'Father of GIS' passes away
Posted by James Boxall
on Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Lily Tomlinson, James Boxall and Roger Tomlinson at the Royal Canadian Geographical Society Annual College of Fellows Dinner. Photo courtesy James Boxall
Roger Tomlinson once referred to a crowd of geography experts as “my grandchildren.” Although it was made tongue in cheek, the comment was not unwarranted. Tomlinson, an RCGS Fellow often considered to be the “Father of GIS,” died aged 80 on February 9, and it’s left many within the geographic community feeling like they’ve lost a family member.
I first met Roger in 1991 at the Canadian Association of Geographers meeting at Queen’s University. He was receiving an award for service to geography, and his words on the importance of working together across geography disciplines echoed in my head. When years later I accepted my own award, he told me, “Now you have to use this and do more, and figure out how to give back to the community.”
He inspired me to see what could be done—what I first thought impossible—but what the geomatics and geography community needed.
The last time I saw Roger was at the Royal Canadian Geographical Society's Annual College of Fellows Dinner in November. I had the honour to be seated at the same table as him and his wife Lila. It wasn’t long before a line of colleagues came over to thank Roger for his work and inspiration. He was so kind and giving, welcoming each person and focusing on their words, generous to a fault. When he was acknowledged as a Gold Medal recipient, the audience clapped heartily. Had we known he would not be with us much longer, I think the ovation would have lasted much longer and echoed far beyond Ottawa.
Before the evening concluded, I thanked Roger for all the advice and direction he had given me: to ask for help, to contribute more than you receive and to give back to the community that has given you so much. Roger, I will always do that and follow your guidance, even if you are not here to smile and laugh, and nudge with those grandfatherly words and counsel.