Walter Gordy was born in Mississippi and received the degree of A. B. from Mississippi College in 1932. Three years later he was awarded a Ph. D. at the University of North Carolina. Up to 1941 he taught at Mary Hardin-Baylor College in Texas. During the summers he pursued research using infrared spectroscopy at U. N. C. and at the Ohio State University; the winters were occupied in the calculating and writing up of research papers. This work led to the award of a National Research Fellowship--one of only two awarded in physics in 1941. Having developed a strong interest in chemical structure and bonding he decided to work with Linus Pauling at Cal Tech. His fellowship was interrupted by the entry of the U. S. A. in World War II and he joined a radar project at M. I. T.
Very often great advancements in science are the result of seized opportunites by far-thinking and perceptive people. Walter Gordy was certainly such a person. In February 1946 he arrived at Duke University bursting with ideas about applying microwave techniques to the study of molecular structure. In addition he brought a huge load of government surplus K-band radar components and the Duke Microwave Group was born.
Within two years he was made a full Professor, became James B. Duke Professor in 1958, and retired in 1979. He received many honors, including three honorary degrees from Mississippi College, the University of Lille, France, and from Emory University, U. S. A.; he was elected to membership of the National Academy of Sciences in 1964; the North Carolina Award for Science, the Jesse Beams award and the E. K. Plyler Prize of the American Physical Society; the 50th Anniversary Award of the Mississippi Academy of Sciences; the distinguished alumni award of the University of North Carolina and the State of North Carolina Award for Science.
All who knew him remember a kindly gentleman, fiercely loyal to his country and to his friends, infectiously enthusiastic in his research direction and always considerate of other people's feelings.
*adapted from a special issue in honor of Walter Gordy of the Journal of Molecular Structure, edited by W. J. Orville-Thomas, Michael C. L. Gerry, and Noel L. Owen.