Dr. Chris Mayda, Professor of Geography in the Department of Geography and Geology at Eastern Michigan University, passed away in March 2016 after a long battle with cancer. The Society was fortunate to have had Chris as a member, a director, and a committee member for the Warren E. Roberts Graduate Student Paper Competition Award. For a time, she was also the Society’s webmaster and the photographer at the annual awards ceremony. Chris presented numerous papers at the Society’s annual conference, her last one being a tribute to the late Artimus Keiffer at the Stuart, Florida, meeting.
Academia was not Chris’s first career. Her life-direction and career change occurred in her mid-forties when she left her work as a California real estate investor and enrolled in graduate school, studying at California State University, Northridge, for her master’s degree in geography. She graduated in 1994. The University of Southern California was next in line as she earned her PhD in geography in 1998 at the young age of 50. It was the same year her son graduated from high school. Her dissertation, Passion on the Plains: Pigs on the Panhandle, examined the commercial hog industry. She was hired by Eastern Michigan University, where she taught in both the geography program and the historic preservation program. Chris felt fortunate to land this tenure-track position, and she taught her courses — American Cultural Landscapes and Settlement Geography — with passion. Within a few semesters, Chris started teaching the Regional Geography of the United States and Canada, which became the university’s most popular upper division regional course. It was popular not only with geography majors, but also with education majors. Chris took United States and Canada Regional Geography to new heights as the course became her means of focusing on sustainable human-environment interaction. To broaden her perspective, Chris took a six-week, 600-mile trek along the US-Canada border. She also visited all fifty states and the Canadian provinces. She developed and wrote the textbook A Regional Geography of the United States and Canada: Toward a Sustainable Future, which remains the only regional geography text with a focus on sustainable human-environment interaction. Chris’s personal and research interests in sustainability also led her to develop a General Education course titled Thinking Sustainably.
Out of the classroom, Chris was known for her efforts to promote bike riding and the more efficient use of energy resources on campus. She organized an Energy Awareness Week in 2007 as well as a workshop and forum on Systems Thinking in 2011. Chris maintained a blog where she was known as “Sustainable Chris.” Here are a few quotes from Sustainable Chris: “Sustainability and so much of what I have written about this blog over the years has been about bringing us along to do things tangibly sustainable. Grow good food, drive smart cars or ride your bike, conserve energy, but in my classes things have been changing. I wasn’t even aware of it until a couple of years ago I realized that everything I saw now was through the eyes of the sustainable mindset. All my classes were geared to looking at the world with humans as part of nature (not apart as my students have now realized) and that everything is connected, certainly my students, if nothing else, get a strong dose of the interconnectivity of it all. But, if that is all they learn (and I think there is much more) it is the best thing they will ever learn. This all brings me back to why I ended up as a geographer (even though I was explicitly told I was not one, but a philosopher – which I am guilty of, but as a geographer). I was drawn to geography because in it I saw the ability to bridge the disciplines. Art, humanities, science are all a part of what makes geography my chosen world and a regional geographer at that. Something that is certainly not popular amongst the current stream of geography, but so be it. I am just an old-fashioned geographer, with a twist. As Nevin Fenneman said long ago (1919)… … the one thing that is first, last, and always geography and nothing else, is the study of areas in their compositeness or complexity, that is regional geography.”
Please check out this link as someone is following in Dr. Mayda’s footsteps — another trek along the US-Canada Border.
Personal memories of Chris by Gerald McNeill:
I e-mailed Chris for her birthday in December 2015 and Chris stated in her reply, “My health on this clinical trial drug has been good and I just keep going for it (life) as long as I am able.” What strength she had! She was such an inspiration and wonderful friend. We met at a NCGE conference in Salt Lake City (2003) and she encouraged me to get involved, especially since I started academia in my late 40s – similar to Chris. The very next year I was giving my first presentation in the Geography as Art session (put together by Chris and Artimus Keiffer) at the 2004 AAG meeting in Philadelphia. The very next year at AAG in Denver, I was with her when she got the news that she was now a tenured professor. She was so happy! My memories of her at those three conferences will always be cherished!
Yes, Chris and I were good friends. I stayed at her place in Michigan when I attended a NCGE conference in Dearborn. I actually met your parents and hubby on that trip. She stayed at my house when she went to the PAS conference in Baton Rouge. (I was registered, but could not make it due to some university stuff.) I can remember that we went out to eat seafood the first night she was here and she ended up being sick all night. Obviously, she met Ann, my wife, and other than the seafood, we had a great visit. Ann and I met Chris in Birmingham, AL for another NCGE conference. Thought I was going to have to carry her off the hiking trail as she slipped and busted her knee.
But, I have to say one of the best times we had together was when she and her brother came to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Knowing the city well, I picked them up at their hotel and found a great parking place to catch a parade as it turned onto St. Charles Ave. Her brother was living in Germany and they had not been together for a while. Both were like kids in a candy store together again. Both Chris and her brother must have had a suitcase full of beads when they left New Orleans!
Many thanks to Eastern Michigan University, the Association of American Geographers, and the International Society for Landscape, Place and Material Culture for most of the material in her obituary.
Gerald T. McNeill, Board Member, ISLPMC, April 30, 2016