Friday, August 14, 2009

Tributes paid after Scots gem expert is murdered

Published on 13 Aug 2009

Tributes have been paid to an internationally acclaimed Scottish geologist and gemstone expert who was murdered by a mob in what police believe was a dispute over mining in Kenya.

Campbell Bridges, 71, who was also a gemologist, made one of the most important gemstone finds of the last century when he uncovered tsavorite – an extraordinarily beautiful stone.

He was stabbed to death after being surrounded by a gang of 20 armed with clubs, spears and bows, as he sat in his pick-up truck.

Mr Bridges, who was a senior jewel consultant with Tiffany and Company in New York, had recently obtained a prospecting licence that allowed him to explore a large area for the beautiful green stone, which he first found in 1967.

The local police chief said they believe Tuesday’s murder in Tsavo National Park, near the town of Voi, in southern of Kenya, where he owned several gemstone mines, is possibly linked to a row over his mining plans in the national park.

Mr Bridges’s son Bruce and four Kenyan employees were with him in the vehicle, he added, but none of them were seriously injured.

Bruce said: “They had dragged thorn bushes across the road and as soon as we got out of the vehicle, eight of them came running towards us, screaming ‘We are going to kill you all.’

“They had machetes, spears, bows and arrows, heavy wooden clubs and we had a couple of clubs, no real weapons.

“One guy went at my dad with a spear, my father grabbed the end of the spear and held it away from him. Right as that happened I saw another run up and stab my father.”

John Ole Shampiro, commanding officer of the Taita Police Division said: “According to our investigations his death was a result of a mining dispute involving the deceased and the locals.”

A source close to his family told The Herald that an argument broke out when local diggers came across valuable deposits and Mr Bridges said the land was his. When things became heated, he and Bruce, fled but had to stop and get out to remove the bushes – at which point they were set upon by the armed gang.

The geologist’s body was flown back to Nairobi, where he lived with his American wife, Judy, and daughter, Laura, early yesterday.

Despite being born in Scotland, one friend described Mr Bridges as a “true son of Africa”. Raised in Zimbabwe and South Africa because his Scottish father worked as a geologist for the diamond exploration firm De Beers. He completed his doctorate in geology at Wiswatersrand University in Johannesburg.

He made his fame and fortune from the most famous and important new gem finds of the twentieth century.

He introduced tanzanite, a deep-blue zoisite gemstone, to the US market, prompting a major promotional campaign by Tiffany. He also discovered tsavorite, a type of luminous green garnet, in the Tanzanian bushland.

His search for gems continued to Kenya, where he lived in a treehouse to avoid wild animal attacks and reportedly used a python to guard his gemstones from light-fingered local workers.

Tributes poured in yesterday as news of the geologist’s death spread around the gem world. One close friend, Robert Nicoletti, described Mr Bridges’s murder as “an act of evil that is unfathomable”.

American writer, Richard Wise, recalled visiting his friend shortly after a break-in at his office, when millions of pounds worth of tsavorite had been stolen. He said: “That was a loss that would have staggered most men, it hardly even slowed Campbell Bridges down. That was the measure of the man.”

Brian Jackson, chairman of the Scottish Gemological Association, met him during his last visit to Scotland in 1999. “He was very enthusiastic, very sharing. He contributed a lot, not just through gemology, but he used that to fund other areas of support and conservation issues,” he said.

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I grew up in Chautauqua County, NY. I graduated from Edinboro University of Pennyslvania in 1981 with a BFA in Jewelry and Metalworking. I have been married 31 years. I currently run a small business with my husband. We both enjoy the outdoors and animals a great deal and live on a tiny farm in Western, NY.