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Obituary: Dr. Stephen Stokes

Published in The Boston Globe on Apr. 6, 2014

Dr Stephen Stokes passed away March 24th, 2014 after a long illness at the age of 50. His life was shortened but his impressive accomplishments are those of a far older man. He will be missed by his family, his friends and colleagues from all around world.

Stephen was born in Liverpool, England, on March 17th, 1964. At age 9, his family moved to New Zealand where he surfed through school and college. Back in the Mother country, he completed his PhD in Oxford in 1994 on Optical Dating of Aeolian Sediments in SW USA. His witty and mischievous humour is encrypted in his thesis acknowledgement: “Mandela is free, Nixon is dead, Thatcher is out of office, the Soviet Union has split, England are not in the World Cup, all my friends are marrying, Cliff Richard has (finally) stopped making records, and I have two grey hairs – it must be time to finish up!”

Stephen was a scholar and an academician, but a practical man as well. He was a world leader in the field of luminescence dating, a new and fascinating dating method that can determine the age of a sand dune, a pottery fragment, a volcanic eruption. He used luminescence as a tool to decipher the subtle love and hate relation between man and his surrounding landscape. He was the first to apply luminescence in several environments, notably in the deep-sea. As a professor at Oxford, Stephen supervised theses, taught hundreds of classes, tutored and mentored students. But most important of all, he ignited in them the passion of scientific endeavour. Stephen explored India, Mali, Nigeria, Egypt… in search of clues so we could better understand Nature. Stephen felt especially at home in the desert. In the midst of his career, Stephen envisioned a somewhat different perspective in what could be his contribution to society. In his mid-forties, he got a MBA and joined the private sector. He brought a refreshing new angle to the issues of environmental assessment in a world shifting from dire exploitation to sustainable development. In 2007, he joined AMR Research (Gartner) in Boston as a business analyst. As an Oxford academic and down-to-earth thinker, he helped redefine sustainability in the whole supply chain.

In 2003, Stephen’s life changed irreversibly when a young woman from Montreal happened to visit Oxford. Stephen and Marie-Josée Duquette embarked on an always-surprising adventure together that included the birth of a daughter, Laurence, now 9 years old. This small family brought Stephen immeasurable joy. He is also survived by family in New Zealand and London and friends around the world. His recognition was world-wide, his approach to problem solving, global. For both science and business, the death of Stephen Stokes is a shameful loss. For his friends and family, it leaves a gap that will never be filled.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to Compassionate Care ALS (CCALS) who provided exceptional material and emotional support. No Funeral Service was held.