst College, Brown University and University of Massachusetts, all in geology.

“Bob was a stalwart of our department for many years,” said Steve Holbrook, current head of the department. “He was a generous colleague, a connoisseur of wine and monazite, a peerless microprobe-whisperer, and a selfless mentor to students and junior faculty alike. He leaves a void that will be impossible to fill. He remained an active, full-time professor in our department until the end.”

“Bob Tracy was an internationally-known petrologist, a highly respected teacher, and a caring mentor/advisor to generations of Geosciences students,” said Madeline Schreiber, a professor and associate department head of Geosciences. “But what I will treasure most about Bob is that he was a wonderful colleague and friend. He had an incredibly broad base of knowledge and interests, ranging from geology, literature, and history to food, wine, and travel, which made for fascinating conversations. He also had a fabulous sense of humor and a hearty laugh that permeated the 5th floor of Derring Hall.”

Added Nancy Ross, a profosser of geosciences and a former head of the department, “Bob was an incredible font of information, a walking encyclopedia of mineralogy, petrology, optical and electron microscopy, sample preparation, wine, all types of cuisine, European and American political history, fishing, and barbecue, amongst many other topics. Bob liked nothing more than using this information to help people, and students in particular, generally espousing his wisdom with a carefully pointed wit. His generosity in terms of sharing his time, knowledge, ideas, data, and opinion are difficult to equal. He will be greatly missed.”

Tracy made many contributions to metamorphic petrology and was active in several professional societies, including the Geological Society of America, which he served as a council member from 2011 to 2014, and in which he was elected a Fellow, Holbrook said.

A private memorial will be held in the spring. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested memorial contributions be made to environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club. The Department of Geosciences intends to establish the Robert J. Tracy Student Research Fund to honor Tracy’s commitment to Virginia Tech students, according to Holbrook.

Tracy’s full obituary can be found at the McCoy Funeral Home website.

Share this story