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Coolie Verner was born on April 25, 1917, in Portsmouth, Ohio, the son of an American military officer. His family were old-established tobacco farmers in Virginia. Verner attended the College of William and Mary in Virginia, receiving an A.B. in 1937 and an A.M. in 1950. He received his M.A. and Ed.D. from Columbia University, New York, in 1951 and 1952, respectively. Verner spent two years studying art in Paris and one year at the University of London on a Fulbright Fellowship, 1952-1953. Between 1942 and 1947, Verner served in the U.S. Army, advancing from private to captain. During his service in the Army, he became an expert in bomb disposal and has been personally thanked by Queen Elizabeth for defusing a bomb in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral in London. Verner taught adult education at the University of Virginia from 1947-1950. From 1953-1961 he was Professor of Adult Education at Florida State University. He joined the Faculty of Education, UBC, in 1961, where he taught adult education until his retirement in 1977. On October 12, 1979, Professor Verner died at his home on Mayne Island, B.C.
Verner's contributions to scholarship lay in three fields of endeavour: adult education, rural sociology, and the history of cartography and carto-bibliography. As an adult education professor, Verner helped create and develop the field as an academic discipline. He wrote over 170 works and lectured on the subject in Canada, the U.S., and countries as far away as Australia and New Zealand. Under his guidance, UBC became recognized as one of the world's foremost centres for adult education. As a rural sociologist, Verner directed studies for the Canadian government on the Okanagan and declining rural life in Canada. He also acted as a consultant to countries overseas, and he was a Canada Council Fellow 1968-1969. Equal if not greater than his interest in these two areas was Verner's passion for the history of cartography and carto-bibliography. His first publications in the field were studies in the 1950s on the early maps of Virginia. His last book was a historical cartographic work, The Northpart of America. Verner collected maps and kept detailed carto-bibliographic descriptions of them. In addition, many of the thousands of other maps he examined in his research. He was particularly interested in developing a research methodology for the study and description of early printed maps.