Jewish aerospace pioneer Simon Ramo dies at 103

June 29, 2016

Aerospace pioneer Simon Ramo, father of America’s intercontinental ballistics missile (ICBM) system and son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, died June 27 of natural causes at his home in Santa Monica, California. He was 103.

Ramo was a key player in the development of America’s military technology over the past 50 years and in the creation of Southern California’s aerospace industry.

He was born in 1913 in Salt Lake City, the son of storekeeper Benjamin Ramo, a Russian Jewish immigrant, and Clara (nee Trestman) Ramo, a Polish Jewish immigrant.

“Si” Ramo was not active in the Jewish community or in Jewish causes, but in a 1996 oral history interview, conducted by Frederik Nebeker for the Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, Ramo traced his name back to 15th century Spain.

“The name Ramo originated in Spain in 1492 during the Inquisition,” he recounted. At the time there were no Spanish surnames ending in “o,” but the country’s monarchy assigned the letter to Jews who converted to Catholicism to avoid deportation, Ramo noted.

The reason, he added, was to make sure that so-called “conversos” were “conspicuously identifiable to see if the were really practicing Catholics.”

A man of numerous talents, Ramo excelled as a violinist and entered the University of Utah on a full musical scholarship. However, after hearing a recital by Jasha Heifetz, and realizing that he could never equal the master violinist, Ramo switched to an engineering curriculum.

An ardent tennis player, as well as a prolific inventor, Ramo became the oldest person to receive a U.S. patent, on the use of computer-learning in education, at age 100.

He was the author or co-author of 62 books on a wide range of subjects, including such tiles as “To Wit: A Sense of Humor – A Mandatory Tool of Management,” “Let Robots Do the Dying” and “Tennis by Machiavelli.”

Ramo’s wife of 71 years, Virginia (nee Smith) died in 2009. He is survived by two sons, James and Alan, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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