In Memoriam: Anthony (Tony) Carson Lea

November 30, 2022 by Department of Geography & Planning

Anthony (Tony) Carson Lea, born February 20, 1947, passed away suddenly in Toronto on November 24, 2022 following a two-year illness.

Born in Toronto to Edgar and Adrienne (née Adams) Lea was predeceased by his first wife, Barbara (née Currie) Lea; and sister, Frances Trigg (Brian). He will be deeply missed by his wife, Joanne; his son, John (Alayna); his grandchildren, William and Victoria; his brothers, Ted (Barbara) and Don (Kathy); and sister, Pat; his nieces and nephews, and everyone in the extended Lea, Currie, and Tofani/Proos families.

In his youth Tony was a Queen's scout and became an avid hunter, fisher, and all-around outdoorsman. After graduating high school at Oakwood Collegiate he obtained his BA (Trinity College), MA, and PhD in Geography from the University of Toronto. At the same time, he was camp director of Bayview Glen Camp and, after Bayview Glen's founder died, he led the school and camp in a variety of roles as Chairman of the Board of the L. Doreen Hopkins foundation and Bayview Glen school from 1980-1990. While obtaining his graduate degrees and thereafter he taught Geography at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, The University of Minnesota, Queen's University, The University of Toronto, and Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson).

For over four decades Tony was an international leader in research methods relating to location and segmentation. He was recognized globally as the creator of dozens of advanced methodologies widely used by hundreds of research organizations both academic and commercial. As the Chief Methodologist at both Compusearch and Environics Analytics (where he was also a founder) he led and mentored young men and women in those companies and, many others across a wide range of industries, to be data-driven. He was known for his brilliance, dedication, loyalty, and good humor. Along with leading those two organizations, he continued his academic pursuits throughout his career - researching, speaking, teaching, and mentoring at U of T, TMU, and other colleges and universities.

His entire academic and professional family feels his loss profoundly and appreciates his lessons, contributions, and all the time they had with him. The family wishes to extend their thanks for the thoughtful care provided to Tony by Dr. David Cheah, Dr. Carole Cohen and David MacFarlane, the staff at Revera Leaside, and his dedicated caregivers, Mimie, Maria, Elaine, Rowena and Cynthia.

The family will receive friends at the Humphrey Funeral Home A.W. Miles - Newbigging Chapel, 1403 Bayview Avenue (at Davisville) on Friday, December 2, from 1-2 p.m. followed by a funeral service at 2 p.m. in the chapel (followed by a reception). Condolences may be forwarded through here. Tony will be remembered for the twinkle in his eye, the never-ending stories he told and his many great adventures.

Published by The Globe and Mail from Nov. 28 to Dec. 2, 2022.

Anthony Carson Lea, “Tony”, an alumnus and former faculty member of our Department. passed away on 24 November 2022 after a lengthy illness. Funeral details are as follows:

The Department has gathered the following tributes from colleagues.

John Miron, University of Toronto

Tony and I were in the class of PhD students who entered the University of Toronto in Autumn 1972: a class that included Eric Sheppard, Dan Griffith, and Claude Marchand. This was quite the group of analytical human geographers: every one of us eager and excited to be there. Of that group, Tony was by far the most enthusiastic. Nervous and excited, humble, incisive, relentless, with a perhaps sophomoric sense of humour, Tony was also outstandingly collegial, personable, authentic, modest, and empathetic, and an engaging raconteur.

Tony loved intellectual puzzles. His great strength was his determination to see these puzzles solved or to find out why that was not possible. His epic PhD dissertation—as I remember it, about 1,000 pages long and almost a decade in writing—was a definitive work on local public economy. Over his career, Tony had two research interests: one in political economy and the other in quantitative methodology. He made important contributions in both areas. These areas pulled on him; the former towards academics and the latter towards business and consulting. Since completing his PhD in 1981, Tony has held various appointments at the University of Toronto and at Toronto Metropolitan University. He has also held senior appointments in consultancy at Compusearch Market and Social Research Ltd, Humana Advanced Surgical Institutes, and Environics Analytics.

Over his illustrious career, Tony wrote extensively. In addition to numerous research reports and reviews, he co-edited a book and wrote 10 book chapters, an encyclopedia entry, and 10 refereed journal articles. His impact has been substantial and widespread. His work has been cited by others writing in a stunning array of academic journals: e.g., American Cartographer, Annals of Operations Research, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Annals of Regional Science, Applied Geography, Canadian Geographer, Computers and Operations Research, Economic Geography, Environment and Planning (A and B), European Journal of Operational Research, Geoforum, Geografiska Annaler B, Geographical Analysis, Interfaces, International Journal of Geographical Information Systems, Journal of Mathematical Psychology, Journal of Multi-criteria Decision Analysis, Journal of Optimization Theory and Applications, Journal of Regional Science, Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, Journal of Retailing, Journal of the American Planning Association, Journal of Travel and Tourism Marketing, Management Science A, Mathematical Programming, Mathematical Social Sciences, Naval Research Logistics, Omega International Journal of Management Science, Operational Research Quarterly, Political Geography Quarterly, Progress in Human Geography, Regional Science and Urban Economics, Regional Studies, Social Science and Medicine, Social Science Quarterly, Socio-economic Planning Sciences, and Transportation.

