In Memoriam: Joe Whitney 1928-2016

Joseph Bevan Robertson Whitney

We are deeply saddened by the death of Professor Emeritus Joseph Whitney at Princess Margaret Hospital on September 2nd.  Energetic, well loved, full of projects and stories, optimistic, fun loving and a scholar, he will be sorely missed by his wife Diana Baxter, his children Michael, Kaaren (Rick), Joanna (Randy), Daniel (Dana), Sue and grandchildren Devin, Lukas, Elke, Holly, Emma and Katie as well as his many friends, relatives and students.

Joe was born in England and educated at Cambridge (MA) and the University of Chicago (PhD). He started his academic career at the University of Toronto in 1969 and finished there as Chair of the Department of Geography from 1988 to 1993. Based on field research in China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and the Sudan, he wrote widely on the environment, most notably about soil erosion, waste management and rural energy use. Working with the Ford Foundation, he established the Institute of the Environment in Khartoum in the Sudan and organized the first ‘women & the environment’ conferences there and in Vietnam. After retirement, he served as Professor and Co-ordinator of Urban Environmental Management at the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok, Thailand from 1993-94.

He is fondly remembered by his Queen’s College students in Hong Kong where he lived and taught for 12 years in his 20s. His teaching methods were exciting and challenging and included taking students to work camps to assist Japan after the war. Similarly, through his influence and teaching he inspired many University of Toronto students to work in Southeast Asia. He led a number of research projects in that region, including the SEMGIS soil erosion project in China and the VietPro Environmental Management project in Vietnam, with funding from the Canadian International Development Agency and the International Development Research Centre.

Always on the go, even after retirement Joe was engaged in academic projects and travel. He was chairing a committee to sponsor Syrian refugees for Senior College at the University of Toronto, he recently completed a publication on the impact of Canadian international development funding to China, and he was researching the Whitney family connections in Japan in the 19thC.  He fascinated friends and family with stories of his life, including meeting Ghandi and Sibelius as a youth and travelling around Scandinavia on a 25 pound scholarship at age 16.

He was a kind, humble and gentle man who was well liked for his humour and ability to relate to everyone. A precious memory is of him mounting his bicycle at age 87 and heading off to the university wearing his pink helmet.

A memorial service will be held at the University of Toronto Faculty Club, 41 Willcocks St on Wednesday October 12th from 4:30 to 6:30 pm.

Condolences and memories can be sent to (press tribute & Joe’s name).

A scholarship has been established in Joe’s name at the University of Toronto by the University of Toronto Association of Geography Alumni (UTAGA).  If you would like to donate to the scholarship, please make your contribution to the UTAGA-JBR Whitney Award at