University Community

University community mourns Political Science Professor Emeritus Tom Walker

The Ohio University community mourns the passing of Thomas Walker, professor emeritus of political science and director emeritus of Latin American studies, who died on May 2.

"Tom was a committed political science faculty member who welcomed me in the department. He always put students first, so it is fitting that he and his family established a scholarship in his name that has and will continue benefit students," said Sarah Poggione, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of political science.

Professor Emeritus of Political Science Harold Molineu, a close colleague and friend of Walker’s since his arrival at OHIO in 1972, said Walker "proved to be the Latin Americanist the Political Science Department was hoping to find: first rate education, extensive field experience, language proficiency and Peace Corps service. Committed to his field, he developed a much needed curriculum for Latin American studies and the department."

Walker graduated from Brown University in 1963 and joined the Peace Corps, serving in Colombia. He also worked in Alaska, writing proposals for Native Housing initiatives in rural communities. He then began an M.A. in Latin American Studies at the University of New Mexico and earned his Ph.D. in Political science focusing on the political dynamics of Nicaragua and Brazil, according to his obituary.

At OHIO, Walker soon began to publish about politics in Central America and jumped at the chance to cover the revolution in Nicaragua. He developed contacts among the Sandinista rebels and happened to be on site when they liberated the country from the Somoza dictatorship in 1979.

"Tom quickly established ties with most of the leadership. This was evident to me when I was working on a book about U.S. foreign policy and Tom invited me to join him on a research trip to Nicaragua. It was a revealing journey as Tom made his way through the country, still in a civil war, and could meet personally with the Sandinistas. This led to a number of ground-breaking publications about the revolution and subsequent conflicts," Molineu said.

In total, Dr. Walker authored or co-authored 10 books on Central America, many of which were formative in the field of Latin American Studies. Walker also edited and contributed to many works in his field including two published works by the Ohio University Press, Argentina, the United States, and the Anti-Communist Crusade in Central America, 1977–1984, written by his former student Dr. Ariel Armony, and Perspectives on War and Peace in Central America.

As director of Latin American studies, Walker proved instrumental in recruiting graduate students from throughout the region to come to Athens.

"Tom, along with is wife Anne, also built a reputation for hosting the students at their farmhouse and introducing them to Southeast Ohio," Molineu said. "Tom’s impact on OU and its students over many years stands as a truly remarkable accomplishment."

“It’s impossible to truly capture what Tom has meant to CIS and OHIO and to the hundreds of Latin American Studies students who he mentored and supported,” said Patrick Barr-Melej, interim executive director of the Center for International Studies and Professor of History. He was an extraordinary educator, compassionate advisor, generous colleague, and a key figure in his research field. The CIS community is deeply saddened by his passing, and we extend our heartfelt condolences to his wife, Anne, and the Walker family."

Mariana Dantas, associate professor of history, added that "even after Tom stepped down as director of Latin American Studies, he continued to show his unwavering support for the program and its students. He and his wife, Anne, have really been the heart of Latin American Studies at OU,  hosting events at their house and regularly helping our international students in every way imaginable. When I was director of the program, I established a fund in their name to support student research and learning about Latin America. Tom and Anne eagerly embraced the idea, and with their help, and that of Tom's many admiring students, it is now an endowed fund. Through the Thomas and Anne Walker Latin American Studies Endowment, students interested in Latin America will continue to enjoy Tom's generosity and be inspired by his love for the region."

A Legacy for Latin American Studies

The Thomas and Anne Walker Latin American Studies Endowment provides financial support for students whose research and academic pursuits advance the study of Latin America and awareness of the region and its global relevance.

Alumnus Julio Beltrán, who completed his M.A. in Latin American Studies in 2022, met Walker at the awards ceremony in 2021.

"As the first recipient of this grant, I felt immensely happy to have the opportunity to hear about all the work legacy that Dr. Walker and his wife, Anne, had done for the Latin American Studies program in the Athens community. I remember listening to faculty and members of the community in general talk about their memories in Dr. Walker’s home and how grateful they were for all he had done for the international students and for the program," Beltrán said. "I had the privilege to briefly talk to Dr. Walker and Anne Walker as well. Even though Dr. Walker had recently gone through a health issue, he made the effort to interact with me. It was a very meaningful conversation in which he encouraged me to move forward with my research and believe in my work."

Thanks to the award, Beltrán was able to travel to Ecuador and expand his research on capoeira as an art form connected to the lives of practitioners and to notions of identity, resistance, and resilience.

"I would like to honor Dr. Walker and express my gratitude for all his continuous support to the Latin American Studies program at Ohio University. I believe that his legacy is also another reflection and a powerful reminder of how resilience will allow us to thrive in this world despite the obstacles we may face. R.I.P Dr. Thomas Walker," Beltrán said.

May 19, 2023
Staff reports