Waldo R. Tobler
{ "" }
Share Waldo's life story with friends and family
Send an Email
Or Copy this URL to Share

Waldo R. Tobler, Professor Emeritus at the University of California Santa Barbara, passed away at home in Santa Barbara, California, on February 20, 2018, at the age of 87. Professor Tobler was one of the world's leading cartographers. He was a principal investigator and a senior scientist in the National Science Foundation-sponsored National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis based at UC Santa Barbara.

Waldo Tobler was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1930, to Swiss parents, Verner Tobler and Hanny Urech Tobler. His father was a consular official for the Swiss government, and the family moved to Seattle while he was a young boy. They were transferred to Washington DC at the start of World War II, and were on the first boat over to LeHavre, France, after the war, on their way to Bern, Switzerland. Tobler joined the American Army in Switzerland, where, in addition to his native English, Sweitzerdeutsch, and French, the Counter-Intelligence Corps trained him in Russian. Upon discharge, he returned to Vancouver, where his father was Consul, after the war. He completed his undergraduate work at the University of British Columbia and received his Ph.D. in Geography from the University of Washington. At UBC, Tobler developed a strong attachment to maps, especially to the study of Ancient and Renaissance maps. At UW, he was one of a group of graduate students, under the leadership of Professor William Garrison, who were the first to develop rigorous scientific research in the field of geography. He married Dorothy Weix in 1961 and they had two sons, Eric and Stephen.

His professional academic career was first spent at the University of Michigan from 1961 to 1977. He created software and was the first to use computers in cartographic and geographic research, with emphasis on mathematical modeling and graphic interpretations. He was the inventor of novel and unusual map projections, including a type of equal area Mercator projection. Well known for his over-200 publications, in 1970, one of his statements, was about observable characteristics of the earth's surface. This became the heralded Tobler's First Law of Geography, "Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related."

He left Michigan in 1977 to help develop what became the stellar Department of Geography at the University of California Santa Barbara. Through his many publications and attendance at scientific meetings, his influence went beyond these locations to the wider world of analytical cartography, statistical geography, social science, including regional science, and computer-based data analysis, and helped to lay the groundwork for geographic information systems. Among other inventions is his method for creating smooth two-dimensional mass-preserving areal data distributions. Over the years, Tobler's name became associated with sophisticated insights into the representation of data sets concerning social phenomena, especially migration, human movement, and spatial interaction. He received the O.M. Miller medal in Cartography in 1989. Tobler's many honors include membership in the National Academy of Sciences, member of the Royal Geographical Society, and an honorary degree from the University of Zurich. He was also a long-time member of the Santa Barbara Swiss Club and a past president of that organization. He was a Sierra Club member and met Rachel on a Sierra Club Hike to Inspiration Point in July, 1982. They were both smitten and were married 2 months later, September 16, 1982. They were still smitten the day he died.

Waldo is predeceased by his sister, Erica Weisskopf and her husband, Dr. Alex Weisskopf; also by his sister, Dr. Heidi Veronica Evers and her husband, Dr. Joe Evers. Waldo Tobler is survived by his wife of 35 years, Rachel Mendenhall Tobler, and two stepsons, Adam David Dyrenforth and his significant other, Jeni Chen, and Eric Francis Dyrenforth and his significant other, Dr. Amy Rodriguez. His sons from his previous marriage, Eric William Tobler (Karen), of Ypsilanti, MI and Stephen James Tobler (Vicky) of Cantonville, MI, also survive him. Two nieces, Heidi Weisskopf and Kara Evers, and four nephews, Peter Weisskopf, Gene Weisskopf, and Alan Weisskopf, and Kent Evers, also survive him. His niece, Krista Evers, is recently deceased.

Waldo was a calm, quiet, strong, reasonable, stubborn, loving man who taught by example. He was humble and preferred listening to talking, and working to leisure. Scientific theory was his True North. As a translator, he was second to none. He was private by nature; he preferred getting to know people over time and measured them, not by what they said, but by what they did. He loved classical music and opera, and reading scientific theoretical tomes. He honored his Swiss heritage. He loved most being at home with his books and a computer. He was generous in love and miserly with criticism. Many, many students and colleagues have written about how much his encouragement meant to them in their academic endeavors. He was a great hiker and a loving, sensual, and thoughtful companion. His constant curiosity, his smile, his daily dandelion count, and his wry sense of humor will be missed more than we can say.

A memorial service will be held at St. Andrew's Presbyterian, Church, 4575 Auhay Drive, Santa Barbara, CA, on Thursday, March 8 at 11 AM with reception to follow at the church. Parking lot access is on Arroyo St.

In his memory, read a good book, look at a map, listen to some beautiful music, kiss your loved ones, take a hike, learn a new language, and stay curious about the world around you.

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in Santa Barbara News-Press from Mar. 6 to Mar. 10, 2018.
Memories & Condolences
Not sure what to say?
2 entries
March 8, 2018

We just heard about the death of Waldo.
Our deepest brazilian condolences to the family for that great loss.(Prof.Tobler once again my thanks for your orientation in Michigan,for your excellent lectures and the wonderfull contribuitions to geography and world science - in the peace of Lord.
João Francisco Abreu
March 6, 2018

I am a retired mathematics professor from Tufts University, about the same age that Professor Tobler was. I want to tell you about a recent contact I had with him. I have an amateur interest in map projections. In late January, I emailed Professor Tobler about one of his papers. His reply mentioned map projection software so I wrote back on January 31 and mentioned that I had none. The very next day he sent me some such software. I was able to use it to put the outlines of the continents on a map I had been working on, and having done that I am now able to submit the map for possible publication. About two weeks ago I happened to look again at his Wikipedia page and was stunned to find that he had died three days earlier. Although I had sent him a peremptory thank you, I feel really bad that I had never let him know how helpful the software was to me. I want to let you know how helpful he was in his last days to someone he didn't even know. Although I never met him, I feel that I have lost a friend.

William Reynolds (fitzreyn@gmail.com)
William Reynolds
Invite others to add memories
Share to let others add their own memories and condolences