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Edward F. Tuck


1931 - 2017 Obituary Condolences
July 5, 1931 - June 26, 2017 Edward F. Tuck Jr., the man who was told by almost 100 investors that the world had no need for a handheld GPS, but who nevertheless started the company Magellan as well as several other companies, died June 26, 2017, just before his 86th birthday. While running his small venture capital firm, Tuck who had a commercial pilot's license would fly himself to meetings. In poor weather though, he was often re-routed when trying to land at small airports that lacked the equipment needed to land through the clouds. What Tuck wanted was a mobile GPS device that could tell him where he was in the air as well as on land, or sea-except such a device did not exist. So Tuck conceived of a company called Magellan and assembled a team to build what would become the world's first portable GPS device. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Tuck showed an early interest in radio and telecommunications, earning his Commercial Radio and Telephone license at age 15. He started working as a radio operator at the age of 16 at the KWTO radio station in Springfield, MO, and then put himself through college working as a radio announcer at KTTR in Rolla, MO, graduating in 1953 from what is now the University of Missouri at Rolla with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering. In 1957, Ed and his new wife, the artist Janet Tuck, moved to the Silicon Valley and built a house on the coast with their own hands, charging it on their Sears credit card. It was here that Ed followed his childhood dream and learned to fly and where he and a colleague started his first company, Kebby Microwave. Tuck became a VP at ITT overseeing telecommunications projects after selling Kebby Microwave and moved on to apply his interest in communications technology in a variety of startups and existing companies that made everything from Mickey Mouse phones to automated switchboard attendants (as in "Press 2 for billing, 3 for tech. support ¿"), optical character scanners and other things we now can't do without. After founding Magellan, Ed set out to launch another of his ideas. He wanted the people of the world to have phone and internet access no matter their location on the earth and had the idea to use low earth orbit satellites to do it. The company was called Teledesic, and Ed almost made this ambitious project a reality before the telecommunications segment of the financial markets collapsed in the 1990s. Now, years later, several companies are trying their hand at using low earth orbit satellites to provide space-based internet access as well. Tuck continued to found and help start a series of mostly successful technology companies that focused on improving people's lives in some fashion and was a director of other closely-held and public companies such as TriQuint Semiconductor Corporation. He had served on more than 30 boards of directors. Always learning and ever curious, he was known for his integrity and for making fair deals for the entrepreneurs he worked with, for promoting women to management positions, for teaching the ways of startups and authoring several articles on startups and telecommunications. Frustrated with the poor ethics of some in his industry, he authored a set of guidelines for business called "Ed's Rules" that was passed around and posted on cubicle walls before "going viral" was a thing. He is listed as sole or co-inventor on fifteen patents and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree from the University of Missouri. He was a Senior Member of the IEEE, a Fellow of the Institution of Engineers Australia, a Professional Member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, an Independent Telephone Pioneer and a registered professional engineer. The prototype of the Magellan unit now resides at the Time and Navigation exhibit at the Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. and Ed was recently inducted into the Consumer Technology Association Hall of Fame. Ed was still working at his office every day until the age of 82, while also caring for his wife Janet who had Alzheimer's disease. In a soon to be published book, "A Sense of Direction," he said, "I would give my life so that my children don't have Alzheimer's. Janet, my lovely wife of half of century, suffers from this dreadful disease." Along the way, he made many beloved friends, influenced many lives, pissed off a few people but made the world a little bit better place. If future generations never learn to read a map, Tuck will reluctantly accept part of the blame for that. Ed and Janet passed on their passions for art and engineering to their daughters Jean, an industrial designer, and Ann, an engineer/artist. With kindness and patience, Ed taught them the art of problem-solving, risk-taking, and overcoming the frustrations of the world to do the things one sets out to do. Ed passed away two and a half months after Janet, and just before their 60th anniversary. He is survived by daughter Jean and her husband Michael McGregor and sons Alec, Neil, and Gram; daughter Ann and her husband Dan Baden and children Luke and Jill. Born July 5, 1931, to Edward F. Tuck and Jeanette Florence Lewis, he lived in Memphis TN, Springfield, MO, El Granada, CA, Darien, CT, Cordova, TN, Westport, CT, Bellevue, WA, West Covina, CA, and Waxhaw, NC. He spent the last years of his life living with his family in North Carolina.
Published in the Los Angeles Times from July 3 to July 16, 2017
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