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George S. Switzer

George Shirley Switzer, former Smithsonian Curator of Minerals, was born in Petaluma, California on June 11, 1915, the son of Charlotte Elizabeth Ryan and Albert "Bud" James Switzer, a mechanic. He graduated from Santa Rosa Junior College in 1935, received his B.A. from the University of California Berkeley in 1937, his M.A. from Harvard in 1939, and his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1942.

Dr. Switzer was an instructor at Stanford University in 1939-1940 and at Harvard University in 1940-1945. He worked as a crystallographer for the Majestic Radio and TV Corporation in 1945-1946, then served as director of research for the Gemological Institute of America in 1946-1947. He joined the US Geological Survey as a mineralogist in 1947-1948, after which he took a position as associate curator in the Division of Mineralogy and Petrology at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, where he served for 16 years (1948-1964), including a stint as Chairman of the Department of Mineral Sciences (1964-1969). He stayed on as Curator Emeritus from 1969 until his retirement from the Smithsonian in 1975.

Switzer was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of America and the Mineralogical Society of America, and served as Secretary of the GSA (1960-1966). He was a member of the American Gem Society and past Secretary of the Examinations Board for the Gemological Institute of America. He was also the author of three articles for the National Geographic Magazine, (in November 1951, April 1958 and December 1968), of entries for the Encyclopedia Britannica and of the book Diamonds in Pictures (1967), and he co-authored Gemology (1979) with Cornelius S. Hurlbut, Jr. Additionally, Switzer taught undergraduate evening classes at American University for many years.

Switzer was involved in the description and naming of five new mineral species during his career: veatchite (1950), ordonezite (1955), paradamite (1956), paratellurite (1960) and galeite (1963). In 1967, John S. White and Peter B. Leavens described and named the new mineral switzerite in his honor. In 1986, Pier F. Zanazzi redefined switzerite and renamed the original type material as metaswitzerite.

In 1958, Switzer's ongoing efforts to develop a major national gem collection were rewarded with the gift of the Hope Diamond by the famed New York jeweler, Harry Winston. The Hope Diamond is the single most popular item in the entire Smithsonian Institution. During 1972 and 1973, Switzer, his staff and colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution worked on lunar samples from the Apollo 15 and Apollo 16 missions.

Retiring from the Smithsonian Institution in 1975 to pursue his decades-long hobby of Azalea propagation, he enjoyed 30+ years of active and productive retirement, including the describing and naming of a new Azalea cultivar, Nannie Angell, in 1992. In 1999, he received a Certificate of Recognition for his years of service as a Director of the Azalea Society of America and as the Assistant Editor of The Azalean, as well as his Charter Membership and many years service as President of the Ben Morrison Chapter of the Azalea Society of America.

George Switzer died on March 23, 2008. He is survived by his wife of 68 years, Sue Joan Bowden Switzer, sons James R. Switzer and J. Mark Switzer, eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

AP Release
WILSON, W. E. (2008) Died, George S. Switzer, 92. Mineralogical Record, 39, 260.
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The Mineralogical Record - George S. Switzer George Switzer (late 1950's)
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