Mary Agnes (Hughes) Shipley, wife of Robert M. Shipley Jr., son of the founder of the Gemological Institute of America and a pioneer in creating gemological instruments, died on May 27 at the age of 92.
In the late 1930s, Mary Hughes worked as a secretary for Bob Shipley Jr., who was instrumental in helping his father establish and develop GIA and the American Gem Society. She also worked for Richard T. Liddicoat Jr., who joined GIA in 1940 and later served as executive director, president, and chairman. Shipley Jr. was the GIA laboratory director—creating many of the first gem instruments for the industry—and later the director of education and research, until he left for wartime service.
Mary married Robert Jr., on Nov. 2, 1940.
“Mary was a lovely young Canadian who was very competent in stenography and office organization,” recalled Liddicoat recently. “No one on the staff, to my knowledge, was even aware that any kind of friendship was budding between Bob Jr. and Mary Hughes, so when their engagement was announced, it came as a happy surprise to the small staff on South Alexandria [the street in Los Angeles where GIA was then located].
“In addition to her office skills, Mary was also a very talented pianist on a concert level. With her positive outlook and quiet but friendly, outgoing personality, she was a favorite of the staff and an inspiration to Bob Jr. and to their sons. Mary Shipley was a great gal,” added Liddicoat.
After World War II, Robert Jr. was made an Honorary Research Member of GIA and began his own instrument research and development company in Los Angeles. The Shipleys later moved to northern California, where Mary assisted her husband in his work, which included developing instruments for AGS in the early 1950s, and later solar research.
In announcing her death, GIA president Bill Boyajian said, “The GIA family is deeply saddened by the loss of Mary Shipley. She played an important role in the early development of the Institute, and her contributions will long be remembered.”
Mary is survived by two sons, Robert M. III of Rome, Italy, and George E. of Vancouver, Wash.; three grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
John Sinkankas, famed gemologist and author, died at his home in San Diego after a brief illness. He was 87.
Sinkankas was an expert in gemology, mineralogy, the lapidary arts, gemological and mineralogical literature, bookbinding, gem and mineral collecting, and gemological and mineralogical history.
After graduating from New Jersey State Teachers College (now William Paterson College) in 1936, Sinkankas joined the Navy. He married his college sweetheart, Marjorie Jane McMichael, on Feb. 5, 1940, in Key West, Fla. After a 25-year stint as a Navy pilot and commander, during which he earned the rank of captain, Sinkankas retired from the Navy in 1961 and settled in San Diego.
Sinkankas joined the staff of Lapidary Journal, and between 1961 and 1963 he wrote 14 articles on gems and gem cutting. He also wrote hundreds of papers for other journals, including Gems & Gemology, Journal of Gemmology, Gems and Minerals, Rock and Gem, Rocks and Minerals, Mineral Digest, Mineralogist, American Mineralogist, and Mineralogical Record.
The Sinkankases operated Peri Lithon Books, a dealer in antiquarian books on the earth sciences. In 1988 their collection of more than 13,000 books and manuscripts was acquired by the Gemological Institute of America and became the nucleus of the Richard T. Liddicoat Library.
Sinkankas authored 15 books of his own, including Gem Cutting: A Lapidary’s Manual, 1955; Gemstones of North America, 3 Vols., 1959–1997; Gemstones and Minerals: How and Where to Find Them, 1961; Mineralogy for Amateurs, 1964; Van Nostrand’s Standard Catalog of Gems, 1968; Gemstones & Mineral Data Book, 1972; Emerald and Other Beryls, 1981; Gemology: An Annotated Bibliography, 2 Vols., 1993; and Humboldt’s Travels in Siberia: 1837–1842, 1994.
Sinkankas also was an artist and used his watercolor illustrations for Gemstones of North America and Emerald and Other Beryls.
Sinkankas earned or was honored with numerous titles, and a new phosphate mineral was named “sinkankasite” in his honor.
He was a Fellow of the Mineralogical Society of America and an honorary Fellow of the Gemmological Association All-Japan. He held memberships in the Mineralogical Association of Canada, the Rochester Academy of Sciences (honorary), the San Diego Mineral and Gem Society (honorary), the Cosmos Club (Washington, D.C.), and The Mineralogical Society of Southern California (honorary). He was a Graduate Gemologist of GIA and received that organization’s Distinguished Associate Award in 1982.
Two of Sinkankas’ most important gem carvings—a 7,000-ct. rock crystal quartz egg, and the world’s largest faceted step-cut golden beryl—are on display in the Gem Hall of the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum.
John is survived by his wife, Marjorie; their four children, John William, George Martin, Sharon Jane Tooley, and Marjorie Ellen Coates; and six grandchildren.
Special thanks to William Larsen and Richard Hughes, Pala International, and to Ron Thacker of the Mineralogical Society of Southern California, for the information provided here.