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"It is indeed an honor to receive a Royal Medal that has been awarded nearly every year since 1839, and one that is not only approved by the Queen, but also carries names of such previous recipients as Carl Ritter, Fridtjof Nansen, Robert E. Peary and the Prince of Monaco."
Photo Gallery:
H. Jesse Walker through the years

Not All Gold Medals are Given in Beijing
LSU Boyd Professor Jesse Walker Recipient of Prestigious Geography Award

BATON ROUGE – Sir Edmund Hillary. Queen Elizabeth II. Former U.S. Senator and NASA Astronaut John Glenn. Richard J. Russell, for whom LSU’s Howe-Russell-Kniffen Geoscience Complex is partially named. What do these well-known people have in common? Believe it or not, it’s LSU Boyd Professor H. Jesse Walker, who has been a fixture on the LSU campus for the past 50 years.

Walker, Boyd Professor Emeritus in the LSU Department of Geography & Anthropology, is the 2008 recipient of the Royal Geographical Society’s Patron’s Medal, which is one of the two most prestigious awards given by the society. Walker was awarded the gold medal “for the encouragement, development and promotion of coastal geomorphology.”

“It is indeed an honor to receive a Royal Medal that has been awarded nearly every year since 1839, and one that is not only approved by the Queen, but also carries names of such previous recipients as Carl Ritter, Fridtjof Nansen, Robert E. Peary and the Prince of Monaco,” Walker said.

Other notable winners include Robert McClure for his discovery of the Northwest Passage, Capt. Robert Scott for services as leader of the National Antarctic Expedition and Sir Edmund Hillary for Himalayan exploration.

In 1831, King William IV gave 50 guineas to establish a Founder’s Medal. This money was sufficient so that in 1839 it was decided to add another gold medal of equal importance; the two of them representing the Royal Geographical Society’s highest honors. It became known as the Patron’s Medal and has been awarded every year since then except for two years during World War II. These two awards are given for “the encouragement and promotion of geographical science and discovery” and are presented only after approval by “Her Majesty the Queen,” Queen Elizabeth II.

“The award of this medal to Dr. Walker, who now joins such luminaries as Richard Leakey and many others, is a clear statement of his outstanding contributions to geographical studies, and the Department of Geography & Anthropology is incredibly honored to count Dr. Walker as one of our own,” said Patrick Hesp, R. J. Russell Professor and chair of the LSU Department of Geography & Anthropology.

Walker, born in Michigan in 1921, lived in Colorado for eight years and then moved with his family to Morro Bay, Calif., just before the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression. After graduation from high school in San Luis Obispo, Calif., he attended the University of California, Berkeley. His undergraduate studies were soon interrupted by World War II.

Walker joined the Navy flight program at UC Berkeley as a member of the Flying Golden Bears. He received his wings and commission two weeks before John Glenn and, like him, transferred into the Marine Corps. Walker spent the war years flying transport planes with the U.S. Marine Corps around the South Pacific, mostly in the Solomon Islands.

After WWII, Walker returned to UC Berkeley, finished his undergraduate degree and then earned a master’s degree. He taught at Georgia State University in Atlanta during the early 1950s, before coming to LSU in 1955. At LSU, he completed his Ph.D. in 1960, and other than a one-year leave before joining the faculty, he has been on the campus ever since.

“I had a year’s leave of absence before I ever started teaching here to go to the office of Naval Research because Richard Russell, you may have heard his name … which is on the building, wanted me to get the experience,” Walker said.

Walker served as the chair of the Department of Geography & Anthropology during the 1960s and rose through the ranks, becoming Boyd Professor in 1976.

Walker’s research focus includes geomorphology, the Arctic and alluvial and coastal morphology. He received the Patron’s Medal for his work in the field of geomorphology.

“It pleases me to learn that this geographical award is presented for the contribution I may have made in the promotion of geomorphology, a subject that I began enjoying long before I even knew such a term existed,” Walker said. “I have devoted most of my time to the study of shorelines, especially in the Arctic and those impacted by artificial structures, especially in Japan, China, Taiwan and Korea. The research in the Arctic began 52 years ago and continues to this day.”

Walker, who has been retired from teaching for some 25 years, still travels to Alaska almost every year. He is also asked to present guest lectures at numerous conferences and universities around the world. In the past five years, he has given keynote addresses in Mexico, Taiwan and Spain and has traveled to other places around the globe such as Switzerland, Italy, Scotland, Japan, Palau, China and Antarctica.

Walker has been published in more than 150 books, monographs, research reports and articles. In 1986, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Uppsala in Sweden. In 2004, he received the Laureat d’ honneur from the International Geographical Union. In 2006, he was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Association of American Geographers, and in 2005, the LSU Board of Supervisors approved the naming of the geomorphology laboratory in the Howe-Russell-Kniffen Geoscience Complex as the H. J. Walker Geomorphology Laboratory.

About the Royal Geographical Society

The Royal Geographical Society with The Institute of British Geographers is the learned society and professional body representing geography and geographers in the United Kingdom. It was founded in 1830 and has been one of the most active of the learned societies ever since. It was pivotal in establishing geography as a teaching and research discipline in British universities and has played a key role in geographical and environmental education from its foundation. Today, the society is a leading world center for geographical learning − supporting education, teaching, research and scientific expeditions, as well as promoting public understanding and enjoyment of geography. For more information, visit www.rgs.org.

Ernie Ballard | LSU Office of Public Affairs
Summer 2008

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