Thomas Wilbanks

1939 - 2017

Thomas Wilbanks

Dr. Thomas J. Wilbanks, age 78, a groundbreaking scientist and a devoted family man, passed away Sunday, January 29, 2017. He will be greatly missed. Dr. Wilbanks was a Corporate Fellow at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where he had worked since 1977 and conducted research and published extensively on sustainable development, energy and environmental technology and policy, responses to global climate change, and the role of geographical scale. He was a president of the American Association of Geographers (AAG), one of only three nonacademics to serve as the president in its more than 100 years, and authored, co-authored, or co-edited 9 books and more than 100 journal articles and book chapters. Dr. Wilbanks’ highest honor was to be formally recognized as a co-laureate for the 2007 Nobel Prize for Peace, in recognition of his work on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He was also a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and was awarded numerous other honors in his field. He helped lead the first comprehensive US national energy plan and led more than 70 projects in 40 developing countries worldwide. Born in Texarkana AR, Dr. Wilbanks received his undergraduate degree from Trinity University, where he was named Distinguished Alumnus in 2013-14. He received his Ph.D. from Syracuse University. Dr. Wilbanks served his country in the U.S. Army, where he was an Airborne Ranger and a military intelligence officer. Before coming to Oak Ridge, he was a professor at Syracuse University and chaired the Geography Department at Oklahoma University.

He was predeceased by his parents, Thomas Winston Wilbanks and Elsie Thompson; and is survived by his wife of 57 years, Kathryn Jordan Wilbanks; brother, Dana Winston Wilbanks; sister, Beth Wilbanks Robb; children, Kathryn Lee Wilbanks, Lisa Wilbanks Rentenbach, and John Thompson Wilbanks; daughter-in-law, Carolina Almeida Antunes Rossini; and grandchildren, Augusta Belle Rentenbach, John Conoley Rentenbach, and Noah Rossini Wilbanks.

The Wilbanks family has created the AAG Wilbanks Award for Transformational Research in Geography to honor researchers who have made significant contributions to Geography and GIScience. The family asks that donations be made to the AAG Wilbanks Award for Transformational Research in Geography at this link or by contacting Candida Mannozzi at or 202-234-1450.

Donate to the AAG Wilbanks Award for Transformational Research in Geography

Portions published in Knoxville News Sentinel on Feb. 5, 2017