Nestor John Sander, December 12, 1914 – February 11, 2012.
Nestor (Sandy) Sander was the last living employee of Casoc, the California Arabian Standard Oil Company. With his passing, the opening chapter in the story of Arabian oil comes to a close. Scientist, author, editor, translator, photographer, and teacher, Sandy had many careers in his long lifetime.
A graduate of the University of California Berkeley with a Masters degree in paleontology, he was initially hired by the Standard Oil Company of California in 1938 and sent to Saudi Arabia in November of that year to work for its Arabian subsidiary, Casoc. Once in Dhahran he began work on defining the Abqaiq field and then headed a group assigned to map the sub-surface contours of what would later be called the Ghawar Field, the largest oil field in the world. When not in the field he was busy setting up the company’s first micro paleontology laboratory to analyze, document and catalog his findings.
In late 1941 returning from long leave, his ship had barely cleared the Golden Gate when it returned to port. It was December 7th, 1941, and America was at war. A ROTC officer at Berkeley, he was quickly mobilized into the army and once it was known that he was fluent in French, Spanish, Italian and German he was sent to North Africa to work in military intelligence in the newly liberated Vichy cities of Algiers, Oran and Tunis. With the liberation of Paris, he was sent there to liaison with French officials and over see the French media. During his time in Paris he met a young French translator, Georgette Cordin, who he fell in love with and married April 3, 1946.
After the war he returned to Ras Tanura to work for the newly renamed Arabian American Oil Company. While there he was able to complete his doctoral thesis for the Sorbonne and earned his Ph D in 1952. He stayed with Aramco until 1955 when he left the company to pursue other opportunities with Conorada Petroleum and Amoco preparing reports on various sites from Libya to many locations in the Mediterranean Basin. One report that he authored and presented to the Society of Gas Engineers in London was particularly prescient. Entitled “Why Look for Oil and Gas in the North Sea?” it foresaw by more than a decade the oil boom that would transform the North Sea into one of the world’s major oil fields.
In 1977 he retired to live in Spain and France where he and Georgette lived happily until his beloved wife succumbed to a chronic blood disease and passed away January 22, 1992. Bereft with her loss he sought some way to distract himself and decided to write a book about Abdul Aziz ibn Saud.
Nestor had met and shaken hands with the monarch in 1939 and was so impressed that over the years he had read every book ever written about the man in English, French and German. With the discipline of a scientist he examined each work again, trying to resolve contrary accounts of certain incidents within the man’s life. After four years he completed Ibn Saud: King by Conquest, his masterful account of the young prince who regained his father’s throne, unified his kingdom and transformed it into a major global power. Published in a limited edition in 2001 and in trade paper in 2008, the title is now considered one of the finest biographies ever written about the desert king.
Beginning in the late 90s, Sandy worked as the US editor for Carnets de Geologie/ Notebooks on Geology an online micro-paleontology journal, in the course of his work translating scores of scientific papers from French and German into English. He completed his last translation just two months before his passing. His contribution will be recognized in an upcoming memorial to him on the site.
At the age of 91 Nestor took a three week vacation in France to meet friends and relatives and make even more friends. While there he visited the historic sites of the D-Day invasion in Normandy and when he returned he taught himself how to produce videos so that he could make a series of You Tube videos about the invasion and the memorial cemeteries of the different nations. He then began a series of instructional videos about geology and micro-fossils, completing his 29th video last year at the age of 97. His combined audience of over 70,000 viewers is an impressive figure for anyone of any age.
A man of considerable intellect, intense curiosity and enormous enthusiasm which he brought to every endeavor he began, Nestor did not consider knowledge as an end in itself, but rather as a means to better understand the world and each other. And he was deeply convinced that with knowledge came a responsibility to share it with the world.
In his later years as he was beset with the constrictions of age – the shaky hand that hindered his use of a computer mouse, the hearing loss and weak vision, he never considered them as serious impediments to his work, rather he thought of them as mere inconveniences that would never stop him from his mission. As a testament to his dogged determination and tremendous vitality it was while he was biking to the store to get groceries that he had the accident that would take his life at the age of 97.
Whenever I used to finish talking to Nestor on the phone he would always sign off by saying “So Long.” For all of us who respected this wonderful man who knew so much – whether it was the name of Ibn Saud’s uncle or the right wine to order with pheasant under glass or the various micro-fossils of the Mid-Cretaceous period, and for all of us who loved his stories of past exploits and adventures, his devilish sense of humor and his contagious laughter I’d like to say, “So Long Sandy, you’ll be sorely missed.”
Nestor has authored many articles for Aramco ExPats. See all articles by Nestor Sander.