Wally Elvers, 95, longtime Villager, polymath

Walter Barton Elvers DDS, 95, passed away peacefully on April 17.

“Wally,” as he was known, lived just a block from his beloved Washington Square Park with his wife of more than 57 years, “Bibi” (née Lita Melba Abril-Lamarque).

Methodical, analytical, detail-oriented, a problem solver and a very independent thinker, he was also very sociable. Always in a Western-style shirt and rarely seen without a bolo tie, he was known for his sense of humor, insisting that he wasn’t “old,” but “mature.”

He was “Fud” to daughters, Lauren Elvers Collins of Brooklyn, and Susan S. LeBlanc of Natick, MA, and “GrandFud” to his grandchildren, Emily, Andrew, Griffin and Reeve.

Wally Elvers in 2014. (Courtesy Bibi Elvers)

Born and raised in the Bronx, as a 12-year-old he and a friend built a boat that they rode on the Hudson River a number of times. He earned his doctor of dental surgery degree from Columbia University, then opened an orthodontic practice in 1949, but soon wanted something more challenging.

Taking the phone book yellow pages in hand, he looked for pharmaceutical companies. In the alphabetical listing, he quickly came across Bristol-Myers Products Division, then producing Ipana toothpaste. It turned out they were looking for a director of dental research.

Thirty-two years later he retired as associate medical director. Among other responsibilities, he directed the clinical studies for the development of Excedrin. Deciding to learn Spanish at age 40, he became so adept that before long he was vetting advertising copy for medical accuracy in Spanish, often challenging (successfully) the prepared copy as readable among New York’s Hispanics, but not equally understandable to the mostly Mexican population in California.

A recipient of the New York City Mayor’s Silver Apple Award for his volunteer service in 2001, Elvers was very proud of his 30-year “career” as a volunteer at the American Museum of Natural History. A fossil bivalve genus, Elversella, was named in his honor. He often noted that he had worked in almost every department in the museum. On his first “job” there, he developed a new technique for preparing 110-million-year-old fish fossils for study and display. His extensive research and fact-checking on the more than 1,500 specimens contributed fundamentally to the museum’s Spectrum of Life Wall (a.k.a. “Wally’s Wall” to family and friends).

To dramatize a rapidly growing problem in the Great Lakes, one 1997 exhibit, “Endangered,” featured a Volkswagen Beetle encrusted with zebra mussels from Lake Erie. With a zero budget to work with, Elvers sought out a car, someone to remove the gas tank and more, prior to dunking, a salvage company to lower, and then raise, the car, a protective sealant coating to ensure the encrustation stayed attached to the vehicle, transportation of the vehicle, and much, much more. And he arranged for every bit of it to be donated.

Always curious and interested in new things, in the early 1970s he heard about a brand new sport, road running. Not for speed — running just to run. Before long, before dawn every day he was running down to the southern tip of Manhattan and back, about 5 miles in all. He also ran his share of 10K races, several in Central Park. Not that he was fast, but he never gave up. Also as a volunteer, for more than a dozen years he was an anchor at the registration desk for the tens of thousands of runners in the New York City Marathon.

His wide range of passions ranged from photography to computers to gadgets to visiting factories to see close-up how things are made. The bigger the challenge, the more fun he had.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to Greenwich House Senior Center on the Square, 20 Washington Square North, NY NY 10011; or the American Museum of Natural History, 79th St. and Central Park West, NY NY 10024.

A memorial was held May 9 at Greenwich House Senior Center on the Square.

One Response to Wally Elvers, 95, longtime Villager, polymath

  1. Carol F. Jochnowitz

    What a wonderful testimony to the intelligence, love and fruitful originality of this lovely gentleman, who was my neighbor for many years, the husband of my friend Bibi, and the father of my two daughters' friends, Laurie and Susie.

    I remember a story Bibi told me many years ago, about how Wally's parents arranged to take precautions against him getting lost when they went on excursions to the Bronx Park Zoo. They would buy a red helium balloon and tie it to his wrist, explaining that if he should ever find himself alone and without them, he should not run and panic, but rather stand still in the spot where he was and slowly raise his wrist up and down. His parents, who would of course be looking for him, would scan the horizon to see the red balloon rising and falling, and thus know where to look for him.

    What charms me about this story is the way it demonstrates an encounter with a situation which for most of us would be so fraught with terror, not to say hysteria, and shows us that the proper way to meet it is with reason, intelligence and originality.

    All thanks to Wally's memory!

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