Margaret FitzSimmons

Obituary of Margaret I. FitzSimmons

We mourn the passing of our dearly loved sister, aunt, and friend, Margaret FitzSimmons. She was born in Berkeley, California on January 16 1947, the daughter of Edward and Elizabeth (nee Sauer) FitzSimmons. After an undergraduate degree in psychology from Stanford (1969) she chose geography as the focus of her graduate work, earning her MA from Cal State Northridge in 1975 and a PhD in Geography from UCLA in 1983. Her dissertation examined the interaction of nature, labor and capital in the agricultural industrialization of the Salinas Valley, California, and was a masterful analysis of the political ecologies and environmental history of this important agricultural region. She was recognized for the best paper based on a dissertation with the American Association of Geographers J. Warren Nystrom Award. Her dissertation publications included an important paper in the journal Economic Geography. 

She was appointed as an assistant professor of Urban Planning at UCLA in 1980, where she strengthened the department’s environmental concentration. In 1991 UCLA gave her a distinguished teaching award for the many new courses she introduced, for her expertise in teaching theory, and as a mentor to countless students, including many students of color. Her 1989 article “The matter of nature” in the radical geography journal, Antipode, which theorized the social construction of nature as a deeply human relation to the environment, has been cited hundreds of times. She also wrote a book on water in California, “Thirst for Growth” with Robert Gottlieb. In 1994 she was recruited as a Professor by the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she continued her deep dedication to student mentoring and teaching, her thoughtful support of her colleagues, and her commitment to a sustainable and socially just agriculture.

Margaret loved family, friends, and gardening, and was devoted to the several dogs in her life, especially Jonah and Adam who lived with her in Santa Cruz. She was widely read, passionate about social and environmental justice, articulate, incisive, brilliant and incredibly kind. Margaret was a loving daughter to both of her parents, providing abiding love and comfort to them in their final years. She had warm memories of her travels and interactions with her maternal grandparents, geographer Carl O. Sauer and Lorena Sauer and of family get togethers. 

Her move to Santa Cruz brought her nearer to her mother Elizabeth, sister and brother-in-law Ellen and Klaus Porzig, and their children Annie, Libby and Molly.  Margaret was the center of a devoted circle of friends in Santa Cruz and beyond, including Diana Liverman of Tucson. Vanessa Maguina, who moved into Margaret’s home as a student, became over the years a close friend, carer and co-chicken raiser and was considered by Margaret as family. We are eternally grateful to Vanessa, and also to Monce Zamarripa, who together provided loving care for Margaret in recent years.  

There will be no formal service or public event at this time but hope to eventually celebrate her life in the wild places of California and gardens that she loved. We invite you to take a moment to be in the nature she loved to remember Margaret.  In lieu of flowers you may wish to honor Margaret with a donation to one of the charities she supported such as Environment California, KQED Public radio, Walnut Street Health Clinic, the Earth Island Institute, or Monterey Bay Aquarium. Messages can be left on the tribute ‘wall’ connected to the obituary for Margaret or can be sent to her friend who will share them with Margaret’s friends and family.   

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