In memoriam of Harm J. de Blij, John Hannah Professor of Geography at MSU

The Department of Geography regrets to announce that Dr. Harm J. de Blij passed the morning of Tuesday, March 25 due to complications associated with cancer.  He had been ill for a few months and his situation deteriorated rapidly.  He was 78 years old.

Harm was a classical geographer and a fascinating fellow.  Born in the Netherlands, Harm had a unique range of educational experiences. He received his early schooling in Europe (part of it during the Second World War as recounted in his memoir Wartime Encounter), his college education in Africa, and his higher degrees (Ph.D., Northwestern) in the United States. He was a long-time faculty member at both Michigan State and the University of Miami, and also taught at Georgetown, Colorado, Hawai’i, the Colorado School of Mines, George Washington University, and Marshall University. His prolific publications included more than 30 books and well over 100 articles.   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.  For seven years he was the popular Geography Editor on ABC’s “Good Morning America”. 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.”

deblij_GTU2012Harm re-engaged in the MSU Geography Department about 10 years ago as a John Hannah Professor.  He took that role seriously and was a huge friend of the unit.  Among many other things, he was instrumental in the establishment of the new deBlij Scholars Program.  The goal of this program is to create a $500,000 endowment that rolls over 10 $2,500 scholarships annually for exceptional students who choose to major in Geography.  Harm was one of a kind and had strong feelings for MSU GEO and what it stands for.  He will be greatly missed.

If you would like to make a donation in his memory, gifts should be made payable to “Michigan State University” and sent to:

The de Blij Geography Scholars
MSU Department of Geography
Geography Building
673 Auditorium Rd, Rm 116
East Lansing, MI 48824

Click In Memory of Harm to see thoughts from friend and colleague, Professor Jay Harman.

Feel free to share your thoughts about Harm in the comment box below.

18 thoughts on “In memoriam of Harm J. de Blij, John Hannah Professor of Geography at MSU

  1. Harm and I came to MSU in the fall of 1960 – he as a new Assistant Professor from Northwestern, and I as a first year MA student. We bonded, he inspired, he guided me through my graduate years, we became colleagues and remained close friends through thick and thin. His enthusiasm and communication skills in the classroom and lecture halls around the world were his hallmarks. His text books in Regional, Human, Physical, and Political Geography set high standards, and through his mastery of language and geographic principles, he brought the world to life for countless students.

    Harm was in many ways a “Renaissance Man”. He was an accomplished musician – he performed the Beethoven violin concerto at age thirteen with the Johannesburg Symphony – and was an active supporter of the arts throughout his life. He used to bring his fiddle to AAG meetings and make music with Wilbur Zelinsky and others.

    Harm, many thanks for being such an important part of my life. You will be missed.


  2. Harm de Blij was my inspiration during my student life at university. i have learnt a lot from him works in Physical Geography and Regional Geography.
    May his soul rest in peace

  3. Originally a contact, and then an admired friend, a track many would follow who managed to become close to this fine, enthusiastic, inspired man. His joy for life was infectious, as was his innate ability to excite and inspire others. Always at work expanding his knowledge and variety of interests. Most would think of geography, wine and other interests, but miss an even more dedicated interest in people, wherever he encountered those who fascinated him. We are saddened by his death and deprived of all that made him so unique,

  4. I was lucky enough to know Harm for more than 20 years. We traveled together on the ships of Royal Viking Line and Crystal Cruises. I was the Cruise Director and Harm de Blij was our keynote speaker. He would captivate audiences with his passionate sharing of geography. Sharing information about the areas of the world outside our windows and at the foot of the gangway. He brought insights to the physical and cultural geography that enhanced our visits to foreign and domestic destinations. He never used notes but always loved his maps, often drawn quickly on the spot to illustrate a point. We of the cruising world were so fortunate to have him as our teacher and our friend. We will miss him. May you rest in peace my friend. Paul McFarland, Cruise Director Crystal Symphony

  5. Harm was a great classical geographer, scholar and educator. His incisive mind and holistic way of thinking were particularly acute on his Good Morning America programme. His public lecturing style was much appreciated and he always caught the audience’s attention. He was especially good at showing people that geography mattered in a way that no other subject could quite match in this changing world. His books will stand the test of time. He was also a dear friend whose passing I will long mourn.

