In Memory

John Garver

Colonel (retired) John B. Garver, Jr., PhD

July 11, 1928 ~ May 22, 2005


A Memorial Recollection by Robert G. Rhodes


John Baltzly Garver, Jr. of Bethesda, Maryland, former president of the Washington Map Society, retired Army officer and former Chief Cartographer and Senior Assistant Editor for the National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C., died at age 76 on May 22, 2005.


John joined the Army in 1946 and after completing an 18-month Army enlistment entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, graduating with the class of 1952.  Commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Infantry, he served 30 more years in the Army, including tours in the Panama Canal Zone; Saudi Arabia; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Benning, Georgia and the Republic of Vietnam.  He earned his master’s degree in geography from Syracuse University in 1965 and in 1981, his doctorate under the guidance of the eminent geographer and distinguished scholar, Dr. Donald Meinig.


As a direct result of John’s impressive academic credentials and leadership ability he developed two academic programs at West Point still available to cadets today, albeit modified over time. The first program of instruction, ‘Issues Confronting Man and His Environment’, addressed the growing environmental concerns worldwide and the need for cadets and commissioned officers to be aware of the earth and its fragile ecological balance. The second program, ‘Military Geography’, was a natural addition to the geography department. John led this effort and became responsible for its design and delivery. He retired from the army in 1982 as a colonel and tenured professor for the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering.


Following retirement from the U. S. Army John became Chief Cartographer and Senior Assistant Editor at the National Geographic Society, where he worked for 10 years before retiring the second time. During his assignment he was especially proud of a few of his many accomplishments. At the top of his list was the ‘The Making of America’ regional map series, a scholarly blend of John’s favorite disciplines, history and geography.  Also of note are his seminal work and commitment to the ‘Historical Atlas of the United States’, his collaboration with the late Dr. Arthur Robinson and the eventual adoption of the Robinson Projection by the National Geographic Society for all of its world maps, and, finally, his leadership ability in recognizing the need for the National Geographic Society to move swiftly into the digital mapping community. His inquiring mind, gifted intellect and observant manner made for a perfect blending with the National Geographic Society.


John joined the Washington Map Society in 1982 and became president for the 1987 – 1988 year. His map interests included early National Geographic Society maps and mapping of the Trans-Mississippi West (1804-1861). As chief cartographer at the National Geographic Society he hosted the map society for a tour of its facilities in 1985. Additionally he published an article in The Portolan entitled, ‘Isaac McCoy: Forgotten Mapper of the Trans-Missouri West’. At the Washington Map Society’s annual dinner held at the National Geographic Society, John delivered the president’s address entitled, ‘From Crow Quill to Computer: A History of Cartography at the National Geographic Society’. He also was instrumental in having the Washington Map Society host the International Map Collector’s Society (IMCoS) for their annual symposium in Washington, D.C. in October of 1990.  Later John published an article in 1997 in Imago Mundi, the International Journal for the History of Cartography entitled, ‘The President’s War Cabinet’. The article described a specially designed map cabinet, a gift from the National Geographic Society, and presented to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. President Roosevelt later gave a replica, as a gift, to Prime Minister Winston Churchill.


According to his West Point classmates who knew him best, John was not about himself. He was always about others. John cared and had a deep and enduring love for his parents, sisters, wife, children, grandchildren, West Point classmates, and friends.  He was predeceased by his wife of 33 years, Meredith Hunter Garver.  Funeral services were held on Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at the Old Cadet Chapel, West Point, New York followed by burial in the Post Cemetery.


Taken from the West Point Alma Mater . . .

 “And when our work is done, our course on earth is run, may it be said well done, be thou at peace.”


                                                        --WMS Director Bob Rhodes worked in                                                                                        John Garver’s department at West Point. This

                                                        recollection appeared in  Issue 63 (fall 2005)

                                                        of The Portolan.