Robert William Terhune

In Memoriam: Robert William Terhune, 1926-2014

November 20, 2014

Robert William Terhune, OSA Fellow and recipient of the Frederic Ives Medal (1992), died on 20 November 2014. He was 88. Robert was the founding editor of both the OSA Optics Letters journal (1977) and the Journal of the OSA B: Optical Physics (1984) and served on the OSA Board of Directors from 1980-1986.  
During his career, Robert also served on the Board of Editors (1977-1978), Adolph Lomb Medal Committee (1979-1981), Joint Council on Quantum Electronics (1981-1982), Charles Townes Award Committee (1981-1983), Nominating Committee (1983-1985), and Publications Council (1979-1990).
He was preceded in death by his wife of 66 years, Gloria. Robert is survived by his older brother John E. Terhune and wife Dorothy in Grand Rapids, MI; son Robert M. (Scott) Terhune and wife Jeanie in Houston, TX; granddaughters Kaelyn Terhune and Kendra Terhune Turba, son-in-law Joel Turba and great-grandchildren William Turba and Elizabeth Turba in Edina, MN; daughter Sandra Randolph and husband John in Blacksburg; and grandsons Jason Randolph, Peter Randolph and wife Lindsay in Charlottesville, and Watsun Randolph and wife Tiffany in Warrenton, VA.
Born in Detroit in 1926, Bob was a bright and precocious boy. During World War II, at age 17, he enlisted in the Navy and qualified for advanced training in electronics and radar. He saw limited action in the Pacific on the destroyer U.S.S. Rowe.  In 1946, while training in Boston, he met the love of his life, Gloria Zerella, and they were married in December 1946. They moved to Dartmouth College for further training at the United States Naval Training School which was operated at College.   
The family moved to Michigan, where Bob studied optical physics at the University of Michigan, working with colleagues there and from other universities in studying the maser (precursor to the laser). He received his B.S degree in 1947 and his Ph.D. in 1957 from the University of Michigan, and continued basic and applied research at the Ford Research Laboratory in Dearborn, where he stayed until retirement in 1988. His doctoral dissertation was titled, Electric Field Induced Vibration Rotation Spectra of Hydrogen and Deuterium. Through his work, Bob was able to demonstrate that ruby made an excellent MASER (microwave laser) and as a result, by 1960 many laboratories were experimenting with ruby masers. Hughes Laboratories was one of them and Ted Maiman used a ruby maser crystal to demonstrate the first ruby laser. 
In 1967, he was recipient of the University of Michigan Sesquicentennial Award given to the top 150 graduates in U of M’s 150-year history. He was awarded the Fredrick Ives Medal, the highest award of the Optical Society of America, in 1992, in “recognition of his many pioneering contributions to the field of nonlinear optics as well as his service to the optics community.”  In 1988, Bob took a position at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA, where he and Gloria lived until 1996 when they moved to Blacksburg to be near daughter Sandra and her family.
Many thanks to the staff at Wheatland Hills, Christiansburg, and especially to Bob’s caregiver and companion Jeff Foster. In lieu of flowers, please send a donation to the OSA Foundation by visiting  

OSA Awards Won

Frederic Ives Medal/Jarus W. Quinn Prize