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Posted on March 2, 2017 | 2:07 p.m.

Lester R. Ford Jr. of Santa Barbara, 1927-2017

Source: Ilisa Kim

Lester R. Ford Jr.

Lester “Les” Randolph Ford, Jr., PhD, passed away on Feb. 26, 2017, at age 89.

He was born Sept. 23, 1927, in Houston, Texas, to Lester R. Ford, Sr., and Marguerite Eleanor Ford (nee John).

He was preceded in death by his sister, Margaret Houston Olson; and is survived by his wife of 49 years, Naoma Gower Ford (nee Gower); his nine children from his first wife, Janet Johnson (nee Lux): Diana Tashjian, Barbara Daniels, Pamela Ruggiero, Andrea Crebassa, Randy Ford, Melinda DiMartino, Ilisa Kim, Fred Ford, and Ken Ford, along with their spouses and their many children and grandchildren.

Les is descended from the Sam Houston family of Texas fame. He turned down offers from Harvard University and Oberlin College and Conservatory before accepting a full scholarship to the University of Chicago, where he earned a bachelor of philosophy degree (1949) and a master's in physical science in mathematics degree (1950).

He went on to earn a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Illinois, now known as UI at Urbana-Champaign (1953). He was also a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the Mathematics Society.  

Les served in the U.S. Army as a private after World War II, taught at Duke University in North Carolina, and did research for the Rand Corporation for several years in different locations across the country before finally settling at Defense Research Corporation, which later became General Research Corporation, in Goleta, California.

At GRC, he was one of the first computer scientists, working his way up over more than 40 years to senior scientist.

Until his retirement at age 80, his work focus was creating computer simulations.

Lester R. Ford, Sr., Les’ father, was also a mathematician, and the two of them wrote a calculus book together. Les also collaborated with others to produce numerous books and papers, many of which are still referenced in current research.

“Twinkly blue eyes” and “lovely smile” are the two most common attributes remembered by Les’s friends. He had a wry sense of humor and appreciated silly jokes, off-color jokes, and shaggy dog stories.

He had never met a dessert he didn’t like, and one of his favorite dessert experiences was eating pie on Pi Day.

Ancient history and ancient books were another love; he happily trolled used book stores, picking up musty tomes (much to his wife’s dismay). He had a passion for classical music, and he and his wife were season ticket holders at the symphony for many years.

Les was an accomplished musician in his own right, playing the piano and flute as a young man, and continuing to play piano the rest of his life. He was also known as a virtuoso whistler, and he whistled while he thought about problems at work, while he tackled projects at home, and just for fun.

Barbecuing was another specialty, and besides all the home dinners he cooked for his family, he also served as the Master ZooBQ Chef for the Santa Barbara Zoo.

He was a life-long chess player, and successfully held his own against many an opponent at ping pong and duplicate bridge.

All of these passions were shared with his family.

He and his wife adopted a succession of cats and dogs, creating a second family, and Naoma encouraged him to travel, which he came to love. They traveled all over the world, missing only Russia and China from their wish list.

A celebration of his life will take place on April 8, 2017, at 2 p.m. at the Valle Verde theater, 900 Calle de Los Amigos, Santa Barbara, California  93105.

In lieu of flowers, the family prefers donations to Direct Relief,, or to a charity of your choice.


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