Tom Wootton, geologist with California Geological Survey (formerly the California Division of Mines and Geology) for 14 years, passed away on May 31, 2016. Tom retired from state service in December 1983. After receiving his B.S. degree in geology from Oregon State University, he worked for Shell Oil Company, Aerojet-General Corporation, and California Department of Water Resources before joining the CDMG staff in 1969. In January 1972 when the state legislature established the Strong Motion Instrumentation Program (SMIP), Tom organized SMIP and served as program administrator. He became the program manager in charge of site selection, instrument installation, and data processing of earthquake strong-motion records in June 1977, with the title of Chief of Office of Strong Motion Studies. During the 14 years that Tom was with the Division, he also performed geological mapping and served as administrative officer and publications officer.


In a recent online tribute, Tom Wootton Jr. wrote about his dad:

"He was born in Astoria, Oregon and grew up there and in Alameda, California. His first and most lasting love was aviation. He had already earned his civilian pilot's license when he enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps in early 1942. He served as a pilot instructor until 1944 and then trained on C-47 transports. His air transport group was preparing to go overseas to operate in the China-Burma- India Theater when the war ended in 1945. After leaving active duty in the Air Force, he earned a bachelor's degree in geology at Oregon State University in Corvallis. He worked as a prospecting geologist and micro-paleontologist for Shell Oil Company, and then left geology for a short time and served as a project administrator for the Navy Polaris A3 Strategic Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) program at Aerojet General in Rancho Cordova, CA. When the Navy selected Lockheed Aircraft to construct the follow-on Poseidon C3 missile, Dad found work as a geologist for the California Department of Water Resources. Until Governor Reagan shut the program down in 1968, Dad was the supervising geologist for the Dos Rios dam project near Covelo, CA. The project was to have made Round Valley into a reservoir to meet California's water needs—especially in southern California—for the foreseeable future. He worked as an inspector for the Carley V. Porter water tunnel project in southern California.

After he transferred to the California Department of Mines and Geology, he reached the highest point of his professional career when he became the supervisor of the state's Strong Motion Instrumentation Program (SMIP)​. He recruited, organized, and trained a team of hotshot engineers and electronics technicians which went up and down the state, planting seismic acceleration sensors on buildings, highways, dams, and in the soil in order to detect and measure tectonic movement and gather data for analysis to support the construction of earthquake-resistant structures. In 1981, he retired from the United States Air Force reserve at the grade of Lieutenant Colonel. In 1983, he retired from the California Civil Service.

He was an amateur mechanic and a self-taught marine engineer. In the late 1930s and 40s (after the war) he supported himself and his family, pursuing his degree at the same time, by working in the Alaskan fishing industry. Once, when his power scow lost propulsion and was being tossed about helplessly during a raging north Pacific storm, he saved his vessel and his crew by jury-rigging an emergency fuel cross connect system and restoring power to the engines. He was a self-taught electrician and electronics hobbyist. He repaired televisions and radios with the greatest of ease. He loved cars and was an avid racing fan. He completely rebuilt an MG sports car in his garage. He loved fishing and sail-boating. He was happiest, I think, in the air or on the water. He was a firearms enthusiast and member of the National Rifle Association. He reloaded his own ammunition. He was a devout Lutheran Christian. I never heard him curse or shout. Not once. He was one of the gentlest men I have ever met. His character was forged by depression and war. Hardship and perseverance came naturally for him. Duty, for him, was a second religion. He took on obligations far beyond the call of ordinary morality and met them with the strictest sense of personal honor, even though those obligations sometimes took a serious toll on his happiness. Complaining, for him, was a mortal sin.

He was simply the finest man I ever knew. Much better than me.
He is survived by a son, daughter, and sister. He also leaves behind a wife and a step-family."


California Geology Magazine Articles by or about Tom:

Earthquake Ground Motion Records. Download file Wootton, T.M., 1977 (30/04, P. 086)

Strong Motion Instrumentation Program. Download file Wootton, T.M., 1980 (33/10, P. 215)

Tom M. Wootton Retires. Download file 1984 (37/03, P. 062)