Well done, Tony! You brought grace, charm, humanity, humour and wit, and an intellectual elegance into our everyday world and distinction to the University of Toronto. You selflessly, patiently, and sagely mentored and counselled countless others. We, and the discipline of Geography, are the better for having known you and having learned from you.

Valerie Preston, York University

I remember Tony as one of the U of T geography group with whom McMaster geography shared seminars. To this day, I can hear Tony asking questions and making comments that helped me understand the presentations and reassured me that graduate students could have a voice. I came to appreciate his contributions even more after I returned to Canada in 1988. Tony's work in retail geography and with Compusearch and Environics were key to convincing many skeptical parents that there was value in a geography degree. Canadian geography will miss him a great deal.

Richard DiFrancesco, University of Toronto

Dr. Anthony (Tony) Lea will always have a place in my heart as an unabashed quantitative scientist who had little patience for the “softer side” of our discipline. I remember one time I invited Tony to give a talk to my first year MScPl students in the core planning methods course. Tony ended up telling them that he did not like to hire UofT planners because they were not quantitative enough (talk about having a guest speaker blow up in your face!). Tony’s introduction to my planning students notwithstanding, I always found Tony to be a very pleasant and funny person. It was a pleasure to interact with him. In the end, he did hire some of our students. Professional Geography has lost an icon. Rest in Peace, Tony and thank you for everything.

Ken Jones, Toronto Metropolitan University

Tony was one of those rare individuals who was comfortable in both the academic and business worlds. As an academic he was always willing to share his ideas and support and challenge both his colleagues and students. By his own admission, he had a perverse sense of humour. As colleagues in the geography department at Ryerson University, we once contemplated preparing an examination with questions that no one had ever answered correctly. It didn’t happen of course but it was fun fantasizing about it.

Eric Sheppard, University of California Los Angeles

I came to know Tony as graduate students; we worked on similar issues with the same faculty, and finished our PhDs in the same year. I did not know him that well then; he was married and did not hang out so much with the other students (dominated by a masculinist group of single men). But we found ourselves on the job market together and became closer. This culminated in him being offered a position at Simon Fraser—where I wanted to go, and myself being offered one at Queens— which he wanted. We compromised by both accepting two-year appointments at the University of Minnesota. He and Barb generously accommodated me in their home for the first year, cementing a deep and lifelong friendship. They were consummate hosts, helping me get my feet on the ground in a country that felt so different from Canada. We were hired as the young quants in a largely cultural-historical department, teaching overlapping quant methods and economic geography classes. We shared syllabi, with him gaining the reputation as a setting really tough exams that he graded relatively generously whereas I was seen as a tougher grader of easier questions. But what I remember most was how much fun we had in and outside the department. Much younger than the other faculty, we broke the ice between faculty and grad students. Tony would chase me around the department firing rubber bands, which certainly changed the atmosphere. I remember him as a meticulous researcher who loved tackling wickedly complex problems, and who was never fully happy in the academy: he had an interest in applied research and possibly entering the private sector. Tony and Barb left after two years to return to Ontario, leaving to me the one permanent position in the department—cementing my academic path. In Toronto he made good on this career path, surviving Barb’s untimely death to become one of Canada’s most influential applied geographers. We kept in touch: Visiting in Toronto and at the family cabin, where we reconstructed those fun times. It seems that the business took its toll on him over the years—he would have characteristically been hands-on with everything detail from research to the budget; the first there and last to leave. He remained a true friend, also at a distance, who I miss greatly.

Antonio Paez, McMaster University

I met Tony shortly after I moved to Canada in 2002 to start a position as assistant professor at McMaster University. Tony was in the Advisory Board of the GIS diploma/certificate program that Pavlos Kanaroglou had just launched. From the first moment, I was impressed with Tony's humour, intelligence, and energy. To this date, I recall how sharp his interventions were at the meetings of the advisory board: what is now sophisticated knowledge was, in the early days of GIS, low level technical work. I further had the opportunity to interact with Tony when he was at Ryerson and leading a project with Maurice Yeates that involved spatial modelling. That was only the first of many more occasions where I enjoyed Tony's wit and insight. Over time, I came to regard Tony as a friend and mentor. He was invariably fun to talk with; because of our very different pedigrees, I always enjoyed his anecdotes of mutual friends and acquaintances in the world of academic geography. To me, it was like living vicariously in a time and place I did not get to know personally. As a professional geographer, Tony will be remembered for having contributed to the vision that geography could be informative, interesting, and above all impactful. Tony was an important influence in my life; I am sure that his life influenced many more. We are all the poorer with his passing, but richer for having had the privilege of knowing him.

