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Department of Earth Sciences

Image of the front of the Sedgwick Museum entrance with bikes parked outside

Alumni News

John Smallwood (Earth Sciences 1990-97)

We're very sorry to report the news that John Smallwood died in a cycling accident close to his home on Saturday 17 April 2021.

The Department heard the news from John's friend and postgrad colleague, Rob Staples, who wrote: “'I received the tragic news as I sat in my office, where his beaming smile looks down on me, from a picture of him sitting on the Aletsch glacier, where he had just led my wife and me on another successful day of climbing – one of numerous days I have shared with John and his family over the last 30 years. John was a polymath – an accomplished academic, a capable musician, a phenomenal endurance athlete, a skilled mountaineer, a man of strong Christian faith, but, most importantly, a loving, generous and humble man; whenever you met John, you felt better for it. He was a wonderful, multi-faceted man, who enriched all our lives. He will be sadly missed and our thoughts go out to Suki and the boys.”

Those of us in the Earth Sciences Department who remember John echo Rob's sentiments. John was an undergraduate in the Department from 1990 to 1993 and then a postgraduate from 1993 to 1997, studying the Faeroe–Iceland Ridge under Professor Bob White. John later worked for Hess and other oil companies in the UK, Malaysia and Australia, but continued to publish (non-industry) academic papers. He won the Geological Society Young Explorer award in 2005.

At University, John led a busy life with a wide circle of friends in the Department, at Sidney Sussex and later Darwin Colleges, and elsewhere around the University. John had a passion for all the eclectic opportunities life throws up: not only did he excel academically, but he was also Sidney Sussex Boat Club captain and a member of a varsity-winning Cambridge University lightweight rowing crew. John also played in a jazz-band, led youth work in his church, and regularly visited the mountains that he loved so much.

John was an amazing endurance runner, whether that was fell running (winning occasional mountain marathons, and completing the renowned 'Bob Graham Round'), or flying to New York to push his disabled boss around the New York marathon in a standard NHS wheelchair in well under four hours! In 2014, he even represented Great Britain at the world veteran Duathlon championships.

John was well-loved, cheeky at times, almost always smiling, but certainly always caring, positive, and nurturing towards all those around him. John leaves his wife Suki, and three sons.