Dr. Gerald Walker looks forward to cycling more, now that he has retired

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Dr. Gerald Walker is smiling and waving, wearing a bike helmet and pirple and black cyclist gear.

HFC chemistry instructor and cycling enthusiast Dr. Gerald Walker started cycling for transportation because he didn’t have access to a car back in college. Later, cycling turned into a pastime – particularly when he encountered the Smoky Mountains in Georgia.

“I’ve been cycling since 1977. It puts me in close contact with nature, helps clear my mind of clutter, and helps keep me grounded,” said Walker, of Detroit. “I fell in love with cycling in the mountains on my first mountain ride around Lookout Mountain [a mountain ridge in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee].”

Throughout the 47 years he’s been cycling, Walker has participated in many races. He cycled collegiately for two years during his graduate school days at what is now Clark Atlanta University. He placed third in the United States Cycling Federation Georgia State Road Race Championships in 1995. He now rides, trains, and competes at the Lexus Velodrome in Detroit.

Now that he is retired from HFC, where he taught since 2009, Walker plans to continue “cycling, cycling, cycling!” He is training to race in the 2024 USA Cycling Masters and Juniors National Road Race Championships in Augusta, GA in July and the 2024 Masters National Track Championships in Rock Hill, SC in August.

“I also have several projects and ideas in mind,” said Walker. “My wife Lenetta started a landscaping business that I assist her with. I am thinking of starting a bicycle touring business – or at least hosting a multi-day bicycle tour in Georgia – writing an autobiography, and more cycling!”

Connections to Nobel Laureates

Born in Atlanta, Walker’s family moved to Detroit when he was a pre-teen. He is a graduate of Central High School in Detroit. “I come from a family of sharecroppers, farmers, day laborers, and autoworkers. I was the first of my immediate family to go to college. I didn't know enough when I graduated from high school, so college was the next step,” said Walker. “I wanted to study chemistry because everything in the universe is made up of the elements, and I wanted to have a better understanding of how things work.”

Returning to his native Atlanta, Walker earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry with minors in physics and biology from Morehouse College. His experience with Morehouse’s Chemistry program was life-changing, in part due to the laureates with whom he studied.

“I met Nobel Laureate Dr. Glenn T. Seaborg, who worked with (former) Morehouse President Dr. Walter E. Massey on the Manhattan Project,” said Walker. “I’m a second-generation student of Nobel Laureate William N. Lipscomb. My thesis advisor in grad school, Dr. John H. Hall, Jr., was a student of Lipscomb. The work that Hall and his colleagues did while under Lipscomb was used to award Lipscomb the Nobel Prize. Lipscomb was a student of two-time Nobel Laureate Dr. Linus Pauling.”

Part of Morehouse’s swimming dynasty, which includes actor Samuel L. Jackson

During his Morehouse days, Walker was a member of the swim team, which was under the leadership of Coach James “Pinky” Haines, who founded the team in 1958. The Morehouse Tiger Sharks were a force to be reckoned with from 1958-76.

“The Tiger Sharks had the best record for a swim team: 255 wins and 25 losses; 21 Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championships in 25 years – 11 years in a row. Sports Illustrated even wrote an article about the team,” recalled Walker.

One of the more famous members of the Morehouse swim team was Oscar nominee Samuel L. Jackson, well-known for his roles in Pulp Fiction, the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, the Star Wars prequels, and more.

“He was there before I started at Morehouse,” said Walker. “We just missed each other, so I didn’t know him. But I know he swam on the team.”

Working for NASA

Walker earned his master’s degree in physical chemistry from CAU. He later earned his doctorate in physical chemistry with a focus on computational chemistry and vibrational spectroscopy from the University of Georgia.

Walker has been teaching for nearly 30 years. He began teaching full-time at his alma mater, Morehouse. He was awarded a grant to do protein crystal growth studies as a subcontractor for NASA.

“Working with NASA was very exciting because I did ground-based studies related to experiments performed during space shuttle missions (i.e., in microgravity environments). I spent one summer in the Space Science Lab at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL to learn how to purify proteins for use in crystal growth experiments,” he explained. “One can grow larger and purer crystals of proteins in microgravity environments than one could produce on earth, so they hoped that ground-based studies would not produce purer or larger crystals because they wanted to continue performing experiments on space shuttle missions.”

Challenging students to do their best

Walker also taught at Spelman College in Atlanta. Returning to Michigan, Walker taught at Macomb Community College in Warren. A colleague recommended he apply for an opening at HFC.

“For me, the best part of teaching is seeing the smile on a student’s face when they understand a concept that confused them at first,” said Walker. “I really enjoyed my time at HFC. My coworkers, the staff, and the administration here have all been awesome. It’s been a pleasure working with them.”

He spoke about what prompted his decision to retire.

“I’m slowing down and want to enjoy more time with my family, more time at home, and of course, more time cycling,” said Walker.

HFC Dean of the School of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Janice Gilliland expressed her well-wishes for Walker, who will be missed.

“We wish Gerald all the best in retirement,” said Gilliland. “He is a dedicated long-time faculty member at HFC. He has taught numerous chemistry lectures and lab sections. He is easy to talk to and challenges students to do their very best work and be prepared for future challenges.”

Related Content: Lexus Velodrome overview

An avid cyclist, Dr. Gerald Walker rides, trains, and competes at the Lexus Velodrome in Detroit.