Sebastien Breau, McGill University

I had the pleasure of meeting Tony only once, back in 2016, while he was attending an event at McGill celebrating the return of the Census in 2016. In my 10 minute conversation with him, I do remember his intense passion for spatial analytics and regional science more broadly. With his passing, the Canadian regional science community has lost a great champion!

Dan Griffith, University of Texas at Dallas

Tony and I met when we simultaneously entered our U. of Toronto doctoral programs of study, and were colleagues and friends for 50+ years, with Jean Paelinck coincidentally sponsoring each of us as Erasmus U., Rotterdam, visiting scholars, albeit 15 years apart. During that half-century, Tony and I co-convened an international conference, co-edited a 1983 book, and coauthored two papers, a 2001 GeoWorld article, and a 2005 encyclopedia entry. Throughout our careers, Tony regularly consulted me about spatial statistical problems, and I regularly consulted him about spatial optimization problems; in the late 1980s, this synergism motived him to nearly convinced me to move from academia to private industry to work with him. We roomed together while attending many conferences and professional meetings over the years, with Tony hosting a 2014 presentation by me to Environics Analytics. I will miss Tony; he was like a brother to me. Geography will miss Tony; his quantitative spatial analysis mastery has bolstered its reputation. His employer will miss Tony; especially his grading of staff reports submitted to him.

Steve Farber, University of Toronto

I worked for Tony for about 3 years, first as an RA at TMU, and then as a Research Analyst at Environics Analytics. In that time we developed a strong, 20-year friendship based on our shared excitement for spatial analytics, data, and dare I say, a shared sense of humour that bordered on a bit of boyish immaturity. Our conversations always generated new ideas, and we were guaranteed to share lots of laughs along the way. Over the years, Tony demonstrated to the world how spatial analytics could be used to solve hundreds of real-world problems, and he shared his practical approaches to working with incomplete, but the best data available, with a slew of students, employees, and clients. To this day I still use his description of "getting the smell" of a neighbourhood, by using percentages rather than counts, when teaching students how to examine neighbourhood compositions vary over space.

Mark Rosenberg, Queen’s University

I first met Tony as a second-year undergraduate at the University of Toronto. In those days, the geography graduate student TAs were relegated to the basement of Sidney Smith Hall where Tony, Eric Sheppard, and Dan Griffith held court. They were the "go to guys" for any help you needed with statistics. Of all of them, I am sure that Tony was the one who during the remainder of my undergraduate time at the University of Toronto was the one I continually pestered with the various problems I encountered. Tony and I stayed in touch as our careers evolved. To this day, I am uncertain how many undergraduates from those years owe Tony an enormous debt of gratitude for his help. I am also uncertain how much geographers in Canada owe Tony for his unswerving support of geography because of his decision to pursue a career in the private sector. Those of us who knew Tony well will miss his passion for geography, but all geographers in Canada should also mourn his loss.

Peter Miron, Environics Analytics

It was my pleasure to first meet Tony in November 2005. For more than a decade and a half we worked together trying to make the world understandable. Together, we built demographic, econometric and spatial models to simplify reality. Tony brought passion and energy to this. There was always “another article to read” about a new modelling concept he had read about… printed and paper clipped together with 18 numbered pages of handwritten notes on the back of failed previous printing attempts. He was always quick to offer little pearls of wisdom such as “you can produce small area estimates or estimates that are consistent over time, but not both”. Of course, each pearl of wisdom was followed by an explanatory metaphor completely unrelated (and unrelatable) to the problem at hand.

Tony was always somewhat conflicted about being a professional researcher. He took every opportunity he could to lecture (internally and externally) and always got excited when talking about the next paper he was going to present at the next conference. He shared this energy widely, in the past half decade focusing his efforts on developing geodemographic skills in universities and colleges across Canada. He did this with a smile… despite knowing that he would be the recipient of a couple hundred signed student data and software licensing forms. He was a mentor, both formally and informally, to hundreds of applied and academic researchers across North America.

Tony was also a storyteller. Yes, he was a gifted quantitative researcher in that he could make data generate whatever insight he had already decided it should make. But Tony loved a good story… especially when regarding a previous misadventure. Some of his favourite stories included: presenting a regression model to the executive of a large financial institution using only an acetate and stick figures (and then threatening them with interpretive dance); presenting a very romantic view of “Canada” to some of his University of Minnesota academic colleagues (“snow worm migration trails” and all); co-authoring an article quantifying the sphericity of kidney stones to estimate the degree of pain they may cause when passed; using linear programming to optimize a river’s path (despite its natural desires); and getting interrogated by the Toronto police for skulking around in the middle of the night writing down license plates from cars while building the first geodemographic segmentation for Canada. This list is far from exhaustive.

Above all else, Tony was a great friend. He was always ready to help. He was always ready to listen. He will be missed… but not soon forgotten.