Norman Thrower obituary | Maps

My father-in-law, Norman Thrower, who died at the age of 100, was a professor emeritus at the Department of Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles. From a relatively humble beginnings, Norman became one of the most famous cartographers in the world.

In 1957, Norman joined the geography department at UCLA, where he authored, co-authored, and edited 11 books and more than 150 other articles on cartography and related geographic discoveries. He served his profession, UCLA and the state of California in many capacities, including serving as President of the Sir Francis Drake Commission (1975-81), which organized celebrations for the four hundredth anniversary of Drake’s landing in California in 1579.

Norman was born in Crowthorne, Berkshire, to Daisy (nee Bayley) and Gordon Thrower, a cook at Broadmoor Mental Hospital. He failed at the age of eleven and did not attend secondary school.

After winning drawing competitions and attending art school at the University of Reading, he enlisted in the British Army at the age of 21. His artillery division was transferred to India, where he was trained as a cartographer with the Survey of India to draw topographic maps in support of the war effort in Europe. The maps were based on aerial photographs taken over Europe and then flown to India, with the return flights bringing back the finished maps. This concerned the period of Operation Crossbow, the aim of which was to identify V-1 launch pads using binocular imaging, including in northern France before D-Day. The experience played a crucial role in Norman’s post-military career and the development of new mapping techniques that were introduced in his doctoral thesis to illustrate the three-dimensionality of the surface.

A 3D landscape hand-drawn by Norman ThrowersA 3D landscape hand-drawn by Norman Throwers. Illustration: Norman Thrower

Norman first met Betty Martin, a US Army Nurse Corps officer, when her boat docked in London in 1945, although they had been pen pals for several years. Norman and Betty married in 1947 and later that year they arrived in Charlottesville, Virginia, where they lived in veteran shelters, while Norman received a BSc and MSc in geography from the University of Virginia, where he was taught by Erwin Raisz, an internationally renowned, Cartographer was influenced. They then moved with their first two daughters to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where Norman received his PhD. Their third daughter was born during a last move to California in 1957.

His best known book is Maps and Man (1972), now Maps and Civilization: Kartographie in Kultur und Gesellschaft (1999). Later work focused on advances in cartography in the 17th and 18th centuries by Edmund Halley and Samuel Pepys. And finally, an adaptation of A Buccaneer’s Atlas: Basil Ringrose’s South Seas Wagoner with Derek Howse (1992), a compilation of maps of the Spanish Pacific ports, the value of which for the British Crown saved many privateers from being hung up.

Betty died in 1997. Norman is survived by his daughters Page, Anne and Mary and five grandchildren.

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