A Man With a Lifetimes of Achievement - Don Walsh

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Captain Don Walsh, USN (Ret), PhD, was well known in oceanographic circles as one half of the team (partnered with Jacques Piccard) that descended 35,840 feet down at Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench in the U.S. Navy's bathyscaph Trieste in 1960. While there was significantly more to his life, the remarkable Trieste story is still told as one of the greatest oceanographic achievements. "The Trieste experience was a life-changing event," Don said. "One that opened many doors and firmly established my lifelong attitude about opportunity - to seize it when and wherever it was encountered." 

Don found it difficult to choose a highlight in his life. "It's as though I have had so many different lives, it's hard to choose one." Marrying this lifelong best friend was highest on the list, as were the births of his two children. "However I had to return from the Challenger Deep trip first before she would marry me, though," joked Don. The navy was also an important part of Don's life. "The Navy provided me with so many opportunities to learn and challenge myself. Definitely the Navy was a highlight of my life," said Don. 

Retirement, however presented its own challenges. "Oddly enough, Don said, "there were no want ads for former submarine captains, so I had to go in another direction." Armed with two Masters degrees and a PhD, Don was selected to join the University of Southern California (USC) as founding Director (Dean) of the Institute for Marine and Coastal Studies, where he also served as a professor of ocean engineering. Don held various professional and educational positions during his retirement phase, demonstrating a profound commitment to academia and imparting inspiration to the next generation. 

And there is also the portion of his life that could be called "Polar Expeditions." Don has worked at both the North and South Poles - with five trips to the North Pole and one to the South Pole. Don also participated in many educational expeditions to the Arctic (29) and the Antarctic (32). "In addition, I have been a cruise ship lecturer since 1973 on approximately 150 cruises worldwide, on 32 ships for 20 different companies. It's the only way I could still get back to sea."  

Don was also a longtime member of MTS. "I probably would have been one of the founding members," said Don, "because I knew all these folks. However I never seemed to be around at the times they were gathering." Don made up for that by becoming one of the Society's earliest members in 1965. He presented a paper at the Society's first meeting that year. But it wasn't until the 1970s that Don became a more active member, serving on the Board as a Director and Vice President for several years, including a five year journey as editor of the MTS Journal. 

Don’s achievements have been recognized by MTS on numerous occasions. In 1977 he was awarded a Marine Technology Society Commendation and was elected Fellow of the Society in 1980. In 1992 he received the Marine Technology Society Special Commendation Award and was recognized in 1996 with the Compass Distinguished Achievement Award.

“I have been a very lucky person,” Don said, summing up his life. “I have never considered myself a ‘smart’ person, but I have been fortunate enough to have the ability to see opportunity coming while it was still a long distance ahead. And I tried to grab it every time.”

Don Walsh, a luminary in the realm of marine exploration and technology, remains an icon revered by the Marine Technology Society. His indelible contributions have shaped the course of oceanic discovery and technological advancement, imprinting an enduring legacy within our community. Don's unwavering dedication, coupled with his unparalleled expertise, has not only enriched our understanding of the oceans but has also inspired countless individuals to pursue excellence in marine sciences. His legacy serves as a guiding light, igniting passion and innovation among present and future generations of ocean enthusiasts. In honoring Don Walsh, the Marine Technology Society pays tribute to an exceptional leader whose impact resonates deeply within our field.

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