Sunday, September 18, 2011

Obituary: Tomomi Murakami, helped develop color TV

Tomomi Murakami, 89, of Medford, who was imprisoned with other West Coast residents of Japanese ancestry during World War II and went on to help develop the first color television for RCA, died of cardiac arrest Wednesday, Sept. 7, at Virtua Memorial Hospital in Mount Holly.
In a eulogy written for his memorial service Monday, Sept. 19, his son Keith says that a friend half-jokingly remarked that RCA should have asked Mr. Murakami to design a Star Trek transporter.
The friend, Keith writes, "knew that my father wouldn't rest until he was beaming himself back and forth to work."
Dr. Murakami, a Compton, Calif., native, graduated from Compton High School in 1939, the son of an immigrant farmer abandoned by his wife.
During the Depression, Keith writes, Dr. Murakami "had two sets of clothes, one to wear and one to wash. . . .
"He mentioned that he was class valedictorian," Keith continues, "but did not attend his graduation because he didn't feel he had the proper clothes for the occasion."
In spring 1942, before he was to receive an associate's degree at Compton Junior College, Dr. Murakami and his family were forced to leave their home and were sent to live at Santa Anita, the racetrack in Arcadia, Calif.
"Leaving most of their possessions behind," Keith says, "they shared a horse stall with another family for over three months," before moving to a camp in Rohwer, Ark.
Declared security risks, Japanese Americans and others of Japanese ancestry were imprisoned by order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
After the University of Wisconsin rescinded his acceptance because he was Japanese American, his son writes, Swarthmore College "accepted him, and in February of 1943 he left the camp and his family."
His father was able to pay the tuition, but Dr. Murakami supported himself as a cleaner at the college library and local restaurants.
When Dr. Murakami was unable to find a job after earning a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1944, Swarthmore again rescued him. The college paid him to be a math teaching assistant.
Dr. Murakami earned a master's in 1947 and a doctorate in 1970, both in electrical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania.
"His big break" came in 1945 while at Swarthmore, "when he received a fellowship from RCA," according to his son.
"They were having a problem with signal drift in their FM tuner and wanted Dad to do some experiments on the circuit they designed."
Once you dialed in a station, the signal would not remain stable but would seem to drift on its own away from its original position.
"Dad didn't quite understand what they were asking, so he designed his own circuit. . . . This circuit later became a standard component of all FM tuners," writes his son.
That led to a full-time job with RCA in Camden and the first of 11 patents Dr. Murakami earned over five years, a period when, his son writes, "he was part of a team that developed the first color TV."
In 1962, Dr. Murakami became a member of the RCA Advanced Development Group in Moorestown, whose work led the federal government to award the firm a 1969 contract for the Aegis missile-defense system.
From 1974 to 1978, Dr. Murakami, his wife, and daughter lived on Kwajalein Atoll in what is now the Republic of the Marshall Islands, where he worked in RCA's missile and surface radar division.
He retired in 1982 but continued to 1992 as a contractor with RCA's Advanced Systems Corp., his son writes.
"What struck me was that when he started his career, a slide rule and drafting board were his main tools. By the time he finished his career he had 3 computers in his office churning out data to solve his calculations."

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