Tribute: Kenneth Walker


Henry Kenneth “Ken” Walker 56Ox 58C 63M 65MR 70MR 71MR, professor of medicine and neurology in the Emory University School of Medicine and professor of global health in the Rollins School of Public Health, died February 23, 2018, after a sudden illness.

Walker’s connection to Emory ran deep. After earning degrees at Oxford College, Emory College, and Emory School of Medicine, Walker built a sixty-year career at Emory that included an unrivaled dedication to Grady Memorial Hospital. His connection to Grady began in 1958 when he was a third-year medical student. He completed his residency training at Grady and remained there until 1965, only leaving to serve two years in the US Air Force in southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. Walker returned to Grady in 1967 and became a faculty member in 1970, where he eventually served as the assistant chief of the Emory medicine service at Grady. He was honored during last year’s Grady White Coat Gala for more than forty years of service to the hospital.

Walker also was committed to global health outreach and had a huge impact in the country of Georgia. For more than twenty-five years, as executive director of Partners for International Development, Walker led the Atlanta-Tbilisi Partnership, a collaboration between educational and health care institutions in the country of Georgia and Atlanta. The partnership’s many projects were and continue to be instrumental in improving the quality of health care in Georgia.

In addition to his skills as a physician, Walker was dedicated to the education and training of medical students and directed Emory’s internal medicine residency program, junior medicine clerkship, and sophomore clinical methods course. He personally trained more internal medicine residents than any other physician at Emory. Through his strong mentorship skills, numerous medical residents, students, and colleagues learned valuable lessons about dedication, professionalism and patient-centered medical care.

“Ken was an educator and a mentor but, first and foremost, a doctor and an incredible patient advocate,” says Carlos Del Rio, Hubert Professor and chair of the Department of Global Health at the Rollins School of Public Health, professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases, and interim executive associate dean for Emory at Grady at the Emory University School of Medicine. “It is impossible to calculate the number of medical students and residents that Ken mentored. I am privileged to have been one of them.”

Walker was born on a small farm outside Washington, Georgia, on October 4, 1936, to the late Henry Samson Walker and Katie Grace Burgess Walker. A skinny, naïve boy who loved reading, he was recruited to Emory at Oxford in a new curriculum based on the Great Books of the Western World series. He never left Emory, except for his stint in the US Air Force, and became an Emory and Grady Memorial Hospital legend, whose profound knowledge of medicine, deep compassion, and high standards for performance and professionalism were imprinted in almost fifty classes of Emory medical students, residents, fellows, and junior faculty members.

Nearly every trainee who quaked during presentation of a patient to Walker on medicine rounds at Grady can to this day recite with affection and respect dozens of “Dr. Walker” stories about his wisdom, kindness, wit, apt quotations, and demands for excellence. Walker personally trained more internal medicine residents than any other physician at Emory, where he directed Emory’s internal medicine residency program, the junior medicine clerkship, and the sophomore clinical methods course since 1971. He considered his life to have been determined by his mentors, the faculty at Emory, and he considered his own calling to be a mentor to the young minds he encountered in his teaching career.

Walker was a dedicated citizen of Emory and excelled in service nationally as well. He was, among many duties, president of the University Senate, founding member and second president of the national Clerkship Directors of Internal Medicine, a developer of Grady Hospital’s computerized medical records system, and the chair of many USAID program and grant review committees.

Walker was recently awarded Emory's highest alumni honor, the Emory Medal, presented posthumously at a ceremony on March 1. He also received dozens of other prestigious awards, including the Georgia Hospital Heroes Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016 and numerous teaching awards through the years.

For more than twenty-five years, Walker and Archil Undilashvili directed the Atlanta-Tbilisi Healthcare Partnership, a collaboration between educational and health care institutions in the Republic of Georgia and Atlanta. They established the National Information Learning Center; participated in new laws and regulations reforming the healthcare sector; brought many Georgian medical students to Emory for internal medicine training and education in public health; modernized hospitals; started the field of emergency medicine and the modern emergency room; expanded nursing programs and education and planned a nursing school; established the Caucasus School of Business with a focus on hospital administration; and worked with Georgian scientists and physicians in AIDS and tuberculosis research and treatment.

Already a recipient of grants to establish emergency medicine as a specialty in Georgia and improve the nursing profession, recently he and collaborators were awarded $4 million from the USAID to establish physical therapy and rehabilitation medicine programs in Georgia. They also established a new six-year medical school curriculum at Tbilisi State Medical University. For his extensive service, Walker was awarded the US AID Outstanding Achievement Citation for Europe and Eurasia and was given honorary citizenship of the Republic of Georgia, both in 2005.

Walker’s publications include over sixty medical papers and books on physical diagnosis, organizing medical data, evaluating the surgical patient, and the application of computers to medicine. Possibly the most widely used is his Clinical Methods textbook, coauthored with Willis Hurst and Dallas Hall, the basis for examining patients practiced today by thousands of Walker’s trainees. The love of books and literature was inculcated in him as a boy by his mother, and he was member, chair, and consultant of the Board of Regents of the National Library of Medicine starting in 1991.

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