Joel S. Lawson Jr., 91, Senior Scientist with the US Navy
Joel S. Lawson Jr., one of the top scientists for the US Navy between 1965 and 1984, passed away on August 31, 2015 at the Kahala Nui Retirement Community in Honolulu, Hawaii.
As a result of his many contributions in areas such as C3I (Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence) and Electronic Warfare, the Navy awarded Dr. Lawson both the Meritorious Service Award and, in 1967, the Navy Distinguished Civilian Service Award, the highest award that the Secretary of the Navy can confer on a civilian employee.
Dr. Lawson was born July 3, 1924 and grew up in the Smithtown area of Long Island, where his family’s roots go back to the 1640s. He was the 6th Great Grandson of Smithtown’s founder Richard (Bull) Smith. He left college in 1943 to join the US Navy as a pilot during the Second World War. After completing training, Dr. Lawson was stationed at the Great Lakes Naval Air Station.
He was honorably discharged in 1945 and married the former Grace C. Rumbough on January 6, 1946 in New York City. They were married for over 44 years. After Mrs. Lawson died in 1990, Dr. Lawson married Ann Libby, who died in 2013 after 21 years of marriage.
Dr. Lawson lived in Williamstown, Massachusetts in 1946 and 1947 while he completed his undergraduate degree in Physics from Williams College. Dr. Lawson then earned his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Illinois in 1953 and continued at the University until 1958, teaching and working on Defense Department related projects in the University’s Control Systems Laboratory, including working with the University’s Betatron electron particle accelerator.
“I remember asking Dad why he decided on Illinois”, said his son, Joel Lawson III. “His reply was exactly the impish one I would have expected from him – he said ‘I wanted to go where I would get to make lots of really tiny things go really, really fast.’”
In 1958, he moved to Belmont, Massachusetts to join Scientific Engineering Institute, where he focused on radar technology and some of the earliest defense applications of computer technology.
In 1965, Dr. Lawson moved to the Washington, D.C. area to join the Navy Department as Special Assistant (Electronics) to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for R&D. At the request of the Commander-in-Chief, U. S. Pacific Command, in 1967 Dr. Lawson moved to Hawaii for one year to serve as Chief Scientific Advisor to the Admiral.
In 1968, back in Washington, Dr. Lawson became Director of Naval Laboratories, and later, Technical Director of the Navy Electronics Systems Command. He retired in 1984 and moved to Hawaii.
In addition to receiving the Meritorious Service Award and the Navy Distinguished Civilian Service Award, Dr. Lawson was elected both a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and an Active Member of the New York Academy of Sciences.
He was a long time member of the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C., and the Pacific Club and Outrigger Canoe Club in Honolulu.
Dr. Lawson is survived by his four children, Joel S. Lawson III, Grace L. Hutchinson, William H. Lawson, and David R. Lawson, plus 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Dr. Lawson’s burial service will be on Friday, October 2 at the St. James Episcopal Church.