Roger Tomlinson, Geographer

It is with great sadness that I relay the sudden passing of our dear friend and colleague, Dr. Roger Tomlinson, on February 9, 2014, at the age of 80.

Roger was above all else a geographer and was always proud to say that. He loved GIS, the field that he invented, and was so pleased to come to Esri and help us in thinking through difficult problems. He had a passion for staying current with the most recent technologies and always had insights that none of the rest of us had. He also loved attending the annual Esri User Conference and the opportunity to both see and acknowledge the great work of GIS professionals from around the world. He always said that giving out the Special Achievement in GIS (SAG) Awards was his favorite day of the year.

Roger both created and dignified our field with his strong yet graceful spirit and insight. He invariably knew what was important. His vision of first thinking about and then designing and building practical systems that created meaningful information products will be part of his legacy.

With his passing, a beautiful and bright light has gone out in the world. Nevertheless, I know that his spirit and passion will live on in all of us.

He was my friend. I will miss him greatly. And his spirit will be missed by all of us.

–Jack Dangermond

Roger Tomlinson

The “Father of GIS”: Dr. Roger F. Tomlinson (1933–2014)

It was Dr. Roger F. Tomlinson who first coined the term geographic information system (GIS). He created the first computerized geographic information system in the 1960s while working for the Canadian government—a geographic database still used today by municipalities across Canada for land planning. Born in England, he settled in Canada after military service and attending university, where his work in geomorphology led to applying computerized methods for handling map information. Tomlinson has had a distinguished career as a pioneer in GIS and developed Tomlinson Associates Ltd., which provides geographic consulting services. For 12 years, he was chairman of the International Geographical Union GIS Commission. He was also president of the Canadian Association of Geographers and most recently was recipient of the prestigious Alexander Graham Bell Medal, awarded only once before by the National Geographic Society. Tomlinson was also the author of Thinking About GIS: Geographic Information System Planning for Managers, one of the most widely read books on the subject.

Jack Dangermond

About Jack Dangermond

Jack Dangermond founded Esri with a vision that computer-based mapping and analysis could make significant contributions in the areas of geographic planning and environmental science. The recipient of 10 honorary doctorate degrees, he has served on advisory committees for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Science Foundation.
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  1. azolnai says:

    Thanks for your kind words, Jack, I posted the videos of his early work here

  2. rpminfonet says:

    Where would we be without Roger?  This is a great, and personal, loss – and the UC is going to be a lot less funny.  He always greeted me with, “They let anybody in here, don’t they?”  When I once showed him a photo of my 2 year old nephew sitting on an EIR and using ArcView, Roger said, “Very nice, but maybe it would be better to just let him be a child.”  Roger was a great humanist.  Think about using GIS to do something for people and for our world today.  That’s the best memorial.

  3. tpayne1966 says:

    I would always go to the SAG Awards presentations because roger would be there and I would have a chance to say hello to him.  His kindness filled the room and all who were there felt it.  I am sorry for the loss of your friend Jack and that SAG awards ceremonies will never be the same. 

  4. naturesvr says:

    Thank you for a wonderful tribute Jack. I feel so fortunate to have been able to meet Dr Tomlinson ”Roger” and chat over the years with this gentle giant of geographic systems innovation. I thank you for that opportunity and wish Roger rest and his extended family great peace, knowing he touched and inspired so many around the world..

  5. Dave Peters davepeters says:

    Roger was a wonderful friend and scholar.  He was a giant of a man, both in heart and stature, with a clear vision for GIS and a passion for technical excellence.  He was a true visionary whose contributions helped the world understand how GIS technology could be used to build a better planet.My life was clearly touched by Roger Tomlinson.  Roger was not only the father of GIS for me, but was also a close friend and mentor as we worked together for many years to promote his vision and passion for GIS technology.  Roger would want us to carry on his vision, to share the benefits of GIS, help organizations build and maintain successful GIS operations, and continue to deliver a geographic world that would make him proud.,_Father_of_GIS

  6. aechehab says:

    I once attended a workshop with Roger in one of the conferences. I remember him starting his presentation by introducing himself as a geographer and that he is here to talk about geographic information systems. That was 10 years ago. His words will never be forgotten.

  7. heena says:

    I feel very lucky that I met and talked to Roger in 2013 SAG award. The future of SAG award event won’t be the same without him, but his spirit will be there.His book, “Thinking about GIS” was my guidance during the first years of GIS work. His encouragement and silent smile will be remembered forever.

  8. yodyrap says:

    Dr. Tomlinson will not be forgotten. He has given so much of himself and I think he is proud of the accomplishment and all the good that has been done with the ideas that he formulated in the 60′s. He was an inspiration to a generation of geographers, architects, engineers and scientists that have a passion for the location of things and how to communicate that location to others. How to tell the story, how to preserve the truth. Because isn’t it more satisfying to tell the story using the truth, having the true location of things and yet being able to see the big picture … rather than just a sketch. My deepest condolences to those that knew Dr. Tomlinson well enough to call him their friend or family. Truly a great loss. – Yoav Rappaport, Tampa FL

  9. duncankatimbo says:

    Input your comments here…Indeed a great loss….His work shall not be forgotten.The way he approached the epidemic in that story really saved many people…here in Africa where people are so superstitious are slowly understanding how things are spatially correlated hence approaching many issues logically.   God bless his family…..