1993 James F. Zimmerman Award

Memories of UNM

The James F. Zimmerman Award is given to an alumnus of the University of New Mexico who has made a
significant contribution which has brought fame and honor to UNM or to the State of New Mexico.


Thank you very much.  Recognition by one's peers is the ultimate form of recognition.


I do not propose to pontificate regarding my career or possible accomplishments.  Those are a matter of record for others to judge as they see fit.  Or I could give a profound lecture on the future of environmental health and protection, or the status of the health of the public.  But I have chosen the simple path, reminiscing about my days as a student at UNM --- starting almost fifty years ago.


When I first entered UNM in 1943, my mother drove me to Albuquerque from our home in southeastern Arizona where my father then served as District Conservationist with the federal government.  After driving through the campus, we did what I assumed everyone did in those days:  we slept on folding canvas cots under the stars in the sandy arroyo beyond what was then the end of north Carlisle --- just to the north of the present K-Mart location.  The next morning we cooked breakfast over dried chamisa and cow chips (we always called them buffalo chips).  Then I registered at UNM later that morning.  The UNM Registrar did not notice that in my zeal to obtain some college education prior to joining the Navy during World War II, I had not completed all high school graduation requirements. I had simply entered Gila Jr. College in southeastern Arizona.  Later, I had to atone for this sin when it was discovered prior to UNM graduation.


Rooms were scarce, but I was fortunate.  We found a landing at the head of the stairs in a rooming house on east Gold, just a block from UNM.  There was no closet or desk, so my small trunk served both purposes.  The space contained a small metal frame cot, and had a velvet pull curtain to afford some privacy when necessary.  The bath was a few feet down the hall.  I was allowed to do my laundry in the bathroom wash basin, and use the backyard clothes line.  I ate at a nearby boarding house for a nominal fee where the food and camaraderie were excellent.


I recall these events and conditions with humor and appreciation.  No one told me we weren't affluent, I didn't need any help, I didn't feel like a victim or someone deprived of some mythical rights, and I had everything I really needed as a student at UNM.


My professors were all-knowing, god-like, supportive and wise.  Their words were the law.  I didn't rebel, appeal, create trouble, riot or march.  I thought I was at UNM to learn.


Faculty giants were in evidence during my years at UNM.  I was fortunate to learn from several notables who were immortalized by having buildings named in their honor.  Such faculty included Edward F. Castetter of biology, Lynn B. Mitchell of history, John Dustin Clark of chemistry, Regener of physics, and Stuart Northrop of Geology.   


My learning process improved considerably after the first grading period when I learned that I had to study to get decent grades.  Perhaps my best instruction came when one of my biology professors wrote across the front of a blue test booklet, "D-.  You can't go through life doing only what you want to do!"  That statement ranked among the best pieces of advice I've ever had. 


My closest brush with trouble occurred when two of us furtively appropriated a discarded sign from Oklahoma Joe's garage behind his popular food and drink establishment on East Central.  We transferred the Okie Joe's sign across Central Avenue and hung it in a tree in front of Hodgin Hall.  That was really daring!


For some extra money, I got a night job driving an ambulance -- or hearse -- at Strong-Thorne Mortuary.  That was pretty heady stuff, particularly when I was still too young to obtain a driver's license.


I didn't like war or World War II anymore than a later generation liked the Vietnam War.  In the fall of 1944, I had 5 semesters of college and was still sweet seventeen.  I joined the U.S. Navy three days before I turned eighteen and would have become eligible for the draft.  So, I presume I was a draft dodger.  The U.S. Navy provided a great opportunity to learn and mature.  Not only was I a draft dodger, but a combat dodger.  While attending Hospital Corps school, I was informed that the "Honor Man" of each class of 125 could choose his duty station hospital.  This information provided another stimulus to achieve, subsequently allowing me to spend the remainder of the war in relative safety and luxury at the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Maryland.


And while a graduate student in biology, I presumably reproduced in the absence of matrimony.  My brother Ladd and I were among several graduates recommended by Dr. Castetter to participate in an artificial insemination program conducted by a physician at Lovelace Clinic that was then located in the old First National Bank building downtown.  Along with being an occasional blood donor at the Veteran's Administration Hospital, this provided some of the easiest income I ever received.


When I retired as New Mexico Cabinet Secretary for Health and Environment in 1988, a friend advised that I refrain from answering the phone for at least six months.  After a week-end of catching up on some chores, I sat down to read a book which I had been postponing.  After 27 pages, the phone rang.  I checked and found that I had progressed to page 58 after five years of so-called retirement.


I recently heard a former associate remark that life was composed of three parts.  For some people, the three parts are those of learning, earning, and yearning to be young again.  For me, the three parts of life are those off learning, earning, and having the opportunity of returning some of the knowledge gained during a long career so that others mayy learn, earn, and return.  I have been most fortunate too return to UNM as a Visiting Professor in the School of Public Administration, thereby enhancing my opportunities too return some of my knowledge through teaching, speaking, consulting, researching and publishing.


I continue to treasure my years spent at UNM, and have always been proud to be a UNM alumnus.


I am deeply moved and honored to be the 1993 recipient of the UNM Zimmerman Award.


Larry J. Gordon

September 30, 1993


James F. Zimmerman Award
For Outstandin​g Accomplish​ments in
Public Health and Environmen​tal Improvemen​t
Presented by
The University of New Mexico Alumni Associatio​n, 1993



See more professional awards presented to LJG