In a way, I got to know Sarah through Eddie McKee. Eddie had been Grand Canyon’s second park naturalist, and was a legendary geologist and Sarah’s mentor. I was a park ranger at Grand Canyon at the time, and I mentioned Eddie at a book signing at a Geological Society of America meeting. Sarah’s face lit up. I didn’t realize at the time that Sarah and I would later become friends.
A few years after that, I got to meet up with Sarah when she was on the North Rim to research her Em Hanson mystery set in Grand Canyon. Over those couple of days, I learned about Eddie and Barbara McKee, the people, and about how Eddie was more than a great geologist, but a very fine man. To Grand Canyon rangers like myself, McKee was a historical figure, and it was such an honor to spend time with someone who knew and respected Eddie. It was a living, breathing link to the heroic period of Grand Canyon geology.
In 2012, Grand Canyon National Park invited Sarah to be the keynote speaker at their Earth Science Week celebration where Sarah presented “Eddie McKee: A Grand Life.” A recording of that talk is available for viewing and download at https://vimeo.com/357190195. Like recordings of most powerpoint presentations, the video portion mostly shows the slides that Sarah used. But the camera captured Sarah during the Q&A period near the end. (Thanks to Michael Quinn at Grand Canyon NP making the video available online.)
Over the years, I became email friends with Sarah. Our correspondence was extensive, and Sarah was always willing to listen, offer words of encouragement and share her insights, as well as share what was going on in her life. Yet geology remained always a part of our relationship. Over the last couple of years, I began writing a monthly geology column in the Moab Happenings newspaper. Sarah actively supported me in that endeavor, and she provided suggestions, comments and edits to each of my columns, regardless of how tight my deadline was and what else she may have been doing (even reading drafts while she was traveling). In fact, she sent edits on my August column just a few days before her death while she and her family were on their way to Oshkosh. My September column contains a short dedication to Sarah. You can see it at https://www.moabhappenings.com/Archives/Geology201909-CapitolReef.htm
Because of the distance from my home in Moab, I am unable to attend the Brown family memorial service. Instead my plan is to have a remembrance of my own on that day. I’m going to find the closest outcrop of Permian eolian sandstone (which in my case is also in a beautiful setting, the White Rim Sandstone in Canyonlands NP) and think of Sarah and her family, and think of Eddie. And contemplate how Sarah’s life can be an inspiration to our lives, just as Eddie’s was to Sarah. Sarah and Eddie shared the gifts of story-telling, kindness and generosity. They both had bright scientific minds able to make novel insights and the ability to share geology with broad audiences using plain language. They both had wide-ranging circles of friends, and loving families.
Sarah said that she went to Antarctica for Eddie because that is the one continent he didn’t get to. May Sarah’s life of generosity and kindness be an inspiration to her friends and family she left behind. Let us all carry forth Sarah and her family’s torches just as Sarah carried Eddie’s onward.