Donald Bryan Jacobs

July 1, 1929 ~ November 24, 2018 (age 89)

Donald Jacobs passed away the morning of November 24. He is remembered by his wife of 62 years, Mary, his six children, Daniel, Cynthia, Laura, Peter, Tina, and Michael, his Brother Del, eleven grandchildren and five Great Grandchildren. There were many who Don knew in his personal and professional life, as a mountain climber, and aerospace engineer who knew him and were helped and encouraged by him.

Don was born and went to school through college in Seattle. Growing up in the Montlake neighborhood he was inseparable with his brother Del, and they remained close all their lives. Don attended Montlake elementary, Garfield High school, and the University of Washington, graduating with honors with a degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1951. Don was always fascinated with the idea of space flight, first reading about it from Jules Verne, and became determined to make the story a reality. In January 1952, he started at Stanford University on an academic scholarship, and dug in to his studies there, continuing in Mechanical engineering, earning a MS Mechanical engineering by fall of that year. The Korean war by that time was drafting many in his age group, and he signed on for officer training after hearing that there were jet propulsion and rocketry problems the Air Force that needed solving, a fortuitous pairing of events.

Also lucky was being transferred to the heart of rocket science at that time, Los Angeles, at the same time as Mary Larson, who had befriended the Jacobs family on one of their hiking adventures; the two were introduced in Seattle in 1954. Mary had taken a position teaching school in at Inglewood elementary in West Los Angeles in 1955, when California allowed women to teach school, while Washington did not. They shared many interests and June 30, 1956, they were married at the Keystone Congregational Church in Seattle.

They lived mostly in Cape Canaveral while Don was a missile test engineer in the Air Force, where rocketry was being defined. Among that group were Werhner Von Braun, and other luminaries in the early days of Aerospace, finally leaving the Air Force to be among the founding group of TRW (then Ramo-Woolridge) in late 1956, bringing both experience and a systems engineering perspective to improving reliability and performance to the Atlas and Mercury programs. Don and Mary’s first child, Dan was born in San Diego. Shortly thereafter, Don took his first job with Boeing, moving back to Seattle Cindy was born when they were living in Lake Hills, and in addition to the family, Boeing was growing.

By 1961, the Space Race was on, thanks to President Kennedy, NASA was formed, and Don was working with Boeing to put people in space.  At this most exciting time in US history, Don worked on liquid propulsion as one of the leaders in the field, Chief of Flight Technology at Boeing, moving to Huntsville to build the Saturn V rocket engine. Laura and Pete were both born in Alabama while Don developed both the engines and the flight control software that would get people to the moon, and back. Boeing and Don both assumed more responsibility for the program after the Apollo 1 launch pad disaster in 1967, and the family moved to Washington D.C., living at the now-infamous Watergate Hotel, moving to Cape Canaveral again in 1968 to when Don became the Apollo Mission director, being the voice of Apollo 8 as the spacecraft left earth, orbited the moon, and returned, flawlessly.

The family was back in Washington for the Moon Landing, in 1969, and living on beautiful Vashon Island, where he lived with many of his family until his death. The family lived in several different places on Vashon Island, all with a clear view of Mount Rainier, which Don loved looking towards every day. In August 1969, Tina and Michael joined the family as adopted twins. Don’s leadership in engineering projects for Boeing in several areas, military, and in intelligence, continued for the next 20 years. Don’s systems engineering and guidance software expertise helped build fully automated and remotely piloted aircraft, guidance which assists both commercial aircraft and drones today. Don looped back and completed his PhD from Stanford which was interrupted by the Korean War.

Don retired from Boeing in 1989, and set out on ever more adventures (not that there was a lack of them in any given year), including climbing to the high points of the US states and many other places, piloting two family cruising boats around western Washington and British Columbia and a year teaching aerospace engineers back at Stanford. Don was a lifelong lover of education, and all six of us kids have graduate degrees. The family accomplishments were the most important thing to him, and he loved seeing his children grow into professionals, parents, and grandparents.

A Memorial and celebration of Don’s life and his family and friends will be held on January 26th, at Island Funeral Service.

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