In memoriam: James W. Scott, 1925 - 2011

Tuesday, July 26, 2011 - 11:01am

James W. Scott, professor emeritus of geography at Western Washington University, died peacefully on July 20, 2011.

He was born September 30, 1925, in Bootle, Merseyside, England, to James Arthur and Edith (Hall) Scott. He was educated at local primary and grammar schools before winning a university scholarship that took him in 1943 to the University of Cambridge (St. Catherine's College).

After a period of national service in the Royal Air Force, he graduated with an honors degree in geography in 1949. After spending a further year at Cambridge, Scott began his teaching career at Kingsmoor School, Derbyshire, a co-educational boarding school. Two years later he was appointed senior geography master at St. Georges College, Quilmes, Argentina, where he remained until the end of 1957.

Soon thereafter he was appointed principal of the Amalgamated School, Tilt Cove, Newfoundland. Two years later he became senior geography and history master at Rothesay Collegiate School, New Brunswick, Canada. Following a three year stay at Rothesay, Scott decided to return to university for his doctorate, and from 1963 to 1966 he was a graduate research assistant at Indiana University.

In the fall of 1966, an appointment as assistant professor of geography brought him to Western Washington State College. Soon after this, he received his doctorate with a dissertation on The Metalliferous Mining and Smelting Industries of the British Isles, 1540-1640. Shifting his research interest from Tudor and Stuart Britain to North America, he began to focus on the pioneer settlement and economic development of the Pacific Northwest in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

In 1971, together with three colleagues from the History Department -- Bill Bultmann, Larry Delorme and Barry Gough -- and with the support of WWU President Jerry Flora, he helped create the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies. He became its first director and remained as director until his retirement in 1993.

Scott's work with the center resulted in the creation of an important Northwest archival collection of local and regional materials, including original manuscripts; business, company and association records; contemporary publications, including hundreds of pamphlets and newsletters; thousands of photographs; and a few hundred maps. A series of 'Occasional Papers' was inaugurated in 1972 with the publication of James Hitchman's "The Port of Bellingham." In the years following, more than 20 other volumes were issued, including three more by Hitchman, and others by Larry Delorme, Don Ecklund, Garland Grabert, Keith Murray, June Ross, Manfred Vernon and Scott himself. Two of Scott's were Festschrifts in honor of Keith Murray and Howard Critchfield. Scott's final contribution was "Washington: A Centennial Atlas," which received considerable financial support from the Washington Centennial Commission and became Western's principal contribution to the centennial. The volume was published early in 1990, and in 1991 Scott was awarded the Governor's Writer's Award.

During his 27 years as an active faculty member at Western, Scott served in many capacities, including an eight-year term as chair of the Department of Geography and Regional Planning.

Off campus, his services were many. Locally, he was instrumental in the formation of the Bellingham writer's group The Fourth Corner Registry, and for many years he was its managing editor while contributing to a number of its publications and editing others. At the state level his most notable contribution was his long-term membership on the Washington State Historical Records Advisory Board. Appointed initially by Gov. Dixy Lee Ray in 1977, he was re-appointed by three of her successors before retiring in 1993. He also served on the Washington Task Force on Newspaper Preservation and the Washington Resource Planning Advisory Group.

Professionally, Scott was active in many geographical and historical societies and associations in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. He served as president of the Association of Washington Geographers in 1982-83, as editor of the yearbook of the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers from 1980 to 1987, archivist of the same association from 1981-1995 and as its president in 1992-1993.

In addition to his "Washington: A Centennial Atlas," he was the author, co-author or editor of more than a dozen publications, including "Historical Atlas of Washington" (Larry Delorme, co-author), "Social Science Resource Handbook" (Raymond G. McInnis, co-author) and two works on Whatcom County with Daniel D. Turbeville as co-author: "Whatcom County in Maps, 1832-1937" and "Early Industries of Bellingham Bay and Whatcom County."

On his retirement, Scott was honored with the presentation of a published Festschrift - "Pacific Northwest: Essays in Honor of James W. Scott," edited by Howard J. Critchfield with contributions by some 20 friends, former students and colleagues.

While resident in Argentina he married in 1956 Barta Sibrechta deVrij, from whom he was divorced in 1967 and then a decade later remarried. Their daughter Antoinetta (Netteke) was born in 1959 in Newfoundland, and in the 1980s, after graduating from Western, she taught as a primary teacher in England for almost 20 years before succumbing to cancer in 2005. A scholarship fund in her name was started in 2006-2007 in the Western Foundation, and the first scholarship has now been awarded.

Scott is survived by his loving and devoted wife Barta, and by his step-son Jan G. deVrij-Bradley, his wife Erica and their two children Kergan and Francesca, as well as Jim's three sisters and two brothers and numerous nieces and nephews in the United States as well as England and Wales.

Contributions in Jim's memory may be made to either the James W. Scott Regional Research Fund or the Netteke Scott Memorial Scholarship Fund, both at Western Foundation, Western Washington University. A Memorial Service is being planned to take place in 2012. Anyone with memories or photographs to share may contact Janet Collins at