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Hugo T. Dummett Fund

In Memory of Hugo T. Dummett (1940–2002)

Hugo T. Dummett
Hugo T. Dummett

Hugo T. Dummett, the President of our Society, was born in Springs, South Africa, on April 7, 1940. Most members of the SEG will now know that he died on Wednesday, August 25, in a car crash in South Africa. He was alone in the car on an open road and the indications are that he fell asleep at the wheel.

Hugo studied geology and played rugby football at the University of the Witwatersrand, graduating with his B.Sc. in 1962. Like so many young geologists at that time in South Africa, he worked, during his first two years after graduation, for the Anglo American Corporation in the Johannesburg area, then, for a further year, for Roan Selection Trust at Kalulishi in Zambia. In what appears now to have been an obvious (however unconscious) preparation for his later career, he left apartheid-hobbled South Africa for Canada; briefly for some post-graduate study at Kingston, then gaining mine and exploration experience first with Endako Mines, followed by Amax Exploration, based in Vancouver. In 1969 the process of broadening his experience continued when Hugo took a position with Theseus Exploration, based in Brisbane, Australia.

We surely see the same process at work in a different way when he next undertook post-graduate work and study at the University of Queensland until, in 1977, he took a senior geologist position with the Minerals Division of Superior Oil in Tucson, Arizona. Already, at 37, he was a geologist with varied experience on three continents, and those of us who experienced his energy levels in his later years can only guess at the kind of stir he was then ready to create.

Sketches of Hugo by Oliver Warin
Sketches of Hugo by Oliver Warin

It was, in fact, during this strong, eight-year period that Hugo began putting together the pieces, in terms of methods, geological understanding, and people, that led later to the crowning achievement of his professional career—a central role in the discovery of Canada's first commercial diamond deposits. The pioneering work of Dr. John Gurney of Cape Town on indicator minerals and a quite novel (at the time) interpretation of the most likely directions, in detail, of ice transport during the Pleistocene in Northern Canada provided the basis.

"Born" mineral explorers like Hugo sustain their optimism with the thought that exploration is the lifeblood of the mining industry; financially difficult times so often show them a more cynical reality-that exploration can be a disposable luxury... and Hugo was working for the notoriously ephemeral mineral search division of a major oil giant. Part of Hugo's original diamond team-particularly in the person of Chuck Fipke—re–emerged eventually as Dia Met and started seriously to mount the search. Hugo, who had made his Canadian sweetheart his wife and now had a family with two children to support, had to seek greater security and gained a position with Westmont Mining in Tucson.

Late in 1989, Hugo won the leadership of the North American section for the worldwide exploration of BHP Minerals, then based in San Francisco. Those of us who were lucky enough to know and work with him at that time would all, I think, agree that the period which followed was the finest period in his career. He very soon introduced and gained acceptance in the Company for the Dia Met project which, though still in its reconnaissance phase, was by now clearly indicating the potential of the Lac de Gras area in Canada's Slave Province as the source of the tell-tale indicators. The mutual knowledge, respect, and friendship between the people of Dia Met and Hugo allowed a joint venture to be put in place quickly during 1990, and during the 1991 field season the project got underway (using budget funds squeezed out of other—complaining!—projects) and as the winter freeze came on the first drill hole, an angled hole under the lake to test the Point Lake target was completed.

The story has now been told innumerable times—each time perhaps with a different emphasis. The news media and writers generally have had something of a field day trying to recreate (and sometimes touching up!) the picture of that drill hole and its results. But truth to tell, it did have many of the elements of a great adventure story. The lonely, tough, dangerous locale; the hard–working field crew under the intrepid Chuck Fipke; the logistics of mounting a drill program in a largely road less area some 300 km north of Yellowknife. But that one hole, completed just as the winter closed in, with its kimberlite and its abundance of micro-diamonds and the spectacular ”Greatest staking rush in North American history“ it sparked was the start of something very significant for Canada. And for many of us who were ”there," in whatever capacity, the central driving force was the apparently boundless enthusiasm, knowledge, and focused energy of Hugo Dummett. ”Dynamo“ Dummett and ”Hurricane“ Hugo were well–deserved nicknames.

