Mark S. Newton

June 11, 1933-July 2, 2022

Mark Shepard Newton was born in Bellingham, Washington, one of a set of twins born to Esther Anne Ferguson and Leslie Charles Newton. His parents separated early and he grew up in Los Angeles where his single mom worked as a legal secretary for an insurance company. She didn’t have the means to send her sons to college, so at seventeen Mark joined the US Air Force.


During the Korean War, Mark was the radio operator on a B-36 flight crew, logging 1,350 total flight hours and sending and receiving Morse code. His fluency in Morse stayed with him all his life, and long road trips would find him tapping out messages with his fingers while singing out the “dash-dot” patterns. His proficiency in Morse code was connected with a knack for languages, and he eventually learned to read, write and speak French and to read Spanish fluently.


While stationed in Fort Worth, Texas, Mark met Lynda Louella Cantrell, who he married in 1953. He brought her back with him to California, where he attended college using his GI Bill benefit. After a brief stint at Mexico City College, Mark attended Harbor Community College, now Harbor-UCLA, in Wilmington. From there he transferred to UC Riverside, graduating in 1960 with a Bachelor of Science in Geology with honors. While at UC Riverside Mark was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship, and the family, then including three young children, lived for a year in Strasbourg, France on a student stipend while he studied at the Université.


After returning from France, the family moved back to Los Angeles, where Mark earned a Master’s degree in Geology from UCLA. In 1965 he was hired as a professor of Earth Science at Los Angeles City College (LACC), a position he held for almost 30 years. During those years he taught earth science courses, mentored minority students, and did mapping and worked in environmental restoration at the school district’s Gold Creek environmental preserve in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.


In 1966, Mark and Lynne purchased a quaint two-story home in Venice Beach, where they hosted lively dinner parties with a wide array of learned and sometimes offbeat people, including Mark’s LACC students and visiting foreign scientists from the Geophysics laboratory at UCLA, where Lynn worked as a secretary. The Newton household was always full of neighborhood kids as well as dogs, rabbits, ducks, chickens and an assortment of reptiles. Mark and Lynne formally separated during the mid-1960’s, but Mark remained close to his family and children.


In 1969 Mark met Sandra Wong, who was to become his second wife and beloved companion for the next 52 years. They travelled extensively together, exploring nature and sharing their love of the earth’s plant and animal diversity.


In the 1980’s Mark returned to post-graduate studies and, in 1990, earned his Ph.D. from USC. His dissertation involved mapping ancient shorelines at California’s Mono Lake and taking sediment cores from its bed, using a coring raft he constructed with the help of a friend and former student. As part of this work he also analyzed material from Walker Lake in Nevada. The project showed the rapid post-glacial climate changes in the California interior and Great Basin. He would later travel to Shark Bay, Western Australia, to see stromatolites in situ. A highlight at this time for Mark was flying over California and the Colorado plateau with his pilot friend, Chuck Armstrong, to view the geology and geography from the air. Their trips included flying the length of the San Andreas fault, over Bryce and Zion National Parks, Monument Valley and the Channel Islands.


Mark and Sandy moved to Battle Ground, Washington, after Mark’s retirement in the early 1990’s, where they continued their interests in nature study and environmental issues until Mark’s death at age 89 following a brief battle with cancer.  Mark went on many walks and hikes near their home in southwest Washington, including Bells Mountain, where Mark’s remains will help to regenerate the natural ecosystem in a protected natural wilderness area and land trust.


Mark loved desert landscapes, Italian opera and the bleak existentialist humor of Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote cartoons. He was brilliant, wildly funny and a talented teacher, leaving a legacy of profound love and respect for nature. He had a lifelong fascination with snakes and lizards and helped countless people overcome their prejudice against the scaly creatures.


Mark S. Newton is survived by his devoted wife, Sandy Wong Newton, his daughters Mary Gayle, Holly Ann, Elizabeth Joann, and Susan Kay (all Newtons), his granddaughter Kaitlyn Costa, and his twin brother, Robert Chaffer Newton.



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