Willard Lynn Watney, 71, passed away on Tuesday, July 9, 2019, at home in the loving arms of his wife. For almost three years, Lynn retained his “zest for life” in spite of the challenge of brain cancer.
Lynn was born in Mason City, Iowa on March 6, 1948, to Willard “Bill” and Lucille Watney. He grew up in Northwood, Iowa and graduated from Northwood-Kensett High School in 1966. He married his high school sweetheart, Karen, in 1969. He continued his education at North Iowa Area Community College and then at Iowa State University receiving a Bachelor of Science in 1970 and a Master of Science in 1972, both in Geology. In 1985, he received his Doctor of Philosophy in Geology from the University of Kansas. For the last 43 years, he fulfilled his passion for geology at the Kansas Geological Survey as a researcher and mentor to University of Kansas geology students and young scientists.
He began his career as an exploration geologist with Chevron Oil Company working out of New Orleans. In 1976, he accepted a position with the Kansas Geological Survey as an Assistant Scientist where he started his work on Kansas subsurface geology and earned his PhD. He rose quickly through the ranks to Senior Scientist, taking on the role of Section Chief as well as Director of the Energy Research Center. In so doing, he developed warm friendships and close collaborations with colleagues at the Survey, the University, and Industry in Wichita, where he served as President of the Kansas Geological Society and was named and Honorary Member. Ever the adventurous spirit, Lynn’s first visit abroad was to Bangladesh where he worked as a consulting geologist funded by U.S.A.I.D. when the country was under martial law. This was followed by work on geological projects in China, Europe, and elsewhere, as well as hosting scientists from across the globe to work on cooperative research in the Kansas subsurface. Lynn was equally at home running operations on a Kansas drilling rig, leading a geology field trip, or making significant research presentations to scientific audiences. He did it all with such joy and passion and was that rare individual who was truly a “Renaissance geologist.” The list of his publications, service, and honors is lengthy and worthy for someone who worked so tirelessly for his profession. Although seriously ill, he continued to visit his office and contribute to the current carbon storage program almost to the end. But it is his generosity of spirit and sheer humanity that will be remembered by all those who know him. His passing will be mourned by so many, both here and across the globe.
Lynn was a cherished husband, father, grandfather, son, brother, friend and colleague. Lynn’s life was committed to science and nature through continued study, exploration, research, and teaching. He truly was, as his favorite t-shirt stated, a “force for science” and loved the natural world—rocks, trees, wildflowers, animals, birds and the sky. Any time there was a weather event around the world, his family could rely on a detailed minute by minute account. He enjoyed restoring and cultivating prairie grasses on his 40 acre farm, built and maintained a freshwater pond, and mowed his field astride his antique Allis-Chalmers tractors.
He is survived by his wife, daughter Chris Watney (Rob Gary) and granddaughter Rose Gary of Evergreen Colorado, and another granddaughter to be born later in July. He is also survived by his mother of Northwood, Iowa; brothers Gary (Kathy) of Albert Lea, MN and Roger (Elizabeth) of Anchor Point, AK; a sister Jill Watney of Albert Lea, MN; and sister-in-law Mary (Brent) Brunsting of Mason City, IA. He also leaves nieces Amber Johnson and Sarah Peterson and nephews Nicholas Olson and Chase Johnson and their families. He was recently preceded in death by his father on April 25, 2019, and his mother-in-law, Avis Amundson, on May 10, 2019. His father-in-law, Lester Amundson, preceded him in 2008. He lost his beloved cat, BC, in 2018.
A celebration of Lynn’s life is tentatively planned for September 7, 2019, in Lawrence. Details about the celebration and memorial designations will be announced at a later date.