A COLLEAGUES’ TRIBUTE TO DR PATRICK JOHN RYAN (1937 – 2010)
It has been my privilege to have known Pat Ryan for fifty-five years. When I first met him, he was in his matric year at Kearsney College and had just been selected to play rugby for Natal Schools as a wing three-quarter, for a second year in succession. He was both very fast and strong, acquitting himself with distinction on the school’s playing fields then and subsequently in the open leagues. Unfortunately, his great potential, as a rugby player and also as a sprint athlete was prematurely curtailed by a recurring hamstring injury. Yet, by the time he retired in his early twenties, he had already played rugby at provincial level and was recognized as one of the fastest sprinters in South Africa.
By way of bare bones biography of his achievements, Pat started off his career as a Learner Official on the Witwatersrand gold mines. Shortly thereafter, he was awarded a Chamber of Mines bursary to study Mining Geology at the University of the Witwatersrand. After graduating, he worked for several years on coal exploration, He made several significant contributions in the exploration of the Soutpansberg coal field. Then he completed his studies at Witwatersrand University submitting a dissertation on the Geology of the Karoo System. It was appropriate that his academic mentor1 was none other than Professor Des Pretorius, doyen of South African economic geologists for many years. Pat, in turn, went on to become one of the most imposing and influential figures in South African economic geology. His masterly comprehension of ore mineralization, coupled to his superb leadership skills, led not only to the discovery of the Black Mountain ore deposits but also provided the inspirational stimuli behind many exploration successes in the years between 1970 and 1985. In a speech made at the opening ceremony of Black Mountain mine, the Chairman of Phelps Dodge Corporation said:- “I want to thank Pat Ryan for the magnificent job he and his colleagues have done for us here and elsewhere in this country. Without this man and the skilled exploration team he brought together, it is unlikely that any of us would be standing here today.” After transferring to the United States, he continued to be very effective in a far wider exploration field, being closely associated with several significant “world-class” ore discoveries.
It is easy to be laudatory about Pat’s achievements in the field of exploration geology, both at home and in the Americas, yet I believe that his greatest achievements have been in the integrating of mining-related disciplines with geology. Pat is as much at home in a mineral processing plant or open pit as he is with the exploration-oriented disciplines of geophysics, geochemistry, and feasibility evaluation. To the credit of Phelps Dodge management, they recognized the worth of his multifaceted talents as well as his charismatic leadership qualities. It was not long before they appointed him Executive Vice President of their world wide mining division. This promotion took place against a bleak backdrop of a debilitating debt burden coupled to a protracted period of operational losses. Pat played a very important role in arresting this downward spiraling trend and then in restoring the Corporation to record profitability. Although he took early retirement from the corporate world, he remained active as a geological and mining consultant until he died in June 2010. During this period, he helped turn to account several world-class ore bodies, where he was intimately involved in all stages of exploration from discovery through feasibility evaluation and company capitalization. He also served with distinction on the Board of Gold Fields Limited for several years, where he made notable contributions especially with respect to mine safety procedure.
To highlight Pat’s many exploration-related and executive achievements would take one far beyond the scope of this unpretentious tribute. He was a proud member of the South African Defense Force and served as a Citizen Force officer for many years. On his deathbed, he somehow found the strength to dictate a charming anecdotal “broad-brush” manuscript covering his colourful and adventurous life. He entitled the bound booklet “FAR AWAY PLACE – THE LIFE OF A SOUTH AFRICAN GEOLOGIST.” Typical of the man, he fought his terminal illness right to the end – forever positive and never once complaining, although he was in great pain.
Always humble, sincere and disarmingly friendly, Pat Ryan lived the life of a champion – a great credit to Kearsney College and the Witwatersrand University, the eminently distinguished South African institutions that nurtured him, and a hero to his many friends and colleagues. We will miss you Pat.
Gordon Collins 22/06/2010
Patrick J. Ryan was born on Venterspost Gold Mine in South Africa in
1937. He started his mining career as a Learner Official with Gold
Fields, and was subsequently awarded a Chamber of Mines scholarship
to study Mining Geology at the University of the Witwatersrand in
From 1961 to 1969, Pat worked for Gold Fields, Anglo-American Corporation and the Hochschild Group in various positions involving production, mining geology and exploration. In 1967, he was awarded a PhD by the University of the Witwatersrand.
In 1970, Pat joined Phelps Dodge Corporation as exploration manager in charge of their Southern African operations. He played a key role in the discovery, development and construction of the Black Mountain copper, lead, zinc, and silver mine and the Witkop fluorspar mine in South Africa.
In 1984, Phelps Dodge promoted him to Senior Vice President and he and his family relocated to Phoenix, Arizona. He was responsible for Phelps Dodge’s overseas mining interests, Western Nuclear, the Oil, Gas and Coal Division and the worldwide exploration and development programs. He also played a major role in the acquisition of key mineral rights in the Bisbee, Arizona area and the subsequent implementation of a diamond-drilling program resulted in the discovery of the Cochise Copper Deposit. It was at this time that the exploration team under Pat’s leadership discovered the world class Candelaria Copper deposit in Chile.
In 1989, he was promoted to Executive Vice President of Phelps Dodge Mining Company and subsequently was made responsible for the corporation’s worldwide mining, smelting, exploration and development activities. This included the construction and start-up of the Candelaria project in Chile. The mine came into production four months ahead of schedule and within the budget of $570 million. He also played a leadership role in the following important projects:
• Conversion of the Tyrone mine from conventional milling and flotation to mine-for-leaching SXEW
• Extensive exploration programs around Chino, Tyrone and Morenci which substantially increased reserves and the lives of these operations
• Acquisition of the San Juan copper deposit in the Safford district
• Large capital projects at Chino and Morenci, designed to increase copper production and cut costs
Following his retirement from Phelps Dodge in 1995, Pat together with his two Canadian partners formed Frontera Copper Corporation in order to acquire the Piedras Verdes copper project in Mexico. This project was successfully financed constructed and brought into production within one year in October of 2006 at a total capital cost of $100 million.
Pat and his wife Dorothy have been married for 46 years and live in Phoenix, Arizona. They have five children and two grandchildren.
1Pat's supervisor for his M.Sc. was Edna Plumstead. When George Hart arrived at Wits in 1961, from the Soviet Union, Pat began working with George who took over the end stages of Pat's Master's degree. Pat then commenced a Ph.D. under George's supervision, and they worked together throughout the degree program. Des. Pretorius took over the paper-work and edited the final draft of Pat's dissertation when George left for the United States of America in 1966.