Dr. Jerry A. Walker (BS, ’69) and Christine Walker, his wife, both earned advanced degrees in chemistry, worked in the pharmaceutical industry, and shared an unwavering belief that there is no substitute for a quality education in the sciences.
Christine Walker said that establishing the Jerry A. Walker Endowed Chair at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in honor and memory of her late husband is an expression of these beliefs.
"Both Jerry and I firmly believed in a quality science education. And providing funds for a highly regarded professor is a good way to maintain a renowned chemistry department," Christine Walker said.
Another key motivation for establishing the endowed chair now rather than as a legacy gift, said Christine Walker, is the multigenerational connection that her husband’s family is continuing with the University of Illinois.
Dr. Walker’s brother, Gary Walker, graduated from UIUC in 1973 with a BS in Pharmacy; his uncle, Larry Graham graduated in 1967 with a degree in agricultural communications; and his niece, Jennifer McNeilly, earned three degrees (BS, 1999, mathematics with secondary education minor; MS, 2001, teaching of mathematics; PhD, 2021, educational psychology) and is the Director of the Math Merit program in the Department of Mathematics. And Dr. McNeilly’s son, Evan, is currently a student at UIUC.
This year, Illinois chemistry professor Dr. Christy F. Landes was named the first Jerry A. Walker Endowed Chair.
Christine Walker said she was delighted to hear of Professor Landes’ appointment and is very much looking forward to following her scientific career at UIUC.
Dr. Walker was born in Olney in southern Illinois. At UIUC, he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and graduated with high honors and highest distinction in the chemistry curriculum and went on to earn his PhD in chemistry with Professor Jack E. Baldwin at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
After postdoctoral studies at the University of California at Los Angeles and at the California Institute of Technology, he began working in the lab at The Upjohn Company, finding innovative and commercially viable chemical processes for large scale manufacture of pharmaceutical compounds.
Dr. Walker’s knowledge and managerial talents quickly steered his career from the lab to successive leadership roles that in 1996 culminated in his promotion to Vice President, Bulk Drug Process Research & Development and Quality/Environmental Compliance, Chemical & Fermentation Operations. Two years later, he assumed responsibility for global active pharmaceutical ingredient process R & D in Michigan, Italy, and Sweden, for the Pharmacia & Upjohn Company.
In his 29-year career, Dr. Walker was integral to the development of new processes for antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids, and new compounds, including an anti-microbial to fight bacterial infections, a veterinary antibiotic, and a medication that treats numerous types of infections in humans. He was an author or co-author of several technical patents.
Dr. Walker retired from his chemistry career in early 2004 and focused on another of his passions, golf, and embarked on a new “career” as a rules official with the Professional Golf Association, the United States Golf Association, and for college golf tournaments.