M. Perry Chapman Jr., 76, innovative college campus planner

M. Perry Chapman was a principal at Sasaki Associates in Watertown.

With a passion for cities and architecture that was fueled by the magazines and books he read and the drawings he composed, M. Perry Chapman Jr. knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life when he was only 8.

“That drive and knowledge of who he was factored into so many aspects of his life,’’ said his daughter Anne Doran of Brattleboro. “He was really passionate about the stuff he loved.’’

An award-winning planner for college campuses and a lifelong environmental advocate, Mr. Chapman died of an arterial aneurysm Dec. 8 at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge. He was 76 and lived in Belmont.


A principal at Sasaki Associates in Watertown, which he joined in 1964, Mr. Chapman initially assisted with master plans and environmental impact studies for large projects such as the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., and the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

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He then headed the firm’s campus planning practice and worked with dozens of universities across the United States. An innovative planner who loved the outdoors, Mr. Chapman wanted to dissolve the town-gown divide that traditionally isolated campuses from surrounding communities.

“He was very interested in integrating the campuses into the natural environment and community in ways that were really forward-thinking,’’ said David Hirzel of Wayland, a friend and colleague. “He was always working to help bridge those gaps.’’

Embracing the environment in his personal life as well, Mr. Chapman rode a bike to work every day, regardless of weather.

“I can picture him riding down the street on his bicycle, in the rain, in a poncho,’’ Hirzel said. “He did it every day for 40 years.’’


Because he biked to work, his family of five needed only one car. While that meant his three daughters rarely had use of the sole vehicle, “it’s so symbolic of what he was all about,’’ his daughter said.

A longtime member of the Belmont Planning Board, which he often chaired, Mr. Chapman was also part of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and Cornell University’s architectural advisory committee.

His essay “The Mature Region: Building a Practical Model for the Transition to the Sustainable Society,’’ was selected in 1982 for a Mitchell Prize. As a fellow of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in Cambridge, he studied the model that New England presented to the nation.

In 1984, he told the Globe that nationally, “New England, and not California, is the harbinger of things to come. . . . It is the first steady-state region, not based on the exploitation of natural resources.’’

In 2008, the Society for College and University Planning presented him with its Founders’ Award for distinguished achievement in higher education planning, noting that during more than four decades, he “managed or directed his firm’s work at 85 colleges, universities, or other educational institutions in 33 states.’’


On its website, the society said he was among the first “to write about the impact of universities as sponsors of real estate development; to chronicle social forces affecting campus design in post-World War II decades; and to talk about the importance of place and community in the campus learning experience.’’

‘He was very interested in integrating the campuses into the natural environment . . . in ways that were really forward-thinking.’

Five years ago, Mr. Chapman published an essay in the Globe two weeks after the shootings at Virginia Tech, a college for which he had been a planning consultant.

Mindful of the call to ensure student safety after the tragedy, he cautioned that “college administrators need to be wary of the societal implications of sequestering populations in the name of security.’’

“We see the examples all around us - the trend toward privatized, gated residential communities erodes the quality of our civic lives by limiting free and spontaneous encounters among a wide range of humanity,’’ he wrote in 2007. “In much the same way, the proliferation of crudely designed ‘protections’ to courthouses and government buildings coarsens civic life and lessens our shared pride in the public realm.’’

Born and reared in Cooperstown, N.Y., Mr. Chapman graduated from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., in 1960 with a bachelor’s in architecture.

He married his high school sweetheart, Dawn Wilbur, in 1957.

After college, Mr. Chapman first worked for the city planning bureau in Rochester, N.Y., before he and his wife moved to Belmont in 1964, the year he joined Sasaki.

They traveled to national parks, to Hilton Head, S.C., and to Europe aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 ocean liner. After each trip, however, he was always happy to come home.

“He loved the city of Boston, he couldn’t get enough of it,’’ his wife said. “He felt so blessed that we lived here.’’

The Chapmans were regulars at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island.

He took particular pleasure hiking and camping in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and the Adirondack Mountains of New York with a close group of friends.

“They were just a group of guys that really loved each other and appreciated their time together,’’ his daughter said.

A service has been held for Mr. Chapman, who, in addition to his wife and daughter, leaves two other daughters, Susan Houy of Paris and Jennifer of Arlington; a brother, Dennis of Utica, N.Y.; two half-brothers, Bradford of New York and Gregory of Florida; a half-sister, Bonnie Vanalstine of New York; and four grandchildren.

Mr. Chapman, who retired in 2010, contributed essays and articles on planning, regional development, and sustainability to professional journals and periodicals throughout his life, and often was sought as a speaker on planning.

His book “American Places: In Search of the Twenty-First Century Campus’’ was published in 2006.

Just before he suffered the arterial aneurysm, he had begun researching another book.

“He had the notes right there when he died,’’ Doran said.

Despite his many honors and publications, Mr. Chapman was just “a guy who grew up in Cooperstown,’’ Hirzel said. “He was a small-town kid, and one of the most unpretentious human beings you’d ever seen.’’

Amanda Cedrone can be reached at