News & Events

The Department Mourns the Passing of Dr. David C. Walker

Dr. David C. Walker, Professor Emeritus, passed away on October 9th, 2020. He was 86 years old.


I feel privileged to write an obituary for David C. Walker, particularly because his pre-UBC years were remarkably similar to mine, and our 55 years in Vancouver overlapped significantly in ‘sports’. I thank Elliot Burnell and Don Fleming for their help in putting together this obituary from chemistry faculty friends, who all send their sincerest condolences to Gale and family members.         

Emeritus Professor, David C. Walker, passed away peacefully at the age of 86 at home in the presence of family members. Born in 1934 in York (UK), he obtained a B.Sc. in physics and chemistry at St.Andrews University, and a Ph.D. on radiation chemistry at Leeds University in 1959, supervised by F.S.Daiton; he preferred this strong rugby sport University rather than trying Oxford or Cambridge where Latin was required! He then spent some time with the NRC in Ottawa, then 3 years back in the UK, where he met Charles McDowell (UBC Chem. Dept. Head), who was on sabbatical in the UK, and was there appointed as an Assistant Prof. in 1964. His trip from Leeds to London to Canada (via Winnipeg) with his wife, Valerie, two very young children, and a dog, could be the basis of a TV show!

David’s UBC career (work and social life) will remain unforgettable. In recent conversations, he recalled key scientific assistance and learning in radiation chemistry from McDowell and David Frost (experts in photoelectron spectroscopies), although collaboration with Frost focused largely on cricket since David Walker was a high-level wicket-keeper. Learning from Chris Reed’s book “Excited States in Chemistry and Biology” was a key factor in some of David’s research. For example, he explained that the different chiralities of amino acids and sugars (L and D, respectively) are caused by radiation, as written in the 1979 book “Optical Activity” edited by David. The required, varying radiations led to his joint position at TRIUMF, and a closer scientific interaction with Don Fleming. These radiations required some remarkable instruments in the chemistry basement, including an electron-accelerating machine, and one that generated 60Co ℽ-rays; needed for safety purposes were ½ x 8 inch lead walls with a sliding door. The radiation source involved 1000 amps and 600,000 volts, then equivalent to the total Vancouver power discharge, but for only 20 nanosec! High energy radiation on water was shown to form hydrated electrons, and the new terms of ‘muons’ and ‘anti-muons’ were added to the list of subatomic particles; David’s book “Muon and Muonium Chemistry” was published in 1983, this forming the basis of many of his later research interests, carried out at TRIUMF.

The UBC Assistant Professor position in David’s days meant doing your own glassblowing and measurements of mass-spec and NMR, but we did have a Faculty Club, as well as a department library; there was the Bus-Stop cafeteria on Main Mall opposite the original Chem. Building and the undergraduates wrote notes during lectures – a mixture of the bad and good old days! A further good, old activity that David cherished was carving turkey at the Departmental Christmas dinner celebrations at Cecil Green Park, International House, or the University Golf club.  Sharing with friends was a priority for David, and he gave these meals his full attention and enthusiasm, as he did with all his other activities.

As well as activity in cricket (see above), squash, and bridge provided other recreations. In 1967, UBC was planning to bulldoze the squash court within the Cecil Green Park, but David, myself, and Gerry Porter saved the court that remarkably involved collecting funding of $25 from 20 players; of note, David was still playing regularly with Elliott Burnell until January this year. He was devoted to the Faculty/Alumni Squash Club, and even painted “Path to Glory”, a picture of the club, this artistic endeavor being vigorously encouraged by Gale, David’s second wife. The minutes of the squash club meetings refer to ‘the lively personality, quick wit, and infectious laugh” of David.  Regarding the 3rd ‘sport’, myself and my wife Jane were taught duplicate bridge by David and his first wife, Valerie. David was a silver life master bridge and wrote a manuscript on “The Rule of Restricted Choice” which he never published; bridge provided him with the opportunity to apply statistical analysis to the game, a topic he loved.  

David also founded a lunchtime investment club (LIC, vide infra), an exciting sport for himself and some chemistry faculty members! In recent years, this initiated Monday becoming a special day in a relationship with Elliott Burnell; this started with an LIC meeting at 2:30 pm, then a squash game at 4:15 pm, followed by an evening bridge game (Tsawwassen and Richmond being popular venues), and finally a visit to the Cheshire Cheese Inn for a Guinness or Kilkenny, with discussion of the bridge. The initial weekly LIC meetings eventually became bi-weekly and then monthly, and last year were relegated to the “call of the chair”. David managed his own investments, but with loss or gain is unclear – nevertheless, he thoroughly enjoyed buying and selling stocks.

Regarding teaching, David’s favourite course was Chem 205 (physical and inorganic chemistry for the life sciences); he taught this for many years, but only until his elder daughters, Jenny and Shannon, were about to take the course en route to medical school. David’s last UBC course taught was Science One, a course for about 70 students with Professors and Lecturers from Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics and Physics, who attended each other’s lectures to comment on their discipline’s contribution to the topic at hand. David was the Prof when two of Elliott Burnell’s children were Science 1 students, and he did receive high praise from classes for his scientific inspiration.  After ‘automatic’ retirement in 1999, David taught a course in the downtown east side of Vancouver as an outreach program for the less privileged persons who resided there.

Like David, 1964 was my McDowell-appointed year as an Assistant Professor at UBC, and I also travelled from the UK with my wife and 2 very young children. I met David at a cricket practice – the 4 UBC teams at that time have decreased slowly to zero, as appointments from the old Commonwealth have been replaced by increasing numbers of Ph.D students and postdocs from Canadian and other Universities. David and I, like other ageing Chemistry Emeriti, have never regretted life in Vancouver.

Sincerely, and Cheers to David, Brian R. James