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1929 Henry 2022

Henry Snowden Valk

January 26, 1929 — April 12, 2022

Henry Snowden Valk died on April 12, 2022. He was 93.

Henry was born on January 26, 1929 in Washington, D.C. to Henry Valk and Dorothy Blencowe. Growing up in and around the capitol, it was perhaps inevitable that Henry would develop a passion for politics that continued throughout his life. One of his early memories was catching a glimpse of Harry S. Truman and his V.P. Alban W. Barkley waving to the crowd during Truman’s inauguration day parade. Henry spent his childhood poring over books and listening to classical music on the radio, never missing the Saturday afternoon opera broadcasts.

As a young person, Henry had little formal education. For the most part, he was self-taught, a true autodidact. It was during these formative years he developed a keen interest in the sciences. At 19, he enrolled at George Washington University where he went on to study for a B.S. in Physics and an M.S in Mathematics. Afterwards he was awarded a Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics from Washington University in St. Louis. In the Cold War climate of the 1960s, Henry’s qualification in physics was in high demand and he began teaching the subject, first at University of Oregon and then at University of Nebraska. He also worked with the National Science Foundation as their Director of Theoretical Physics. It was while at University of Nebraska that he met his wife Gillian who was studying physics.

The bulk of Henry’s professional life was spent at Georgia Tech where he was Dean of the General College and then a professor of Physics and Acting Chair of the Physics Department. Henry taught physics in a light-hearted, fun way that engaged students and in 1990 he was given the Outstanding Teacher Award, an honor he was flattered and proud to receive.

While at Georgia Tech he was also part of the selection committee for the Marshall Scholarships, a scholarship that provides American students with fully-funded study in the UK. Started by the British government after World War II, the Marshall Scholarships were a thank you for the Economic Recovery Plan, also known as the Marshall Plan. Henry got immense satisfaction from this role because it allowed him to talk about all manner of subjects with bright students from all disciplines. Henry's work in this role earned him two honorary awards from the British government: A Member of the British Empire (MBE) and an Officer of the British Empire (OBE). In addition to these honors, Henry was also a member of the Cosmos Club and Sigma Xi.

Although his professional life was dominated by physics, Henry was a uniquely well-rounded person who could speak just as comprehensively about music, history, movies, and literature as he could about science. This knowledge served him in good stead as he watched Jeopardy or endeavored to complete the New York Times crossword, a task he worked on daily until the end of his life.

Henry didn’t participate in sports, but he enjoyed watching them and knew the physics behind the games. On the occasions that Atlanta made the playoffs, he was sometimes called upon by the local news to explain the break of Greg Maddux’s curveball or the backspin of a basketball as it goes through the rim. Of all the sports, baseball was his favorite, but he had to endure the ups and downs of being a fan of the Washington Senators and later, the Atlanta Braves. He suffered through numerous heartbreaker seasons with the Braves until he was rewarded with their World Series wins in 1995 and 2021.

Henry always attributed the survival of his family during the Depression and his access to higher education to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, so he would have taken comfort in the fact that he died the same day as his hero F.D.R. Henry is survived by his wife Gillian and his four children Alison, Diana, Robert, and Richard. In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to one of the two organizations below that support causes Henry cared about.

Spivey Hall


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