Emery T. Cleaves, former director of the Maryland Geological Survey, dies

Emery Cleaves got his taste for geology as a college summer assistant, working with a professor working in the Rio Grande River Basin and the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range north of Santa Fe.
Emery Cleaves got his taste for geology as a college summer assistant, working with a professor working in the Rio Grande River Basin and the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range north of Santa Fe. (Handout)

Emery T. Cleaves, a geologist who spent his entire career with the Maryland Geological Survey, including a long period as its director, died Feb. 4 from complications of dementia at the Broadmead retirement community in Cockeysville. He was 81.

“Emery was very well liked and respected among a lot of us involved with environmental programs in Maryland,” said Robert M. Summers, a Towson resident who headed the state Department of the Environment from 2011 to 2014.


He said he knew Dr. Cleaves for many years, and “he did a lot of very important work behind the scenes to support Maryland’s environmental programs. He was interested in the water monitoring group.”

In particular, he said, Dr. Cleaves supplied important data for a 2002 committee that examined drought and its effect on Maryland.


“Emery was a major source of information on surface, stream and ground water and the need for better protection of Maryland’s drinking water,” he said. “He didn’t want the limelight, but … we couldn’t have done that work without Emery and the Maryland Geological Survey.”

Sean M. Smith, a former geologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources who is now an associate professor at the School of Earth and Climate Sciences at the University of Maine in Orono, also worked with the Maryland Geological Society and said Dr. Cleaves was “always the guy who knew Maryland’s landscape and the types of rock underneath.”

“I always had great respect for the man in the tweed jacket who loved water and schist,” he said. “He was like a curator or docent for the geology of Maryland.”

Emery Taylor Cleaves was the son of Arthur Baily Cleaves, a professor of engineering and geology at St. Louis University, and Kathryn Taylor Cleaves, a homemaker. He was born in Easton, Pa., and raised in St. Louis.


After graduating in 1954 from Country Day School in St. Louis, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in geology in 1958 from Harvard College. He decided to become a geologist in the spring of his freshman year at Harvard.

“I was trying to decide what to major in and was considering political science or possibly English, and not giving much thought to geology,” wrote Dr. Cleaves in a biographical note. One day, a professor told him of a geomorphology professor who was looking for a field assistant for a summer project in the Rio Grande River Basin and the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range north of Santa Fe, N.M.

The idea “piqued my interest,” Dr. Cleaves wrote, and he was offered the position.

“It was a wonderful two months in the field, exposed to the dry arid basin of the Rio Grande River and its geology and also the rugged 10,000-foot high mountains and ridges and the geology of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains,” he wrote.

“During the day, he never saw another person,” said his wife of 57 years, the former Edith “Edie” Baldwin. She said during that summer work “he carried two canteens of water, one for the morning, and the other for the afternoon.

“He worked in all kinds of weather, and there was no shade. He had to squat down during thunderstorms so he wasn’t the tallest thing and be hit by lightning,” she said. “He said he never felt frightened or anxious while mapping the geology. He just loved it. ”

The experience, he wrote, convinced him that “geology was for me.”

He and his future wife met when they were camp counselors in 1958 in Maine.

“It was a summer love affair, and we married in 1959,” said Mrs. Cleaves, a retired hospice nurse.

He obtained a master’s degree in 1964 and his doctorate in 1973, both in physical geography, from the Johns Hopkins University.

Dr. Cleaves began working for the Maryland Geological Survey in 1963, and nine years later was promoted to deputy director. He was named director in 1992 by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, succeeding Kenneth N. Weaver, who had led the society 29 years.

He wrote that the agency “provides resource assessments about the geology of Maryland, both the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed, and compiles and maintains data bases about water, mineral resources, and natural hazards” such as earthquakes, sinkholes and shoreline erosion.

He also worked to share earth science data with state and federal committees and groups and organizations across the country.

Dr. Cleaves was fascinated by geologic mapping, watersheds, streams, sediment, erosion and water quality.

He was a supporter of federal funding for stream gauges which monitor the flow of water, and was an early supporter of the establishment and implementation of the Maryland Water Monitoring Council.

“Emery was probably the most vocal proponent for the establishment of the first such state council, which was an outgrowth of his participation on the National Interstate Task Force on Water Monitoring,” wrote Robert J. Shedlock, scientist emeritus of the MD-DE-DC Water Science Center of U.S.Geological Survey, in an email.

Through the years, Dr. Cleaves worked closely with M. Gordon “Reds” Wolman, an internationally acclaimed geomorphologist, chairman of the department of geography and environmental engineering at Johns Hopkins and an outspoken advocate for protection of the Chesapeake Bay.

“Emery was one of those from the golden era that included Reds. They both did important work,” said Andrew J. Miller,, a professor of geography and environmental systems at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

It wsn’t uncommon to see Dr. Cleaves, dressed in an elbow-patched sport coat and tie, sitting beside Pond Branch or Baisman Run in Oregon Ridge Park.

“He and Reds worked on the same issues,” said Jeffrey Halka, who was named acting director of the Maryland Geological Survey when Dr. Cleaves retired in 2007. He then served as director from 2010 to 2013.

Dr. Cleaves was a prolific author and co-author of papers devoted to geology, hydrology and mineral resources. He was also known for his highly detailed, hand-made drawings which accompanied them.

Dr. Cleaves had been president of the Association of American State Geologists, and received its Distinguished Service Award.

He and his wife lived in Lutherville and Jarrettsville, and moved to Broadmead in 2014.

Mrs. Cleaves said her husband enjoyed gardening — especially tomatoes, beans and flowers — and picking concord grapes from an arbor.

“Also, chopping firewood was important to him,” she said. “He was very active on the home front.”

Services were private.


In addition to his wife, he is survived by two sons, Arthur B. “Tad” Cleaves of Baltimore and Jonathan T. Cleaves of Hancock, N.C.; two daughters, Kathryn M. Cleaves of Alexandria, Va. and Juliet C. Brundige of Cary, N.C.; and six grandchildren.


NOTE: An earlier version of this article misstated the name of the Maryland Geological Survey. It has been corrected here.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun