Edward Hawthorne EE’43
Ed Hawthorne EE’43 came to the United States from Poland on Thanksgiving Day 1937 at the age of 16. Speaking no English except the inevitable “I don’t speak English,” he spent his first months taking books out of the library and reading them on his own because the English courses for foreigners progressed too slowly for him. Although he had already earned a diploma from a Polish gymnasium, he enrolled in public high school in the spring of 1938, graduating the following year with a 92 average and medals in both math and chemistry.
Ed had heard about the highly selective Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, which admitted undergraduates solely on merit, and decided to apply. Ranking in the top five percent of applicants on the entrance exam, he not only won one of the coveted spots but also was one of a handful of incoming students given an additional $300 annual stipend – sufficient to cover living expenses back then. Six years after fleeing the Nazis and immigrating to the United States with only one sentence of English, he graduated first in his class in 1943.
Cooper Union launched Ed on a highly successful professional career in both academia and industry. He joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, beginning as an instructor and ending as a tenured professor while earning his Masters and PhD degrees (1953) in electrical engineering. A decade later, he abandoned a tenured position at an Ivy League institution to join the emergent and exciting aerospace industry.Here, he spent the next 30 years making major contributions to defense and NASA programs. As Chief Scientist for Space Programs at Hughes Aircraft, he was the manager of two of the seven Surveyor lunar landers, precursor to the Apollo missions and crucial for establishing the feasibility of soft-landings on the moon. Surveyor 5, one of Ed’s two projects, landed
successfully on the moon on September 11, 1967, where it remains to this day.
Ed remained connected to Cooper Union throughout his professional and personal life. Thirty years after graduating, he was awarded the Cooper Union President’s Citation (equivalent to an additional honorary degree) recognizing the achievements of a distinguished alumnus. He was also a prominent member of the Alumni Hall of Fame and the Sarah Amelia Hewitt Society.
Even after retirement, Ed remained an active contributor to the community, serving as President of the Board of Directors for his community in Camarillo, California, as well as the city’s representative to the new State University. He was also a founding member of the Ventura County United Jewish Federation and Temple New Ami, and a Life Master in chess. Devoted to his family, he was married to Lillian Hawthorne, whom he met in high school, for 65 years.
Everyone who knew Ed remarked on his brilliance, charisma, humor, and warmth. A probing intellect and never one to shy away from a political or philosophical debate, he nonetheless valued family above all else, taking pride and delight in the accomplishments of his wife, children, and grandchildren. He passed away in his home in California on July 17, 2012 two months short of his 91st birthday. His connection to Cooper Union will live on after his death in a gift to the school to help support the next generation of worthy engineering students.
Edward and Lillian Hawthorne at their 60th wedding anniversary in February 2007, with photo from their 1947 wedding in the background