Legendary Explorer

Remembering J. David Lowell

J. David Lowell

After graduating from the University of Arizona with his mining engineering degree in 1949, J. David Lowell dedicated his life to exploration geology — and to cheering for his alma mater. During his first year at the university, he played football and met Edith Sykes, the varsity athlete and anthropology major who would become his wife. As recently as last year, David could be spotted in the stands sporting his vintage letterman jacket.

Though unusually humble and genial, in the world of mining, David was a legend in his own time. He was respected not only for his willingness to take risks, but for how strikingly often the intersection of his theoretical knowledge and his willingness to depart from conventional wisdom yielded untold vistas.

Finding a minable deposit of any kind constitutes a successful career as an explorationist, because most never discover even one. David discovered two gold deposits, and that is just a footnote to his greater legacy. He also discovered more copper than anyone else in history, including the largest known copper deposit in the world: Escondida, in Chile. In total, he is credited with the discovery of 17 deposits resulting in 10 mines.

David was inducted into the American Mining Hall of Fame in 2002, and the list of his professional awards is extensive.

Wildcats for life, David and Edith supported the university with transformational gifts toward athletics and mining education. David maintained a deeply rooted interest in the UArizona community and kept up with several university presidents, geosciences faculty members, and athletic directors and coaches.

Campus legend has it that he also had an uncanny ability to predict the scores of UArizona games, particularly football and basketball. A lesser-known fact is that he bet in favor of the Wildcats every time.

Story by Riley Iosca

Feature photo from the film "Mining's Greatest Explorer"  by Adam and Tommy Humphreys

An Indelible Mark

The legacies of David and Edith Lowell permeate campus. The Lowell-Stevens football facility would not be the spectacular tribute to athleticism that it is today without the Lowells. The couple also endowed the Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources, which allows for unique interdisciplinary approaches to all facets of mining.

And, significantly, the Lowells have gifted UArizona with five endowments over the years, including a professorship in mineral resources, a department chair in geosciences, a program in mineral resources, the Institute for Mineral Resources and a scholarship endowment.