Walter E. Massey
Walter’s career has bridged the two cultures of the sciences and the arts, the private and public sectors, and academia and industry. He is currently chair of the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization, chair of the City Colleges of Chicago Trustees, president emeritus of Morehouse College and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and senior advisor to the president and emeritus trustee of the University of Chicago. Recent awards and honors include the Sigma Xi 2020 Gold Key Award and the National Science Foundation’s 2019 Vannevar Bush Award. His memoir In the Eye of the Storm: My Time as Chairman of Bank of America, During the Country’s Worst Financial Crisis was published in 2020 by Beckham Publications.
Throughout his career, Walter has been dedicated to science and technology as necessary to sustain and improve quality of life, public understanding of science and technology as essential to democracy, the arts as vital to fostering creativity, and the intersections of science, technology and the arts as critical for innovation. From the beginning, he has been committed to strengthening the field and the country through racial and social equality by ensuring active inclusion, access to quality education, and mentorship for women and underrepresented minorities particularly in STEM fields.
While director of the National Science Foundation in 1992, he helped convince Congress to invest in the largest and most ambitious project ever funded by the NSF, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). Designed and built to detect cosmic gravitational waves predicted by Einstein as part of his general theory of relativity, the first waves detected were reported in 2016. The Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Barry C. Barish in 2017 for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves.
In his roles as director and a member of the board of governors for Argonne National Laboratory, vice president of research at UChicago, and provost and vice president of academic affairs at the University of California, he fostered cooperation and collaboration between academia, government and industry and helped restore funding and recognition of national labs as visionary, scientific research institutions.
Walter is the former vice president of the American Physical Society, chair of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board, chairman of Bank of America, member of the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century, President’s Council of Advisors of Science and Technology and the National Science Board, board chair for the Salzburg Global Seminar, trustee of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and the Marine Biological Laboratory, co-founder of the National Society of Black Physicists, and founding trustee of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, among others. He is the only person to have served as president and chairman of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and chair of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design.
He has served on the boards of BP, McDonald’s, Tribune Company, Motorola, First National Bank of Chicago, Continental Materials, Amoco, Research-Cottrell, Analytic Services, the Mellon Foundation, the Commonwealth Fund, the MacArthur Foundation, the Rand Corporation, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, among others.
He has uniquely received both the Chicago Historical Society’s Enrico Fermi Award for Science and Technology and the Illinois Humanities’ Public Humanities Award, in addition to the Order of Lincoln, the State of Illinois’ highest honor. The Georgia State Senate passed resolution SR 113 to recognize and commend him as president of Morehouse College, the American Association of Physics Teachers awarded him their Distinguished Service Citation and he has received 41 honorary degrees.
Born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, he received a Ford Foundation fellowship at age 16 to attend Morehouse College where he received his BS in physics and mathematics. He holds both his MA and PhD in Physics from Washington University in St. Louis where his thesis focused on “Ground State of Liquid Helium-Boson Solutions for Mass 3 and 4.” He was a postdoctoral fellow at Argonne, assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and held professorships in physics at Brown University and the University of Chicago.
His dedication to mentoring students is a reflection of the inspiration and “extraordinary care” he received from his own mentors Sabinus H. Christensen at Morehouse and Eugene Feenberg at WashU. He is married to Shirley Anne Massey, a civic leader, who grew up in Woodlawn and Hyde Park. They have two sons and three grandchildren.