Sheila C. Barnette, GCSSEPM Honorary Member
Sheila began the first steps in her long career in micropaleontology and sedimentary geology in 1946, when she was born in Newark Ohio. Her parents, Earl and Wanda Cluggish, impressed on her early in life that she was capable of doing anything she wanted, and so through her life she never doubted in herself, even in the pursuit of a career in a heavily male-dominated industry. While growing up she did not initially display a fixation upon geology, beyond the usual childhood wonder at dinosaurs, but soon discovered a life-long fascination with microscopy. In high school she took every class that involved using a microscope (even the relatively unpopular dissection labs).
Sheila left Newark in 1964 to attend Ohio State University. She initially began a program in forestry, because of her interests in biology, ecology, and the outdoors. Like many geologists at heart (who do not realize it themselves) she took a class in historical geology, and it changed her major and her fate. In choosing classes she again heard the siren call of the microscope, when she signed up for Walter Sweet's class in micropaleontology. It set the stage for her career. Even so, Sheila's choice of post graduation job was not yet determined, and the field of micropaleontology/biostratigraphy almost lost her to the Park Service.
Early in 1969 Sheila took the test for placement as a Park Ranger, and was waiting to begin the required six weeks of introductory training at the Grand Canyon. She had decided to take the job because it combined an interest in geology with the outdoors, and with other naturalist duties involving guided interpretation of life forms (the part of geology she liked best). However, in the fall of 1968 her advisor, Sidney White, had convinced her to submit an application and resume for a job with Texaco. Not having heard back, she had actually forgotten about it, when an offer came out of the blue for a full time job in Houston, sight unseen and un-interviewed. In April 1969 Texaco "waved a check" at her, and the choice was made.
After nine months working prospects, Sheila began work as a foraminiferal micropaleontologist for the Texas Division of Texaco. At that point she mainly worked on-shore and near-shore wells. In 1974 Texaco needed a calcareous nannofossil specialist to work the Jurassic-Cretaceous of East Texas, and also for well work in State waters. They pointed their finger at Sheila, and she took the task of transforming herself into a nanno-specialist. She was successful enough in that endeavor that several years later Cities Service actively recruited her to fill their need for nannofossil expertise. She worked at Cities Service for several years, doing nannofossil sample analysis for offshore and east Texas wells.
In 1980 Sheila had a bad feeling about the way Cities Service was being managed, and moved on to an opportunity with the Gulf Coast Division of Sohio (which turned out to be a good choice, since the paleo group at Cities Service did not survive the take-over by Occidental later that year). Sohio had no Gulf of Mexico paleontology group, and Sheila was hired to set up a program, including a foraminiferal and nannofossil sample preparation lab. As the lone paleontologist she struggled to work bits and pieces of wells for both foraminifera and nannofossils, but over the next few years managed to begin building a larger group with the addition of several key personnel. In 1987, as Sohio transitioned into British Petroleum, the paleo group from San Francisco and personnel from London joined the Gulf Coast staff - and Sheila returned to her roots as a foraminiferal micropaleontologist. In 1990 she became the manager of biostratigraphy for BP's Houston office.
After several years, Sheila returned to a more technical role, and the microscope, where she remained until her retirement in 2003. It was a testament to that technical expertise, to the knowledge and experience she had amassed in her career, and to the significant contribution she had made to the profession externally, that in 2001 she was named to BP's original group of Senior Technical Advisors - one of only 24 in the corporation. In this role she was a generous counselor and friend to new biostratigraphers, and considers the recent addition of several new personal to BP's staff, and the resultant mentoring relationship, one of the high points in her career.
Sheila's involvement with professional societies has been long and substantial. She has been a member of AAPG for over 30 years, and served on the Distinguished Lecture Committee for eight years. She is also a 30+ year member of the Houston Geological Society and a long time member of the North American Micropaleontology Section of SEPM. She also served on the publication committee for National SEPM.
But it was with Gulf Coast Section of SEPM that Sheila's involvement with professional societies was most fully realized. A similarly long-standing member, she served as Section Secretary in 1980-1981, as President Elect 1988-1989, as President 1989-1990 and as Past-President 1990-1991. She has served on numerous research conference committees in addition She was the co-program chair of the 1987 GCSSEPM Foundation Annual Research Conference: Innovative Biostratigraphic Approaches to Sequence Analysis. When the GCSSEPM created its Foundation, she served for two three-year terms as Trustee of the GCSSEPM Foundation. In 1992, Sheila received the Gulf Coast Section SEPM Distinguished Service Award at the GCAGS GCSSEPM Convention in Jackson Mississippi.
Since retiring from BP in 2003, Sheila and her husband George have settled into a beautiful hill-country estate in Blanco County Texas. Fittingly, now that she has the freedom to pursue her broader interests, and various pleasant distractions, she still finds time to share her experience with others. Lately she has taken to seeking possible new converts to geology and paleontology, by doing occasional guest appearances at the Johnson City grade school, teaching about rocks and fossils - satisfying her desire to share her interest and enthusiasm for the natural world and its history. Still, she has not strayed too far from her first passion, the microscope, and in her off moments she continues to do consulting micropaleontology, enjoying it more than ever.
It is this history of contribution to the profession and to the section that makes Sheila well worthy of recognition as a new Honorary Member to the Gulf Coast Section of SEPM.
Jason J. Lundquist