Obituary – Miles Hayes Has Dies From Complications With Lewy Body Dementia

Miles Hayes Obituary

Obituary – Miles Hayes Has Dies From Complications With Lewy Body Dementia

Miles Hayes October 20, 1934 – March 30, 2022, Columbia, South Carolina – Miles Oren Hayes, Ph.D., 87, died on March 30 from complications with Lewy Body dementia, which he faced with courage and humor during the past four years. He was a retired Professor of Geology (1972-1984) and Department Chair (1973-1977) at the University of South Carolina and founder, president, and chairman of Research Planning, Inc. (1977-2020) based in Columbia, SC. He is survived by his devoted wife of 46 years, Jacqui Michel (Columbia), daughters Joy E. Hayes (Bettendorf, IA) and Mya S. Hayes (Davenport, IA), grandchildren J.J. and Alma Gonzalez-Hayes, and James Glenn Worley, who was like a brother to him.

Miles was born in Oakley, North Carolina, the fourth child of Norman E. and Ora B. Hayes. He loved baseball and was a star player and student at Oakley High School and Berea College, the school where tuition is free and all the students work 15 hours a week. Because he changed majors after his sophomore year (from Agriculture to Geology), it took him five years to get his degree. In his fifth year (1956), his work assignment was to be the assistant baseball coach under head coach, Monarchy White. At a pay rate of 15 cents an hour, he claimed to have set the record as the lowest-paid college baseball coach in history.

Miles went on to earn a Masters’s degree in Geology from Washington University in St. Louis and a Ph.D. in Geology and Marine Science from the University of Texas at Austin, studying under the great professor, Robert L. Folk. His life work was set when Hurricane Carla (1961) tore up the Texas coast and destroyed his beach and offshore monitoring stations. Taking advantage of such an event, Miles ultimately produced the seminal study, Hurricanes as Geologic Agents, a widely cited treatise. Navy grants to study coastlines of the world at the University of Massachusetts (1964-1972) and a growing coterie of graduate students solidified his reputation as a rising star in the earth sciences.

The University of South Carolina recruited Miles to the Department of Geological Sciences and also got an instant research group of graduate students and funded post-doctoral graduate instructors, the Coastal Research Division. In barely 20 years Miles supervised 72 Masters’s and Ph.D. graduates who worked on projects around the world. Miles Hayes is often referred to as the Father of Coastal Geomorphology, the study of landforms, because of his intuitive understanding of the origins of today’s coast.

He published widely on the role of tides and waves in barrier island formation, clearly and cleverly explaining why islands in South Carolina and other coasts are shaped like a chicken drumstick, unlike the straight beaches of Texas or Long Island which look more like skinny hot dogs. His aerial photos were breathtaking and his artistic sketches of beaches were legendary. Miles was able to attract the best and brightest students because of his unique blend of scientific integrity, global experience, and high standards. He was generous in giving credit to others and didn’t expect to have his name first on scientific papers written by his students. But he expected every publication to be clearly written, colorfully illustrated, free of typographical errors, and to be based on careful measurements.

Miles worked in 40 countries and on every continent, including Antarctica, where he was honored with the naming of Hayes Head, a prominent coastal headland. He designed and taught a course for petroleum geologists and geophysicists on Modern Coastal Environments, with over 3,000 students participating in-class lectures and field trips along the amazing South Carolina coast from 1976-to 2006. In 1997, he received one of geology’s highest honors, the Francis B. Shepard Award for sustained excellence in marine geology. In 2016 he received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Berea College.

Miles wrote many scientific articles, but he was most proud of two memoirs: Black Tides (1999), about being an oil spill scientist working on many large spills; and Coastal Heroes (2011), a tribute to the work that he and his students and associates conducted. Each chapter begins with “The Science” on a topic of coastal science, and the second part is “The Story” which is about the funny events and interesting people he met along the way. Miles and Jacqui published beautifully illustrated books on the coastal geology and ecology of five areas: South Carolina, Central California, Georgia, Southern Alaska, and Oregon and Washington, drawing on their passions for fly fishing and bird watching around the world.

In the second half of his career, Miles’ private company, RPI, focused on applied research related to the search for oil, oil spill science, spatial analysis, and coastal restoration. The quality of RPI’s work has continued under Jacqui’s leadership since 2000. Miles’ greatest legacy is likely to be the hundreds of earth scientists he inspired through his teaching and infectious love of nature. While conducting studies along the Alaska coast in the early 1970s, he and several students produced the tone poem, Suzanne’s Lament, with songs like Fire and Rain and Let It Be juxtaposed with photos of the beautiful Alaskan landscape and the over-developed shores of New Jersey. He always attributed his recruiting success to the presentation of Suzanne’s Lament at dozens of colleges and science conferences.

Many of his graduates speak of that showing with reverence because it became a life-changing event for them.
There will be a celebration of Miles’ life at a time to be determined. The family would appreciate it if you could share a special memory or photographs on the guestbook at the link. Donations can be made in his honor to the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (, an organization that he and Jacqui believe is doing amazing work to protect the North Carolina and Tennessee mountain ecosystems.

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