William J. Black

The faculty, staff, students and alumni of the Department of Geography mourn the loss of Professor Emeritus William R. Black on October 15th, 2013 at his home in Bloomington, Indiana. Though Bill had fought cancer for a number of years prior, his death was unexpected. A native of Brownsville, Pennsylvania, Bill graduated from California State College of Pennsylvania in 1964. Afterward he moved to Iowa City where in 1966 he earned a M.A. in Geography and in 1969 a PhD. He served on the faculty of the Department of Geography at Miami University of Ohio from 1968-1969 before moving to the Department of Geography at Indiana University in Bloomington. He remained at IU throughout his career, retiring in 2007 as Professor Emeritus after his second 4-year stint as Chair of the department, having also served in that capacity from 1985-1989. Additionally, he held appointments and leadership positions in the Transportation Research Center, Regional Analysis and Planning Program, and the Center for Urban and Regional Analysis in the Schools of Business and Public and Environmental Affairs at IU. Outside Bloomington he held a visiting professorship at Purdue University in 1973 and was a Guest Scholar of The Brookings Institution in 1982.

Bill was a foundational figure in Transport Geography. He directed over 20 transportation research and planning projects, published over 200 research papers and reports, and authored, co-authored, or served as editor of seven books. These contributions include comprehensive studies of the Federal Local Rail Service Assistance Act, a germinal textbook in transportation analysis, and a survey book of sustainability in transportation. He was responsible for the formation of the Transportation Geography Specialty Group of the Association of American Geographers and was a key figure in the development of the Journal of Transport Geography. He also served on the editing board of several major journals in transportation and environmental studies. For his ‘Significant Contributions to Transportation Geography’’, he was awarded the Edward L. Ullman Award by the Association of American Geographers in 1995 and was selected to present the Fleming Lecture in Transportation Geography at the Association of American Geographers meeting in Pittsburgh in 2000. He was extensively involved in the Transportation Research Board of the National Research Council, including serving twice as chair of the Committee on Social and Economic Factors. For his efforts he received the Board’s Distinguished Service Award in 2002, and designation as Emeritus Member for Significant Contributions to the Organization in 2005.

He was a singular academic in the extent of his involvement, contributions, and achievements outside academia. He was extensively involved in the planning and restructuring of American railroads in the turbulent 1970s for that industry. He served as Director of Rail Planning for the State of Indiana from 1974 to 1975, and was a Chief on the Activation Task Force of Conrail during its formation in 1975 to 1976. He served as the first Director of Transportation of the State of Indiana when that department was formed in 1980. He was also responsible for the routing and planning of the public transportation system in Bloomington, Indiana when it was introduced in 1972. His service to the State of Indiana was recognized by then Governor Otis T. Bowen in 1980 when he was named a Sagamore of the Wabash for Public Service, the highest honor a civilian can be awarded by the Indiana Governor’s office. Upon retirement, Bill stepped away to pursue a life-long love of creative writing. In retirement, he produced a biography of World War I correspondent and Brownsville, PA native Percival Phillips, and was working on one of Philander Case Knox when he died. He also published Mitigating Circumstances: The United States of America vs. Robert Black and Greenhouse Effects, A Novel as e-books.

Perhaps most of all, Bill had a way with words that was unmistakable to anyone who read his work or conversed with him. He had a knack for saying the most impactful thing at just the right time and as succinctly as could be stated. This made him an insightful teacher, engaging public speaker, delightful writer to read, and perhaps most meaningful for those who knew him, a most helpful confidant and mentor.