57 postdocs, wrote 4 books, and published more than 250 papers.


Walter Gordy was born on April 20, 1909, the son of Walter K. and Gertrude Jones Gordy. He was reared on a farm and attended elementary and high school in rural Newton County, Mississippi. The first seven grades were in a one-teacher school, with five-month terms arranged around the busy seasons of the local farms. He did not graduate from high school until 1929, but when he did so, it was as valedictorian. Whatever the nature of his education up to that point, he did not waste any time after that. He spent one year attending Clarke Memorial Junior College, which was closely associated with small but highly respected Mississippi College. He entered Mississippi College in 1930, graduating after only two years, even while teaching during one of those years in the high school of the town of Dixon. His bachelor’s degree was awarded “with special distinction” in 1932. Gordy did not forget Mississippi and Mississippi did not forget him. He was awarded an L.L.D. by Mississippi College in 1959 and a Special 50th Anniversary Award by the Mississippi Academy of Sciences in 1980.

He enrolled immediately at the University of North Carolina in 1932, received an M.A. a year later and in 1935 a Ph.D. under the direction of Earle K. Plyler. Gordy held Plyler in exceptionally high regard, and later was instrumental in working with fellow Plyler student George E. Crouch in the establishment of the Earle K. Plyler Prize for molecular spectroscopy of the American Physical Society. He himself would be awarded the prize in 1980. In Chapel Hill he met Vida Miller, an English instructor at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro (in those days, “Women’s College”), whom he married in 1935. She ventured with

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