James J. Parsons, professor emeritus of geography and a pioneer in Latin American and historical geography, died Feb. 19 of a brain tumor at his home in Berkeley. He was 81.
Parsons was best known for his work in Colombia where he first grasped the meaning of the vast network of pre-Columbian irrigation earthworks that stretched across the three modern countries of Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia.
"His discoveries transformed our understanding of pre-Columbian Americans by showing us the extent and sophistication of their agricultural systems," said Richard Walker, geography department chair.
A generalist and a prolific writer, Parsons made geography accessible to thousands.
His five books and 150 articles covered a range of topics including coffee, hops, green turtles, gold mining, cork oak forests, African grasses, California, Canary Islanders and his beloved Colombian province of Antioquia.
Parsons did research in 25 countries, giving impetus to the developing field of cultural and historical geography. He is known for his dedicated doctoral students who now populate the field of Latin American geography.
Born in Cortland, N.Y., in 1915, Parsons moved to Southern California in 1928. He earned a bachelor's degree in economics in 1937 and a doctorate in geography at Berkeley in 1948. That year he joined the faculty as an assistant professor and stayed until his retirement in 1986, serving a total of 11 years as department chair.
As colleague Bernard Nietschmann, professor of geography, recalled, "His love for geography inspired us. He informed us. He encouraged us. He wrote letters on our behalf and he read what we wrote and told us to keep going. He was geography at Berkeley."
Parsons' many awards include a Guggenheim (1959-60), three gold medals from Colombia, three honorary degrees and the Berkeley Citation. He served as president of the Association of American Geographers in 1974-75.
He is survived by Betty, his wife of 54 years; a son, David, of Florence, Mont.; a daughter, Sally Stewart, of Boise, Idaho; and three grandchildren. His son, John, preceeded him in death.
Gifts in his memory may be sent to the James J. Parsons Alumni Scholarship for Field Research in Geography, Alumni House, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-7520.
A memorial service will be held later in the year.
Staff member Bret Wade Buckman died at home Feb. 19 with his wife, Amy, at his side.
Buckman was born in 1955 in Oakland.
He attended Berkwood School and Berkeley public schools and graduated in 1987 from the Department of Art Practice, where he worked for the next 10 years as a lithography and printmaking teacher.
Buckman was a talented musician, a gifted artist and cartoonist and a patient and generous teacher.
He is survived by his wife; his three sons, Travis, Henry and Lucas; his mother, Shirley Powell; his father, Bill Buckman; and his sisters, Brook, Tara, Molly and Robin.
A memorial gathering was held on campus Feb. 25.
Friends have established a fund to benefit the Buckman children.
Memorial donations in his memory may be addressed to the Great Western Bank, 1501 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Walnut Creek, CA 94596, attention Anne Gutierrez.