James W. Plummer of Medford, Oregon, a much-loved husband, father, grandfather, and friend passed away peacefully January 16, 2013. He was 92 years old.
He was born January 29, 1920, in Idaho Springs, Colorado and grew up in El Cajon, Calif. He received a bachelor of science degree from the University of California, Berkeley and a masters degree in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland. During World War II, he was commissioned in the Navy and served with aircraft-operating squadrons on the USS Enterprise, pioneering the development of radar tactics from carrier-based aircraft.
From 1947 to 1955, Jim worked at the U.S. Naval Test Center in Patuxent River, Md. He was responsible for bench and flight evaluation of airborne communications and navigation equipment and was concerned with problems of system analysis, radio wave propagation, and circuitry of UHF communications equipment.
He joined Lockheed Missiles & Space Company in 1955 in connection with nose cone instrumentation for the Air Force Reentry Test Rocket. Later he assumed responsibility as Manager of the Satellite Payload Department focusing on technical direction and planning for the payload subsystem for the Air Force satellite program. In 1959 he became the Manager of Project CORONA, a groundbreaking satellite reconnaissance system, and later became the Project Manager of the DISCOVERER Program. In 1969, Jim was appointed as Vice President and General Manager of Lockheed's Space Systems Division, and ultimately served as corporate Executive Vice President.
Jim was appointed as Under Secretary of the U.S. Air Force and Director of the National Reconnaissance Office by President Richard Nixon in 1973. From 1984 1992 he served as Chairman of the Aerospace Corporation, the engineering R&D arm of the United States Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center.
He was elected to the National Academy of Engineers in 1978. He was an Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and a Fellow of the American Astronautical Society. He was awarded the U.S. Air Force Meritorious Achievement Award for his contributions to the Discoverer Space Program; the Doolittle Award, Aerospace Corporation; and the Goddard Astronautics Award, AIAA. He was elected as a Space Pioneer and his accomplishments are commemorated in the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC.
Jim received the prestigious Charles Stark Draper Prize in 2005, which recognizes outstanding contributions in the field of engineering that significantly benefit society. Jim was recognized for his ground-breaking work on the CORONA project, the world's first photo-reconnaissance satellite.
In addition to his extraordinary achievements professionally, Jim had a deep commitment and love for his family and an infectious enthusiasm for life. A modern day Renaissance man, his interests included skiing powder, backpacking (especially in the California High Sierra), woodworking, stained glass, lapidary, oil painting, golf, fly fishing, sailing, and viticulture/wine making. A perfect example of his extraordinary interest in everything about life, in his 80s, Jim took on the challenge of building a string bass and adding the skill of being a luthier to his impressive list of accomplishments.
The true love of Jim's life was his beloved wife, Mary. He met Mary Anderson while skiing in North Conway, New Hampshire. According to both, it was love at first sight. They were married on September 10, 1949 and cherished each of their 64 years together. Jim and Mary hiked, skied, and traveled extensively. They loved to read and learn together, taking numerous classes in many fields including geology, mathematics, philosophy, literature, physics, astronomy, and neurology. They both loved music, especially the grand symphonic works of Mahler, Respighi, Beethoven, and Brahms, and the operas of Puccini and Verdi.
Family was the center of the universe for Jim. He was preceded in death by his brother and sister-in-law, Roy and Sabette Plummer; and his beloved eldest son, Robert. He is mourned by his wife, Mary and their children, Jack Plummer (Tracie), of North Plains, Ore.; Janet Plummer (Don Rushmer), of West Linn, Ore.; Julia Howlett (Daniel) of Polson, Mont.; Renee Plummer, of Manzanita, Ore.; and his brother and sister-in-law, Robert and Joyce, of Redding, Calif. Jim is considered a hero by his grandchildren: Benjamin, Emily, Julia, Bobby, Zach, Danielle, Caden, and James. All of Jim's children and grandchildren inherited his love of the great outdoors and passion for learning.
A Catholic Mass and reception will be held at the Rogue Valley Manor Saturday, January 26, 2013. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to St. Vincent de Paul or Shepherd of the Valley Catholic Church in Central Point, Oregon Building Fund.