Obituary – Richmond Douglas (Dick) Beetham, (1947 – 2021)

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Published 16 December 2021
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Obituary – Richmond Douglas (Dick) Beetham, (1947 – 2021)

Dick received a BE Civil (Hons) and a BSc in Geology at Canterbury University in the early 70’s going on to spend most of his career as an engineering geologist with GNS but in later years with the private sector. In the early 80’s he obtained a DIC from Imperial College London.

Throughout his career he was known for his generosity to others and always giving of his time assisting and mentoring work colleagues, also spending many extended periods overseas working in third world countries. In 1971 and 1972 he joined the NZ Volunteer Service Abroad programme in Central Java, Indonesia working on volcanic lahar control structures. 1973 was spent in Bali on similar works. In more recent years he was offshore frequently for extended periods including a secondment to the UN for the recovery of the island of Nias on the west coast of north Sumatra in the aftermath of the 2005 earthquake there.

Dick joined the NZ Geological Survey (now GNS) in 1977 and cut his teeth on the Tongariro Power Development logging tunnels and advising on support systems for both Ministry of Works and private contractors. Along with Peter Millar, Bernard Hegan and others he soon became an expert on the construction challenges presented by the prevailing greywacke and argillite crushed zones with very high groundwater pressure heads such as in the 29km Moawhango to Tongariro Tunnel.

After leaving Turangi he completed a DIC at Imperial College with a dissertation on Seismicity and Landsliding with special attention to New Zealand. From 1983-1985 he worked at Cromwell (along with others, including Royden Thomson, Graham Salt, Don Macfarlane and Graeme Halliday), focussed on hydro development options on the Kawarau River between Queenstown and Cromwell. He relocated to Lower Hutt when a Conservation Order was placed on the Kawarau in 1985 but returned to Cromwell with the landslides stabilisation project where he led one of the site geological teams through the design and construction phases in 1989-1992.

Dick left GNS and joined GHD in 2012, moved to Christchurch in 2014 and moved across to Coffey in 2018. GNS remember him as “the guy for whom no risk was too high, no job too small”; GHD remember that “nothing ever fazed Dick, it was just a challenge”. Coffey remember him as the “geology oracle”, he knew more than the geology map, didn’t matter where we asked about, and as an exceptional individual, combining technical excellence with a kind, gentle and compassionate approach. 

Dick was always positive about the future of engineering and the importance of the geology to any project. Everywhere he worked he provided a great mentor for the team. His passion and enthusiasm for mentoring the next generation of geologists and engineers was outstanding.

Outside of his professional activities, Dick was an accomplished tennis and squash player and had a strong love of the outdoors with a keen interest in climbing, tramping, kayaking and mountain biking. During his university years he achieved, with University mates, a first ascent of Mt Whitcombe, while in his mid to late 60’s he competed in two Coast to Coast events, winning the over 60’s competition in the 2 day/ 2 person team category with his long-time friend Clive Tilby. He ran many marathons and competed numerous times in the Kaweka Challenge.

Dick remains highly respected by his colleagues and his contribution to the field of engineering geology both in NZ and abroad will be well remembered. Like many of us, Dick always kept up to date on the latest research on the Alpine Fault recurrence interval as it got shorter and shorter. He was sure it would happen in our lifetime. We can be sure that one of Dick’s regrets will be that he never got to see the Alpine Fault “go”.

Clive Tilby with contributions by Don Macfarlane, Bernard Hegan, Julia Riding, Stuart Read and Chris Thompson

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Issue 102
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ISSN 01116851