In Memoriam: David Folger, Marine Geologist

June 27, 2017

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Middlebury College has received word of the passing of David Winslow Folger, 85, a marine geologist who served on the science faculty from 1969 through 1975. He died on April 1 of pancreatic cancer at his home in Falmouth, Mass.

After his service to Middlebury, Folger directed the Atlantic Marine Geology Branch of the U.S. Geologic Survey at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute with whom he conducted an erosion study of southern Lake Michigan, a mapping project of the Great Lakes, a marine gravity survey of the Caribbean Sea, and an analysis of the hydrogen bomb’s effects on the Enewetak Atoll.

Folger is best known at Middlebury for procuring the College’s first research vessel, a 32-foot former lobster boat that plied the waters of Lake Champlain for more than a quarter century. Then in 2012, after the College received a $1.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation, Folger and his family were on hand to christen a new vessel named the R/V David Folger, a 45-foot twin-hulled floating laboratory for students and faculty in the sciences.

Geologist David Folger in 1968, just prior to his appointment to the faculty as an assistant professor.

On board the state-of-the-art ship, Folger said, “I am delighted and honored to have this sophisticated vessel named for me, and I look forward to a flood of professional research papers based on the data collected aboard the vessel. And I hope that many students will enroll in courses that take them out of the classroom and onto the lake for beautiful afternoons like I remember so well.”

A direct descendant of Nantucket whalers, Folger spent his childhood summers on the island where he cultivated a passion for sailing, swimming, and, ultimately, marine geology. He was said to have swum from Woods Hole to Martha’s Vineyard eight times, and once completed an 11-mile ocean swim from the Vineyard to Nantucket.

Folger was born in 1931 in Woburn, Mass., and was graduated from Dartmouth College in 1953 with a B.A. in geology. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1953-1956 as a bombardier and navigator, and retired from the Navy Reserves in 1977 at the rank of captain. He was a petroleum geologist for Chevron Oil based in Jackson, Miss., while working toward his master’s and doctoral degrees in marine geology from Columbia University.

He authored, co-authored, or edited more than 130 publications and abstracts in the journals Applied Microbiology, Deep Sea Research, and others, and was widely sought-after to present his research at scholarly meetings. He retired in 1999, but stayed active with a daily regimen of yoga, bicycling, swimming, or rowing; guitar playing and boat building; and applying his Yankee ingenuity to devise gadgets and useful solutions to everyday challenges.

During his career as an assistant professor at Middlebury, Folger taught courses in geology, led research projects on Lake Champlain, and served as acting chair of the department. The College offered Folger an appointment as an associate professor without limit of tenure – an opportunity that he declined in order to return to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and the sea.

Predeceased by his first wife, Joan, in 1980, Folger is survived by his wife, Janet Simons Folger, five children, and four grandchildren. There will be a celebration of David Folger’s life at the end of June in Woods Hole. Gifts in his memory may be made to the R/V David Folger Fund at Middlebury College, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, or HopeHealth Hospice of Hyannis, Mass.