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Three to Receive UW Honorary Degrees

March 11, 2016
Tom Bell, Don King, and John McPhee

The University of Wyoming will confer its highest award, the honorary doctoral degree, upon three individuals who will be recognized during UW commencement ceremonies in May.

They are Tom Bell, award-winning writer and conservationist; Don King, statistician and entrepreneur; and John McPhee, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and teacher.

UW alumni, current or former trustees and faculty are eligible to nominate, for honorary degrees, individuals who embody the university’s high ideals; exemplify the values of excellence, service and integrity; and have distinguished accomplishments in their professions or contributions to the sciences, arts, humanities, public service and service to humanity. Submissions are referred to a joint committee, headed by UW President Dick McGinity, and nominees who receive votes from two-thirds of the committee are recommended for approval.

Bell grew up on a ranch near Lander during the Great Depression and served in World War II. Awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action in 1944, he was severely wounded during a mission over Austria by a burst of flak that nearly killed him and caused the loss of his right eye, for which he received the Purple Heart.

Bell earned a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree in wildlife conservation and game management, both from UW. He worked for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and taught science in Lander schools. He founded the Wyoming Outdoor Council in 1967 and the High Country News in 1970.

Among the awards Bell has received are the Shikar-Safari Club International Award, Wyoming Conservationist of the Year, the U.S. Department of the Interior Conservation Award, the Daughters of the American Revolution National Conservation Award, the National Wildlife Federation’s Award for Conservationist of the Year, and the Wilderness Society Lifetime Service Award.

“Tom Bell is a decorated American hero, a stalwart proponent of democratic society, a role model to thousands of young people, a scientific and critical thinker, and a humble rancher and writer who has dedicated his life to making Wyoming the best it can be,” wrote Emilene Ostlind, communications coordinator for UW’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources. “His exemplary military and civil accomplishments have won dozens of national recognitions, and he has, without question, made outstanding contributions to the lives of Wyoming citizens.”

King was born in Cheyenne during the Great Depression to a family that had a large sheep-breeding operation in Laramie and Albany counties. He studied statistics at UW, receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

In 1961, he co-founded Westat Inc., which has become one of the world’s leading private-sector statistical survey research organizations. He served as a high-level executive in a series of connected companies and became president of King Research Inc., which achieved prominence for information system evaluations. In 1997, he retired from the business world to concentrate on writing, lecturing and service.

Among the awards he has received are the Award of Merit from the American Society for Information Science and Technology; honorary fellow for the National Federation of Abstracting and Information Services; Pioneer of Science Information from the Chemical Heritage Foundation; and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of Research Libraries.

“I am confident in saying that no other individual has contributed as much across all lines of government and private information clearinghouses, depositories, special libraries, public libraries, academic libraries, and public and private databases, as Don King,” wrote Vernon Palmour, of Cody, former senior vice president with King Research Inc.

McPhee is a graduate of Princeton University, where he teaches nonfiction writing, and is known as one of the pioneers of creative nonfiction. The author of more than 30 books and collections, he is a four-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction and won the award in 1999 for his collection, “Annals of the Former World.”

One of the books in that collection is “Rising from the Plains,” a portrait of the family of the late David Love, UW alumnus and pre-eminent geologist of the Rocky Mountain West.

“John McPhee may not have put Wyoming on the map, but he did put the map into words by surveying geology, history and biography to coalesce the land and its people,” wrote Eric Sandeen, director of the Wyoming Institute for Humanities Research, and UW English Professor Eric Nye. “In doing so, he has applied the skills, honed over a 50-year career of writing of the highest quality, to the widest of audiences.”

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