My father-in-law, Norman Thrower, who has died aged 100, was professor emeritus in the department of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles. From relatively humble beginnings, Norman became one of the world’s most famous cartographers.
In 1957, Norman joined the geography department at UCLA, where he authored, co-authored and edited 11 books, and more than 150 other contributions on cartography and associated geographical discoveries. He served his profession, UCLA and the state of California in many capacities, including as president of the Sir Francis Drake Commission (1975-81), which organised celebrations for the quadricentennial of Drake’s landing in California in 1579.
Born in Crowthorne, Berkshire, to Daisy (nee Bayley) and Gordon Thrower, a chef at Broadmoor psychiatric hospital, Norman failed his 11-plus and did not go to secondary school.
After winning drawing competitions and attending art school at the University of Reading, he joined the British army aged 21. His artillery division was redeployed to India, where he trained as a cartographer at 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 then flown to India, with the return flights bringing back the completed maps. This covered the period of Operation Crossbow, one of the goals of which was to identify V-1 launch ramps using binocular imaging, including in northern France before D-day. The experience played a crucial part in Norman’s post-military career and the development of new mapping techniques introduced in his PhD for illustrating the three-dimensionality of the surface.
Norman first met Betty Martin, an officer in the US Army Nurse Corps, in 1945 when her boat docked in London, though they had been pen pals for a number of years. Norman and Betty married in 1947 and, later that year, arrived in Charlottesville, Virginia, living in veterans’ housing while Norman did a BSc and an MSc in geography at the University of Virginia, where he was influenced by Erwin Raisz, an internationally renowned cartographer. With their first two daughters, they then moved to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where Norman gained his PhD. A final move, to California in 1957, saw the birth of their third daughter.
His best known book is Maps and Man (1972), now Maps and Civilization: Cartography in Culture and Society (1999). Later works focused on advances in 17th- and 18th-century cartography by Edmund Halley and Samuel Pepys. And, finally, an editing of A Buccaneer’s Atlas: Basil Ringrose’s South Seas Waggoner, with Derek Howse (1992), a compilation of captured maps of Spain’s Pacific ports whose value to the British crown saved many buccaneers from hanging.
Betty died in 1997. Norman is survived by his daughters, Page, Anne and Mary, and five grandchildren.