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Charles Lathrop Parsons Award

by Melody M. Bomgardner
January 26, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 4

Credit: Grace C. Walter
Photo of Walter.
Credit: Grace C. Walter

Sponsored by ACS

Paul H. L. Walter, 80, grew up with the American Chemical Society, winning a regional ACS award while he was a high school student in Stamford, Conn. Later, as a professional chemist and educator, Walter spent much of his own adulthood helping ACS grow up.

A gifted young student of chemistry, Walter majored in chemistry at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and received a bachelor’s degree in 1956. The head of the department, Arthur C. Cope, would become president of ACS in 1961. Cope strongly encouraged students to join—and be active in—their professional society.

Walter received a Ph.D. in chemistry in 1960 from the University of Kansas. Later, as a researcher working at DuPont, he did not find as much value in ACS’s technical programming. He was a solid-state inorganic chemist, and “ACS then didn’t have much to say about that.”

Walter began to think about a different kind of career. “When I left DuPont, it was because I got the sense this is not what I’m supposed to do with my life. I felt I needed to go into teaching.” He did not look for an academic institution where research was the focus. Instead, he wanted to be in the classroom, and he wanted to bring more women into chemistry. In 1967, Skidmore College, in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., was a women’s liberal arts college. And that is where he went, as an assistant professor. By 1978, he was a professor of chemistry. He taught full time until 1996.

An ACS member since 1955, Walter was active in the Eastern New York Section from 1968 through 1990, rising to the executive committee. At the national level, he began, as many ACS leaders do, as a member of the ACS Council, beginning in 1977. His volunteer résumé shows involvement in activities and programs of the society that span two full pages.

As a member of ACS governance, Walter had an outsized impact on making ACS a welcoming place for women and minority chemists as well as for chemists in industry. He also traveled internationally to foster relationships with chemical societies of other nations. Walter was elected director-at-large in 1996, served as chairman from 1993–95, and was ACS president in 1998.

As board chair, recalls governance colleague S. Allen Heininger, Walter “was deeply involved and took the lead in organizing and managing the Airlie Conference,” which brought together organizations, including the Society for Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos & Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists & Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE), the American Indian Science & Engineering Society (AISES), and others committed to enabling minority participation in science. “The long-term success of the ACS Scholars Program has been deeply rooted in this critical action led personally by Paul Walter,” Heininger says.

Walter says that he and others at ACS believed the society must be proactive; as the demographics of the country and our science change, so too should the makeup of ACS membership. ACS should engage with other nations’ societies as equals. Such efforts are sure to pay dividends. “I know no other organization where the members have such a deep influence on what happens in it,” Walter says.

Walter, who is being honored for outstanding public service by an ACS member, will present his award address before the ACS Board of Directors.


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