Today, we honour the life of a great visionary. Dr. Roger Tomlinson, whom we fondly knew as the “father of GIS”, passed away on Friday, February 7, 2014 at the age of 80.
Dr. Tomlinson invented the first computerized GIS back in the ‘60s, when he developed the Canada Geographic Information System for use by the Canada Land Inventory.
Thanks to his innovation, we can now easily overlay unlimited amounts of data on dynamic, digital maps and analyze information in numerous ways previously not possible. From climate change, overpopulation, poverty, disease outbreaks and flooding, to managing power outages, emergencies and optimizing site selection, GIS is being used today in various industries to help solve virtually any location-based problem.
Dr. Tomlinson’s invention of GIS led to the development of today’s computerized mapping technology, digitizing tables and global positioning systems. As well, his work advanced mapping as a profession and established a thriving industry that employs thousands worldwide. Research firm Global Industry Analysts estimates the global GIS industry is expected to grow to $10.6 billion by 2015.
He was a great friend to Esri Canada and an inspiration to many geographers. His work spanned over five decades and has helped organizations worldwide apply GIS to increase efficiency in map production, provide fast and easy access to digital data, and improve decision-making through visual spatial analysis.
In 1963, Dr. Tomlinson established Tomlinson Associates, a geographic consulting firm that served international clients including the World Bank, and the US and Canadian Forest Services. He was a sought-after speaker at GIS events worldwide and presented at several Esri conferences.
For his outstanding work, he received the Esri Lifetime Achievement Award (1997), the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s Gold Medal (2003) and the National Geographic Society’s Alexander Graham Bell Medal (2010). In 2005, he became the first recipient of the Association of American Geographers’ Robert T. Aangeenbrug Distinguished Career Award. He was made an Honorary Member of the Association of Ontario Land Surveyors in 2011 for his leadership in the area of GIS. In 2001, he was named a member of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honour, and was promoted in 2013 to an Officer of the Order of Canada for transforming the field of geography with his invention of GIS.
Read more about Dr. Tomlinson and his work in this article: The 50th Anniversary of GIS.
A couple of years ago, I was fortunate to meet him in person at an employee event here at Esri Canada. Thinking of all that he has done for the GIS industry and the impact of his achievements on the world, I couldn’t help but be in awe of his brilliant mind and presence. Thank you, Dr. Tomlinson, for your remarkable legacy. You will be missed.
See Dr. Tomlinson's obituary.
Since we heard of his passing, many colleagues have shared their own memories of meeting this industry giant and I wasn’t surprised that the single most common thing people share about their thoughts of him was his passion for GIS.
How did Dr. Tomlinson and his work inspire you? Share your thoughts and memories of him by leaving a comment below.