Charles Sargent

1937 - 2015

Charles Sargent

Chuck Sargent, professor emeritus of geography at Arizona State University, who researched the evolution of frontiers and the growth of towns and cities, passed away on February 3, 2015 at the age of 78.

Charles Scales Sargent was born on April 14, 1936 in Baltimore, Maryland but grew up on a remote ranch in Wyoming. As soon as he was able, he began a life-long fascination with seeing and understanding the wider world.

Sargent completed his bachelor’s degree at the University of Wyoming followed by a master’s degree at the University of California at Berkeley. He remained at Berkeley for a PhD and received a National Research Council Foreign Field Research scholarship to carry out work in Argentina. His thesis, completed in 1971, was entitled “Urban dynamics and the changing pattern of residential development: Buenos Aires, 1870-1930.” He subsequently produced a book based on this work: The Spatial Evolution of Greater Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1870-1930 (1974).

His first teaching job was at the University of Nebraska before moving to Arizona State University (ASU) in 1971. He specialized in urban geography and Latin America, and was a popular lecturer. His courses frequently drew large enrollments, with students respecting his far-ranging knowledge and enjoying his lively lectures, despite his reputation for tough exams and grading.

Sargent’s research interests lay in urban geography including comparative world urbanism, historical urban geography, the evolution of frontiers, and the dynamics of urban growth. He maintained his interest in cities of Latin America, as well as studying the urban geography of North America. Of particular note is his edited volume, Urban Dynamics (1977), a selection of readings from the Wall Street Journal about the changing face of America’s cities. Meanwhile his work on the evolution of the Phoenix metropolitan area provided the foundation upon which much research has since been built.

In 1988, when the Association of American Geographers held its Annual Meeting in Phoenix, each participant received a copy of Metro Phoenix, a book edited and largely written by Sargent. The text described the development of Arizona’s urban system and the evolution of the Phoenix area from its founding to the present.

Sargent had a fascination with, and feel for, European languages. He spoke French, Spanish, German and Italian, and his pronunciation made him sound as though he was a native speaker. His love for language and geography converged in a fascination about place names.

Another of Sargent’s loves was fine food. Fellow ASU professor emeritus, Tony Brazel, said “Not only did he love food, he taught a popular course on food and drink – a masterful, engaging geography of regions and countries through analysis of food and drink evident in cultures.”

Sargent retired from ASU in 1993 then spent the next 12 years as a lecturer on cruise ships, which enabled him to spend several months a year travelling the world. On one of the cruises he met a woman who predicted that he would like her sister. She was right and Chuck met and fell in love with Martha Spruell. Chuck curbed his world travel to go and live with Martha in Richmond for a few years before luring her back to Arizona where they lived between their further world travels.

He filled his mind and shelves with books, his ears and imagination with opera and classical music, his hands with his beloved dogs and plants.

Chuck was known by colleagues, students and friends as an outgoing and entertaining character. He constantly played with the sound and meaning of words. In particular he loved sharing his sought-after advice on where to go and what to eat the world over.

He is survived by a sister and brother, as well as Martha Spruell, his partner in life and love for last 20 years.