A crowd of over 50 people gathered in the Browsing Lounge of Smith Memorial Student Union on Jan. 10 to celebrate the life of geography professor Thomas Harvey, who passed away after a short illness on Dec. 13 at 62 years old.
Harvey, who began teaching at Portland State in 1990, was born Sept. 13, 1952, in Tupelo, Miss.—a small town that he credited with sparking his interest in folklore and field geography.
He earned his Bachelor of Arts from Antioch College in 1974, and a Master of Science in geography from Pennsylvania State University in 1982. He finished his studies with a Ph.D. in geography from the University of Minnesota in 1990 before moving to Portland’s Pearl District with his wife, Jean, and daughter Caitlin in 1995.
While at PSU, Harvey served as chair of the geography department from 2008 to 2011, but his first love was teaching.
“He came from a not very well-off background,” said his wife, Jean Spraker, whom he met in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1973, “so he identified with a lot of the students. He liked the diversity here.”
Harvey’s colleague in the department of geography, Martha Works, described him as a “person of enormous integrity who had a lot of respect for the academic life and the life of the mind.
“He was very inquisitive and very smart and very thoughtful, and he really cared about the institution and about students,” she added.
At his memorial, Harvey’s intelligence and ingenuity were lauded by his longtime friend, Sona Andrews, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at PSU. Andrews first met Harvey when he was a graduate student at the University of Minnesota over 30 years ago.
“At that time, the department of geography [at Minnesota] was ranked the top geography department in the country and it had an amazing group of graduate students,” Andrews said, “and as an assistant professor it was really amazing to be among this group of bright, creative individuals.
“Tom was very much a part of all of that. This group was forging new ground in the field of geography. They were fun. They were irreverent at times. I’m just glad Portland State had the opportunity to benefit from that.”
Harvey was remembered by another long-time friend, Tony Goddard, as “a keen observer of the world and a scholar by nature, a communicator and a teacher by calling.”
Goddard met Harvey when they were both graduate students in Minnesota. He describes his friend, in four words, as someone who was observant, diligent, engaged and finally, exasperated.
He says that Harvey would sometimes feel exasperated by the absurdity of life, but that he “had a bedrock belief that study, observation and analysis could actually work, that it could actually make the world a
Despite his studious academic nature, Harvey is remembered fondly by his wife as a man who “talked with a bit of spice [and] told a good story,” sometimes graded papers on the couch while watching NASCAR and loved “old-timey Southern honky-tonk music.”
He was also an avid photographer who left behind a cache of over 80,000 photos documenting his travels and experiences.
Harvey served as one of the board members for the Pearl District neighborhood association, where he was described as a “stalwart worker and one of the people who brought a high degree of professionalism as well as enthusiasm [to the association]” by Neilson Abeel, a neighbor and friend who worked with Harvey while the neighborhood association was still young.
Harvey is survived by his wife Jean, daughter Caitlin, brother Andrew and mother Martha. A scholarship has been established in his name and donations can be made out to the Department of Geography.