Association of American Geographers
About AAG Membership Annual Meeting Projects & Programs Education Publications Calendar Of Events Jobs & Careers

Leland R. Pederson

Lee Pederson, Emeritus Professor of Geography and Regional Development at the University of Arizona, who was a Latin Americanist and a historian of geographic thought, died on July 27, 2016, at the age of 88.

Leland R. Pederson was born on January 2, 1928, in Bismarck, North Dakota. He earned a bachelor’s degree in geography from Valley State Teachers College, in Valley City, ND, and a master’s degree in history from Colorado State College of Education in Greeley. Drafted during the Korean War, Pederson was posted to Fort Ord, in Monterey, California, where he taught typing.

Upon his discharge from the Army, Pederson continued his academic studies in the geography doctoral program at the University of California, Berkeley. There he met Lucy Valintino, a graduate student in Spanish. Lucy was taken with his mercurial personality, which, over six subsequent decades, would prove a worthy match for her own forceful character. The two wed and traveled to Chile; there they lived from 1959−1960, while he undertook fieldwork for his dissertation, carried out under the direction of Professor James J. Parsons.

Pederson’s development as a scholar was greatly influenced by the vigorous tutelage on writing provided by Professor Edward P. Leahy to the Berkeley graduate student group. He had a life-long love affair with the English language and would become a stickler for proper usage, grammar, and spelling.

Taking his first teaching position in the geography department at Northwestern in 1961, he would be remembered by a number of faculty colleagues and graduate students there, as well as later on at the University of Arizona, for his critiques and constructive criticisms of their papers at the pre- (and post-) publication stage. Pederson frequently consulted an unabridged American-English dictionary, which he kept for many years resting on a stand in the Arizona department’s conference room, immediately adjacent to his office.

Pederson’s Ph.D. dissertation entitled “The Mining Industry of Norte Chico, Chile” was accepted by the Berkeley geography department in 1965. He continued service on the faculty at Northwestern through the spring of 1968. That fall, he and Lucy moved to Tucson, where they each would teach for the better part of three decades. Pederson took up a faculty position in the Department of Geography and Area Development, then a unit of the College of Business and Public Administration, while his wife began many years instructing language courses in Spanish and Italian.

Throughout Pederson’s 27 years at Arizona he taught first-year Human Geography, regional courses on Middle America and South America—staple classes for the B.A. and M.A. degrees offered through university’s Latin American Studies program—and a graduate-level History of Geographic Thought. The History of Geographic Thought was a mainstay of the required curricula taken by generations of Arizona geography M.A. and Ph.D. students. Like his mentor Professor Leahy, Professor Pederson left his forceful impress on the writing skills (and psyches!) of numerous emerging scholars.

After only a single initial year of service on the Arizona faculty, Pederson was named Acting Head in the fall of 1969. Soon thereafter he was appointed to an official term as Head and would lead the department until January, 1975. During the Pederson years, the geography Ph.D. program was approved in October, 1972, with the first doctoral applicants admitted to begin studies in August, 1973. Also during his tenure as Head, the university’s Committee on Urban Planning was merged with the department of Geography and Area Development, and the name of the department changed to Geography and Regional Development.

A long-time member of the AAG, the Conference of Latin Americanist Geographers and the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers, Professor Pederson served as Program Chair for the April 1988 Annual Meetings of the AAG held in Phoenix, and twice as APCG Program Chair, arranging the agenda for two Annual Meetings held in Tucson: in June 1976 and September 1991. Graduate students whose theses and dissertations Pederson supervised were Wayne Sigleo (1971), Peter Hoffman (1974), David McGrath (1983), Steven Turiano (1984), Linda Lizarraga (1985), Eric Shapiro (1989), Susan Moore (1992), and James Keese (1996).

Until his retirement in 1995, Pederson actively participated in faculty oversight of the university’s libraries. He continued to exert a strong influence and an unstinting insistence on the maintenance of standards of excellence for geography at the University of Arizona. He watched, generally with approval, as geography on campus advanced far beyond its initial humble roots as a small undergraduate program in the business school to its current position as a top-tier, full-spectrum, doctoral-degree-granting School of Geography and Development, now home to 25 regular faculty and over 25 adjunct and affiliated faculty and offering four graduate degrees and four undergraduate majors. Read his (2002) Geography and Regional Development at the University of Arizona: A History

Until ill health precluded it in his final year and a half, he continued to pay weekly visits to the School of Geography and Development and, in his geographic historian way, to follow and assess the activities of its faculty and graduate students. 

Recently he was asked by a publisher to have an updated version of his dissertation translated and published in Spanish: This was a project he undertook with his characteristic zeal for all-things-editorial. The book is now in its second printing after the first sold out.

Lee Pederson is survived by his wife, Lucy, and daughter, Lisa. Contributions in Lee’s memory may be made, per his wishes, in support of the University of Arizona’s School of Geography and Development through the University of Arizona Foundation.