Published: Feb. 13, 2009

With great sadness, the Department of Geography announces that Professor Gary Gaile passed away on February 13th, 2009 at the age of 63. He died after complications following surgery to remove a brain tumor. Gary brought an irreverent wit and a sense of whimsy to our department that was irreplaceable. He was a great cook, and was extremely well-traveled, working in or visiting some 108 countries over his three-decade career. Gary was famous throughout Geography for owning what is perhaps the world’s largest collection of air sickness bags. He poked fun at our pretentiousness. A great example of this was an article he wrote titled “Agents of Ice,” which – in a classic spoof on quantitative modeling – linked teenagers to the onset of winter. One of his signature lines was "All you need to be a geographer is a fast car and an attitude!" He was a great Santa Claus, wore colorful Hawaiian shirts, was responsible for the annual ‘Battle of the Paradigms’, and occasionally threatened to sit on you if you didn’t behave. He handed out business cards identifying himself as a ‘very full professor’, but was characteristically modest regarding his substantial achievements as a scholar, and a rock and roll musician (with a song he co-wrote inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!). Gary's research interests involved inequality, poverty reduction and microfinance issues in Africa. He wrote more than 100 articles and six books, including The Work of Cities, which he co-wrote with his wife, Susan Clarke of UCB political science. In 2001, he was recognized with Distinguished Service Honors by the Association of American Geographers.

Gary was born in Cleveland on Aug. 3, 1945, to Helen and Stanley Gaile. Upon graduating from Cathedral Latin High School, he made his way west to the University of California at Los Angeles, where he earned his bachelor's degree in economics and geography in 1971, his master's degree in geography in 1972, and his Ph.D. in geography in 1976. While working on his Ph.D., he held a research position at the University of Nairobi in Kenya. He taught at Northwestern University for seven years, where he won the Distinguished Teaching Award in 1981, and at the University of Connecticut for two years, before coming to UCB in 1984. He served as the Geography Department Chair from 1999 to 2002, and in 2001 he founded the Developing Areas Research and Teaching (DART) Program, where he served as executive director. He was a Fulbright-Hays Senior Scholar in 1993-94 and served as a visiting scholar at Cambridge University that year, at the London School of Economics in 2002 and at Oxford University in 2005.

Gary taught Geography at Colorado for 25 years, and was a tireless supporter of our discipline and our department. He inspired many of his students to become geographers in the fullest sense of the word, and worked hard to promote the relevance and status of the discipline within and beyond academic institutions. We will miss him dearly. 

Those wishing to honor Gary Gaile’s memory might consider contributing to the African Watoto Charitable Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by his CU PhD student Dr. Helen Ruth Aspaas to help women and children in Kenya, Uganda, and in Sudanese refugee camps (c/o Mrs. Diana Boland, Exec. Dir, 13917 State Hwy. 140, Hesperus, CO 81326, phone 970-259-3762, and/or to the Gary L. Gaile DART Field Research Fellowship to support MA and PhD students at CU Boulder doing field research in developing areas (checks to CU Foundation, with note: for Gary L. Gaile DART Fellowship, attn: Bev Stokes, 1305 University Avenue, Boulder, 80302.)