In high school, he worked for a mule-packing business run by his oldest brother, Norman, who would serve as Gov. Ronald Reagan's state secretary for resources.

After graduating from Stanford University in 1940, Livermore worked for the U.S. Geological Survey and then served in the Naval Civil Engineering Corps during World War II. Assigned to the Seabees, he spent a year building facilities in New Guinea.

In 1952, he joined Newport Mining and traveled the world for his work. He led the company's exploration efforts in Canada from 1962 to 1970, when he formed Cordex and soon discovered another gold deposit in Nevada.

When Cordex borrowed $17 million to develop the Pinson deposit in the state in 1980, the company was able to repay the loan in less than 14 months, Forbes magazine reported in 1987.

The soft-spoken Livermore was tall — about 6 foot 5— and humble, did not own a television set and read constantly, Wallace said.

Since 1972, Livermore had lived in a condo in downtown Reno and gave most of his money away, "anonymously if possible," Wallace said. His major philanthropic gifts included endowing chairs at Stanford and the University of Nevada at Reno.

In his early 90s, Livermore continued to actively prospect for gold. He once tried to explain the allure by recalling the words of an elderly former boss who kept returning to the field.

"He said, 'I want just one more, John. Just one more.' Ahh yes," Livermore said. "I know the feeling exactly."

Survivors include his brother, Putnam Livermore.

valerie.nelson@latimes.com