In memory of Imre Sutton

Thank you for honoring the memory of my father, Imre Sutton, whose life was extended seven years by the various current treatments for prostate cancer. He was very philosophical about his life and his death; we were inspired by his courage and patience as he battled the disease. He never stopped being the man we knew him as; he was a loving husband, father, grandfather, and friend – and was working on a scholarly book right up until he couldn’t meet the physical demands anymore. He died peacefully with his family around him on October 25, 2012.

Imre was born in New York City in 1928 and spent a lot of time as a child exploring the city as he rode the subway system from one end of town to the other; he didn’t know that he was sowing the seeds of his future geography career. His family moved around throughout his childhood and he often navigated as his father drove. He lived in Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, among other places. He attended many schools in all those places, and graduated from Hollywood High School in 1945.

He studied music for a time and thought he might become a composer or conductor. But life led him elsewhere, and after spending time in the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Air Force, he ultimately studied geography, eventually earning his Ph.D. at UCLA, and becoming a professor. His specialties were environmental studies and Indian land tenure, for which he became most well known. He taught for 38 years in several universities and colleges, from Ohio State and Appalachian State in the east, to Oregon State and Cal State Fullerton in the west. He spent the majority of his career at CSUF where he was a professor from 1964-1995. He served as a consultant to academic and legal scholars, students, public officials, and Indians, as well as book and journal editors. He published three scholarly books in the field of Indian land tenure and was co-editing a fourth when he died. It will come out posthumously through Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press.

I observed him encouraging and forwarding the academic careers of so many people (not to mention my own!). He was generous of his time, expertise, and academic connections. And he was teaching up to the very end; even his night nurse told us that she learned a lot from him.

Imre continued to love music and was a life-long amateur composer. He played the piano for his own enjoyment, improvising ever-evolving songs. He enjoyed composing small pieces to honor the events in the lives of family and friends.

He had a wide circle of dear friends, some from his youth, others from his academic career, and others made during his 53-year marriage to my mother, Doris. He valued family ties from both sides of his own family and my mother’s Pennsylvania connections. He embraced my husband’s family as his own after my marriage and no holiday was complete without him there.

To his family and close friends he was always so generous and giving of himself. He particularly loved kids and became “Uncle Imre” to so many friends’ children and a surrogate grandfather to my in-laws’ children. He was my son’s first babysitter and best buddy growing up – “Papa” was always there for Aaron, and they enjoyed playing chess and cards for as long as possible.

As a father he was always there for me; he was a warm, loving daddy as well as a friend and advisor as I made my way through college and my career as a teacher. He was even a guest speaker in my and my colleagues’ history and social studies classes; he spoke about various geographic topics and shared his own story about growing up during the Great Depression.

People have asked my parents what accounted for the longevity of their marriage. They said it was because they respected and supported each other’s interests, careers, and individuality. My mother has often commented on what “a good team” they were. She’s lost her teammate now, but his spirit remains with her and with all of us.

Many people have written to say what a good friend and mentor my father was to them. I am proud to see what an impact he had on so many lives and am inspired by his example.

We will miss you, Daddy.

~Heidi Sutton