  6. Dr. de Blij definitely left his imprint on this earth. I had the opportunity to be graced by his presence while he visited and gave a talk here in San Antonio at the University. You could tell he was passionate about his craft, because he spoke with exciting intensity. He made you want to learn more. I had the chance to meet him after his lecture, and he spoke to me as if he’d known me forever, a very intriguing man.

  7. Death is the biggest robber. It takes all life to become Somebody in this world, and Death comes and takes greatest minds in a fraction of a time. Rest in Peace Great Teacher and researcher. You will be missed…

  8. Harm was a very approachable and down-to-earth Guy and such a pleasure to listen to! It’s a great loss for the Department and the whole Geographic Community, my deepest condolences go to Harm’s Family

  9. I have had the privilege of having excellent teachers at every level over more than six decades. Dr. de Blij was in the top three. His engaging extemporaneous style would keep you on the edge of your seat and all to soon the hour was up. He is as close to irreplaceable as one could get.

  10. Some time ago I wrote to Dr de Blij about one of his books. I did not expect a reply as we had never met so imagine my surprise when I received a personal reply and an offer to supply some free copies of his book to pass on to a Geography publicity campaign. His response made a big impact on my and I valued his comments. He was a true Geographer, an excellent educator and a great communicator. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.

  11. 23 Years ago I was afforded the opportunity to select what I thought was the best regional geography text book available. I looked at every offering from almost every press and Dr. de Blij was a cut above. After a decade I tried to find reason to change and once again I was even more resigned to Dr. de Blij’s World text. I had the opportunity to meet him a few years ago and he had the enthusiasm and energy for greater than many of my students . He will be missed. I wish my Geography USM would have read him, possibly they would have been more interesting.

  12. I’ve used his regional geography textbook for years in my classes.
    Excellent text, excellent geographer. He’ll be greatly missed.

  13. Every time Harm spoke to a group he made a difference and an impact. Never mind the audience make-up; he could enthrall K-12, post-secondary, or the general public. Harm always had insight to add about a place or an issue that made the listener more informed. But it was his personable nature after the talk, sharing thoughts one-on-one, and the care with which he cultivated relationships and kept concern for Geography at the forefront of the public’s mind that made him one of the most memorable professionals in our field as well as a really great human being.
    Coordinator, Geographic Educators of Nebraska

  14. I remember studying Geography in High School and at University, and upon seeing the text by Harm de Blij, I knew I had to get it to be sound in that area of the art.

    He is an inspiration to me in social analysis and I will forever respect his contribution to academia.

  15. I knew Harm largely through our shared interest in wine, both scholarly and otherwise. We spent a few years together in Washington, DC while he was at Georgetown and NGS and I was at NSF. Lunch at the Georgetown faculty club was always full of stimulating conversation and stories, not to mention a good bottle of red. Harm was a first rate scholar, a tireless proponent of geography, and a raconteur in the best sense. He treated everyone with equal respect, and was always ready with a good story. His friends all around the world will miss him, but with fond memories of a life well lived..

  16. The world lost one of the greatest geographers. To professor Harms J. de Blij we wish to say thank you so much on opening so many eyes.
    President of the Croatian Geographic Society

  17. I just enjoyed the heck out of Harm. He was a great story teller with a large personality to match. I can’t count the number of times I watched Harm lecture on topics ranging from the physical to cultural and everything in between. He was a geographer in the truest sense of the word and a great friend of MSU GEO. He’ll be greatly missed.

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