Logo: University of Southern California

In Memoriam: Simon Ramo, 103

The pioneering aerospace engineer co-founded TRW, taught electrical engineering at USC Viterbi and was a generous donor to the university
Lynn Lipinski
June 29, 2016 —

 

 
 Simon "Si" Ramo with one of his many patents

Simon “Si” Ramo, a USC professor and former chief scientist and technical director of the U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile program, died on June 27. He was 103.

An engineer and business leader, Ramo co-founded and was the “R” in TRW Inc., the Redondo Beach-based aerospace firm that developed intercontinental ballistic missiles to launch nuclear warheads over thousands of miles, the Pioneer 1 spacecraft and engines for the Apollo moon-landing missions. He joined the USC Viterbi School of Engineering in 2008 as the Presidential Chair and professor of electrical engineering.

As a director of the W.M. Keck Foundation, Ramo played a leading role in securing the $110 million gift that renamed the Keck School of Medicine of USC in 1999.

Ramo’s late wife, Virginia, was a USC alumnus and served on the USC Board of Trustees from 1971 until she passed away in 2009. Their major gifts in the 1970s to the USC Thornton School of Music were recognized with the naming of the Virginia Ramo Hall of Music and the Simon Ramo Recital Hall. The couple also established the Ramo Music Faculty Award, given to a faculty member who has done an outstanding job teaching.

In recognition of their decades of support, the Ramos were honored with USC’s highest award, the Presidential Medallion, in 2002.

“Simon Ramo was a Renaissance man, achieving eminence as a scientist, engineer, author and philanthropist during his life,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias. “In addition to his many personal accomplishments, he was also a devoted mentor to younger generations and a generous benefactor to USC. He will be greatly missed by the Trojan Family.”

“Exquisite technology innovator, trusted policy maker, humanitarian and arts patron. Take it to the highest level. This was Si Ramo, an iconic legend who will be missed tremendously," said USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos.

Ramo has received dozens of awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His name appears on more than 40 patents. In 2013, at age 100, he received Patent #8606170B2 for a computer-based learning invention — becoming the oldest person ever to receive a patent.

From Utah to California
Born in Salt Lake City, Ramo received dual PhD degrees in physics and electrical engineering from the California Institute of Technology at the age of 23. While working for General Electric as a scientist, he pioneered the use of microwave electronics and was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Jimmy Carter. President Ronald Reagan awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

As a successful high-tech entrepreneur, Ramo founded several successful high-tech companies, including TRW (Thompson Ramo Wooldridge), which were later acquired by General Electric, General Motors, Northrop-Grumman, Raytheon, Boeing and Honeywell.

He is the author of a number of books in science, engineering and management, including the widely acclaimed Cure for Chaos, published in 1970, and Century of Mismatch, published in 1972. He also published the book Extraordinary Tennis for the Ordinary Player in 1970.

Ramo was a founding member of the National Academy of Engineering and a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was also a member of the American Philosophical Society, the nation’s first learned society, founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1734. He served as a trustee of Caltech, where he had been a research associate, and a fellow of the faculty at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

He is survived by his sons, James and Alan.