Harm Jan de Blij

1935 - 2014

Harm de Blij of Sarasota, Florida and Chatham, Massachusetts died on March 25, 2014, at The Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida.

Born in the Netherlands, de Blij received his early schooling in Europe, his undergraduate education in Africa from the University of the Witwatersrand and his graduate degrees in the United States from Northwestern University. Dr. de Blij taught at Michigan State University as a Professor from 1960 to 1969 and then moved to the University of Miami where he served as Chairperson of the Department of Geography.  He served on the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration for more than 20 years, was founding editor of its journal National Geographic Research and was awarded National Geographic’s Distinguished Geography Educator Award and lifetime membership for his advocacy of geography.  He received the highest recognitions from the Association of American Geographers, the American Geographical Society and the National Council for Geographic Education. Dr. de Blij has also held the George Landegger Chair in Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and the John Deaver Drinko Chair of Geography at Marshall University and was Presidential Scholar at the Colorado School of Mines.  Dr. de Blij returned to MSU in 2000 as a Distinguished Professor and was subsequently named the John A. Hannah Professor of Geography. His scholarly work has been recognized through honorary degrees awarded by Marshall University, Rhode Island College, Grand Valley State University, North Carolina State University and Michigan State University.

Dr. de Blij specialized in geopolitical and environmental issues and has published more than 30 books including scientific, educational, and trade titles, and over 100 articles.  His textbook Geography: Realms, Regions and Concepts (Wiley) has exceeded 1.3 million copies in 15 editions since 1970.  Another book, Wine: a Geographic Appreciation (Rowman & Allanheld) was awarded a medal by the French wine organization, OIV, in Paris.  His books have been translated into several foreign languages. Over the past 40 years, de Blij was also one of the few academic geographers of his generation to make a major and lasting impact in the public arena. He was the popular Geography Editor on ABC’s “Good Morning America” from 1989 to 1996. In 1996, he joined NBC News as Geography Analyst, appearing mostly on MSNBC.   He was writer of and commentator for the original PBS Series “The Power of Place”.  Dr. de Blij was much in demand on the lecture circuit and his extraordinary communication skills were widely recognized. He gave over 400 presentations since 2001 with lecture titles such as; Confronting Militant Islam: the  changing Geography of Terrorism, Why Geography Matters: the Cost of Geographic Illiteracy, and  Climate Change Forever: Truth and Consequences.

Harm de Blij ‘s parents were both distinguished musicians and he remained a violinist and chamber-music participant through the end of his life.  He was an avid wine collector, lifelong soccer (Holland) and baseball (Cubs) fan.  His second love after geography was animals, all animals but a special place in his heart was always kept for his own.

Harm is survived by his wife of 37 years, Bonnie of Chatham and his only son Hugh James of Maryland and beloved sister in law Patti Mc Culley of North Chatham.  He was predeceased by his Mother Nelly and Father Hendrik and his daughter Tanya Powers de Blij.

Memorial contributions may be made to The de Blij Geography Scholars, Department of Geography, Michigan State University, 673 Auditorium Road, Room 116, East Lansing, MI 48824 or to The Wildlife Center of Venice, Inc. 3252 Border Road, Venice, FL 34292

—Bonnie de Blij