South Gobi, Mongolia (August 22, 2002)
South Gobi, Mongolia (August 22, 2002)

His energy was astounding. He was everywhere he needed to be, radiating cheerful enthusiasm and encouragement, offering his own experience but rejoicing in the fresh ideas and newly minted experience of his team. This was an absolutely major project for a company able and willing to give it the strength in financial muscle and the depth of mining expertise it—eventually— required; and for Hugo himself, it brought levels of complexity to the geology, organization, logistics, and exploration methodology, as well as public relations and competitor activity that called on his accumulated knowledge, intuition, and skill. It was a winner!—and he was loving it. Hugo was the newly appointed coach, having a runaway victorious first season.

After the spectacular success of the diamond project and particularly after he became vice president with responsibility for all BHP's mineral exploration, there were many other projects Hugo started or energized around the world. The heartfelt e–mails, which have come in from China, Russia, Mongolia, Indonesia, and South America as news of his death has spread, attest to that and to the respect and regard in which he was held. The motto he gave to the group—”Get there first“—coupled with his favorite saying—”Just do it“— say much about his character as well as his legacy with the group.

But inevitably, Hugo had a much harder time dealing with the different set of complexities that arose as BHP took a series of wrong turns and came, perhaps, close to shipwreck and had to put in place a series of cutbacks in which the Discovery Group (so renamed by Hugo) suffered severely. He moved on, and the emergence of the Platreef Resources prospect as a major project in his relatively short tenure as CEO of African Minerals Ltd. is perhaps yet further evidence of his abilities.

Although he was modest about his contribution to the Canadian diamond discoveries, he was proud to be named the Northern Miner's ”Man of the Year“ in 1998 and he was twice honored by the SME—in 1997, with the William Lawrence Saunders Gold Medal, and in 2000, with the Daniel C. Jackling Award. He was named 1997–1998 SEG Thayer Lindsley Visi ting Lecturer.

Hugo was the quintessential explorer. Physically he was a big and very energetic man with a robust expectation that his body would respond to whatever demands he placed on it. He was bluff and always welcoming, with an infectious enthusiasm for the discussion of any exploration project—his own or that of another. He had an instant rapport with anyone who shared his enthusiasm about the hunt for mineral deposits that crossed all boundaries of language and geography and that allowed him to be at home anywhere, from Mongolia to Mexico. But he was also a scientist; and in the geological matters in which he detected an exploration benefit he could be a thorough researcher.

Nora Dummett, flanked here by renowned Canadian diamond explorers Stewart Blusson and Chuck Fipke
Nora Dummett, Stewart Blusson, and Chuck Fipke

He was a skilled and persuasive public speaker and he enjoyed meeting people everywhere his work took him. He had trained a natural ability to retain names so that he was rarely at a loss, even in those situations in China and Russia—for example–where many westerners simply give up. He had a boisterous sense of fun; He loved to laugh and to joke, but he had at times an unexpected gentleness that is perhaps a particular gift of big people. He denied any pretension in the arts, but for all that he was a skilled photographer of the African wildlife he so loved and his photographs of people, taken around the world, and particularly photographs of the children, were never mere snapshots.

For all Hugo's enthusiasm and dedication to the science and art of mineral search, first place in his life and thinking always went to his wife, Nora, and his two children, Annie and John. Theirs is the greatest loss and we offer them the condolences of so many of the profession who were touched and changed by contact with Hugo.

—Oliver N. Warin (SEG 2000) | SEG Newsletter, Number 51, October 2002.

Fund Overview

Hugo T. Dummett exemplified the professional exploration geologist and was an expert in the business of international minerals exploration. He enjoyed being a goodwill ambassador for his employer and the profession to remote regions of the world. He was fully committed to ore genesis research and its application to mineral discovery. It was his firm belief that the best formula for discovery success involves resourceful people using the best available science. His strong ethical approach and dedication to mineral discovery provides an exemplary role model for the profession. As President of the Society of Economic Geologists, Hugo was committed to enhancing the Society's service to its members through the development of new programs focused on the business of exploration.

In remembrance of Hugo and to preserve his professional legacy, the Society of Economic Geologists and the Dummett family have established a fund to be known as "The Hugo Dummett Mineral Discovery Fund." The Fund will support applied economic geology research, including the development of new exploration technology and techniques, and the dissemination of related results through publications, lectures, short courses, workshops, and conferences.

We have lost a valued friend whose influence and impact are recognized throughout the world. Through contributions to the Fund, Hugo's efforts and lifelong dedication to mineral discovery will be perpetuated.

Contributing to the Hugo T. Dummett Fund