F. A. Van Melle

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F. A. Van Melle
F. A. Van Melle headshot.png
Membership Honorary Member

Biography Citation for SEG Honorary Membership

Contributed by Cecil Green

I feel it is a distinct honor to have this privilege of presenting one of our members for special recognition since he is both distinguished and widely known for having contributed more than generously of his time and talents over the span of a long and colorful career!

I refer of course to Dr. Van Melle, whom we reward today with Honorary Membership in appreciation for his many and varied contributions which have helped accelerate the development of new knowledge and related innovations as the basic ingredients in our fast-changing field of Earth Sciences. We can also be proud that such personal contributions have also enhanced the stature and the consequent prestige of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists.

Francis Anthony Van Melle was born May 26, 1903, in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. He remained in The Netherlands until 1928, at which time he completed his education at Groningen University with a Ph.D. degree in physics his thesis being in X-ray crystallography.

He then immediately launched a life-long professional career in the exploration and research divisions of the Royal Dutch Shell group of companies. It is interesting to note that during his first nine years of international experience he initiated the hiring of bright young Mexican engineers for Shell's geophysical operations. It is interesting to note that the very first of his seismic instrument operators was Antonio Garcia Rojas, now well known to us as a recent Exploration Manager of Petroleos Mexicanos and who has also become an authority on the geophysical characteristics of Mexico. By 1937, Dr. Van Melle had also pioneered the use of the reflection method in Sumatra for the Shell interests.

We then witness a short break in his long Shell career, for that same year he elected to resign in order to immigrate to the United States being attracted by such important characteristics as our spirit of team work and the scope for personal initiative which he had come to admire here in the U. S. At the same time, we now know that our country has certainly benefited from this decision to become a citizen!

Evidently the Shell organization hated to lose such a good man, for within a year Frank Goldstone, well known to all oldtimers as one of the early pillars of the SEG, persuaded him to join the then newly organized Research Laboratories of Shell Oil Company in Houston. From then until his retirement in 1967 he served in positions of increasing responsibility in both Shell Oil Company and Shell Development Company.

He is the author of several technical articles, including, in collaboration with the late Ken Weatherburn, the first paper ever presented on ghosts, or reflections from energy initially reflected at interfaces above the level of the shot. These two authors are due special credit for obtaining company release of what was then considered vital procedural information. According to the record, their reasoning was that such divulgement was quite in line with the state of the art at that time. Also important, we give them credit for rationalizing that other concerns, being equally smart, must be working on the same thing, although behind a facade of secretiveness. This level-headed thinking brought to Shell the credit for an important innovation and to the authors the distinction of one of Geophysics' "Classical Papers."

It is most important to add that Dr. Van Melle's interests and his activities have extended beyond purely technical matters in geophysical exploration. Thus, we note his increasing interest in the importance of people and his evident belief that the successful conduct of any operation, and particularly its improvement, are directly dependent upon, first, the proper selection and then the subsequent good training of individuals so that in the end such people will become contributors in the art of new innovations, since their natural inclinations are matched to a job, which incidentally also takes on the aspect of fun rather than work.

It was through this common interest in student orientation that Dr. Van Melle and I first became good friends. We share the common feeling that time and effort contributed to helping young people find themselves are beneficial to the particular students, and from the practical point of view of a particular industry as ours, such human endeavor actually comprises the most subtle and therefore the most effective means of recruiting the best young potential talent. Thus, Shell and my company, GSI, though widely different, nevertheless together made the refreshing discovery that summer student orientation programs could be operated in parallel and in collaboration with each other for the common good. Perhaps we were a little ahead of our time inasmuch as nearly twenty years ago we both felt even then that an intelligent and knowledgeable choice by the student is just as important as is the recruiter's judgment in this serious business of personnel placement.

Our award can also be viewed as a token of sincere appreciation to Dr. Van Melle for his many years of service to the SEG, which still continues in these years after his so-called retirement in 1967. Thus he served as our Editor in 1964-65, and then as Chairman of the Technical Program Committee for our 36th Annual International Meeting at Houston in 1966. He next took on the arduous task of Distinguished Lecturer for the Society in the fall of 1969. He currently serves on our Publications and Data Processing Committees at the same time he represents the SEG on the National Research Council where his talents are being utilized in helping promote the merits and the scope of Earth Sciences for the Benefit of our country.

I am sorry my remarks are somewhat lengthy, but please take them as a measure of my personal enthusiasm for the man to whom we are today paying well-deserved honor.


     Response to the Foregoing Citation

by F. A. Van Melle

Folks, you just made someone very happy, happy for several reasons: personal reasons, of course, and then the fact that the citation was given by Cecil Green to whom I owe many insights in what we may call the philosophy and the principles of recruiting and employment for achievement. Cecil and his teammates certainly have shown the validity of these principles, there in Dallas.

Last but not least, I am happy and this is a happiness which everyone present can share with me about a country where an immigrant has the same chance as a native son. True, the immigrant from Holland has a few things working for him, notably that little boy with his finger in the rodent hole in the dike, and to some degree also the reputation of previous Dutch immigrants as square-shooters. Every individual immigrant has of course to keep busy to get anywhere and thus may become somewhat lacking in the social graces: for instance, I never could find the time to learn how to play golf, or to play bridge, or to run around with somebody else's wife. The fact that my own wife is a very good cook may have had something to do with that latter aspect.

In connection with this process of Americanization I would like to tell you about a compliment I once received from a native Texan, my friend James E. (Jimmie) Walker, well-known to members of the Pacific Coast Geophysical Society. Back in 1955 we sold the lot next to our home, the children having graduated from high school and no longer using the lot for touch football and other games. From the proceeds we bought a 1955 Lincoln and when Jimmie saw that car he said "Van, now I can salute you as a fully assimilated immigrant; no unassimilated Dutchman would have invested a capital gain in a big car!" After such testimony from a native of Carthage, Texas, who would not feel like a good American!

It is really somewhat incongruous that I should receive thanks here for doing what is a member's duty when called to an office in the Society. It should really be the other way around: I should thank the Society as well as my company who generously provided the time and assistance an editor needs. That editorship taught me quite a bit of English: for company reports there never was the iron necessity to write good English. But once an editor I could not afford to let other people get away with constructions such as: "Throw the cow over the fence some hay." And the assignment as delegate to the National Research Council has also been a source of new insights and experiences. An explorationist finds himself in a different world over there. When, in our work, we make a new location we get all the guys together who know anything about the prospect and then put the little circle at the very place where chances seem best. And we try to get our leases before anybody else gets there. I need not tell you that things are a little different over there in Washington. There is very little anticipation of public needs, but rather a waiting till the pressure becomes widely felt and hard to put up with and then the talking begins. This may be the only way in a democracy when the voting public is concerned, but in the affairs of the NAS/NRC/NAE, we ought to have a more anticipatory modus operandi. As soon as "a cloud the size of a man's hand" appears above the socio-technological horizon, a group ought to start studying, so that by the time the voting public gets aroused, solid data may be available. As you can see in the report of your delegate to the NRC, a good way to achieve this would be to apply to the NRC the principle of checks and balances upon which the Founding Fathers of this country based our form of government, something that can be achieved by strengthening rather than weakening the role of the Affiliated Societies of the National Research Council.

Members of our Society: again, my thanks.