John Mackenzie Wilson, who mapped the Eastern Shore for the Maryland Geological Survey, died of a lung disease, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, July 3 at the University of Maryland Medical Center. The Fells Point resident was 57.
Born in Salisbury, England, he was the son of an English scientist who took an exchange job at Edgewood Arsenal. The family sailed to the U.S. on the Queen Elizabeth and settled in Towson.
Mr. Wilson was a 1972 Towson High School graduate and earned a bachelor of science degree in geology at the University of Maryland, College Park. He did postgraduate research with the Smithsonian Institution in the U.S. West and Southwest.
In 1982, Mr. Wilson joined the Maryland Geological Survey, an agency of the Department of Natural Resources.
"John was relentlessly curious about what was beneath his feet," said Dave Bolton, chief of hydrogeology at the Geological Survey and a friend. "He was able to strike that rare balance between understanding the geological history of the area and producing maps and reports that are useful to local, county, state and federal agencies.
"One of John's many wonderful qualities was his ability to work with many different groups of people. Much of geology involves interpretation, and there are often conflicting interpretations of the same area, even when looking at the same data."
Mr. Wilson worked on making new maps of the geology of the Maryland Eastern Shore Coastal Plain and did hydrogeologic research projects, studies that addressed the distribution and movement of groundwater in the soil and rocks. He conducted detailed studies of the sediments that lie beneath the Maryland Coastal Plain.
Friends said one of his first projects, conducted with the U.S. Geological Survey, provided a greater understanding of an Eastern Shore aquifer, which helped counties and state agencies determine how much water would be available for crop irrigation.
"John also made significant contributions to our understanding of the geology, groundwater availability and quality in other areas of the state," Mr. Bolton said. "He spent the last several years producing geologic maps of the middle Eastern Shore, which has greatly improved our understanding of the geologic history of that region."
Mr. Bolton said he was particularly interested in locations of ancient faults and river channels beneath the landscape.
"This may sound like an academic exercise, but knowing where these features are can be critical to locating water wells, power plants and other structures," Mr. Bolton said. "As his supervisor, it's hard for me to imagine wanting more in an employee. John was both rigorous and imaginative in his thinking, meticulous in his recordkeeping, a creative problem solver, and had an easygoing manner. He was a joy to work with."
Mr. Bolton said Mr. Wilson worked closely with counterparts at the Delaware Geological Survey and the U.S. Geological Survey to foster a collaborative rather than competitive environment.
"He shared data, interpretations, insights and hunches with other geologists, and this approach benefited all involved," Mr. Bolton said. "He was the consummate professional, and despite my pleas in recent weeks that he not think about work, he painstakingly went through the current status of his mapping projects."
Mr. Bolton recalled his colleague as a "wry observer of the human condition, political activist and organizer," a person who "cared … about government workers, about those on the lower end of the economic ladder, and about the future of the country and the world."
Mr. Wilson was a shop steward for the Maryland Professional State Employees Union and involved in political campaigns, including that of City Councilman Jim Kraft.
"He was a gentleman, controlled and reserved, but was also passionate about the causes he believed in," said George Myers of Millersville, who is president of the Maryland Professional Employees Council. "He was for the labor movement, progressive politics, workers' rights and human rights."
Mr. Wilson lived in and restored an old Shakespeare Street home that adjoins the monument of William Fell. He was a avid reader of history and religion and enjoyed outdoor activities, photography, music and the arts. He had earlier been a rock climber and cyclist. More recently he took walks in his neighborhood and in Baltimore's parks. He also visited family and friends in England.
Services were July 11 at Old St. Paul's Episcopal Church, where he was a communicant, vestry member and usher captain.
Survivors include his wife of 21 years, the former Gloria Jean Streeter; and two sisters, Linda W. Taylor of Philadelphia and Vivienne W. Haines of Ruxton.
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