Remembering Charles A. “Bud” Eldon

Eldon was the 1985 IEEE president

9 October 2012

Editor’s note: The obituary below was written by Eldon himself and submitted to The Institute by his son, Doug.

Charles A. “Bud” Eldon: 15 November 1926­­­–28 September 2012

Born in 1926 in Tacoma, Wash., Bud moved to Hawaii in 1927 with his parents, when they returned to the place they had met. He grew up on a sugar plantation on Kauai, where his father was chief engineer. The family moved to Honolulu in 1939, and was there to experience the Pearl Harbor bombing on 7 December 1941. He attended Iolani Episcopal School, and Punahou High School. But he left Punahou a year early, in 1944, before formally graduating, heeding advice that he could complete a full year of college at Stanford University before being eligible for the draft. 

He was drafted into the U.S. Navy shortly after his 18th birthday, and spent nearly two years being trained as an electronics technician. He was then sent back to Hawaii to serve at Pearl Harbor. Eldon returned to Stanford in 1946 and completed a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1948, followed by a master’s degree in business administration in 1950.

In March 1950, Bud married an undergraduate classmate, Betty Kahn, the sister of one of his fraternity brothers. In January 1951, he was hired by Hewlett-Packard, in Palo Alto, Calif., which at the time was a small company. He worked there as an engineer, a manager, and an executive at various operating divisions and at the company’s corporate headquarters, until he retired in March 1990. During his career, Bud did volunteer work for Stanford, where he was elected chair of the Graduate School of Business Fund, and earned the highest recognitions and awards from the university for his leadership. 

Separately, at the direction of William Hewlett, he joined one of IEEE’s predecessor societies. Elected to a series of leadership positions at local, then national levels, Bud ultimately was elected the 1985 IEEE president. Two years later he was elevated to IEEE Fellow for his “contributions to the manufacture of high-quality electronic components and systems.” After he retired, Bud became active in the IEEE Fort Huachuca (Ariz.) Section.

Bud and Betty travelled extensively, first on business trips, and later with Elderhostel groups. During those retirement years they lived happily in Sierra Vista, Ariz., where Bud became a volunteer at Ramsey Canyon Preserve and the Nature Conservancy. He also supported science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs in the Sierra Vista schools, with both time and financial contributions. In March of this year they moved to Corvallis, Ore. 

Bud is survived by his wife, Betty, and their four children: Tony, (wife Anita and their children Charlene and Evan); Kay; Doug (wife Dorry and their children Eric, Jon and Annie); and Jim (wife Julie and their children, Miles and Ella). Bud’s younger brother, Scott, died last January; their parents died many years ago.

There will be no memorial services; his ashes will be scattered in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii. 

The following tribute was written by IEEE President Gordon Day.

I am very sorry to report the death of 1985 IEEE President and Life Fellow Charles A. “Bud” Eldon, who died on 28 September. His many contributions to our community are described in the following excerpted biography from the IEEE Global History Network.

Born in 1926 in Tacoma, Wash., and raised in Hawaii, Mr. Eldon earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Stanford. He went on to earn a master of business administration degree, also from Stanford, in 1950. Drafted into the U.S. Navy during college, Mr. Eldon completed a nine-month course at the Navy’s Electronics Material School, in San Francisco, before returning to Stanford at the end of World War II.

In 1951 Mr. Eldon joined Hewlett Packard, where he spent nearly four decades. He was involved in numerous assignments, including manufacturing and engineering management, management of corporate systems and operations research activities, and corporate management of capital equipment, until he retired in 1990. 

Eldon Photo: IEEE

Mr. Eldon had dedicated his initiative, leadership, and strategy to IEEE, constantly aiming to improve the organization through strategic planning, change, and growth. As 1985 IEEE president, he made several lasting changes, including proposing and defining the ongoing strategic planning process that he implemented the following year. He organized what is now known as the Electronic Industry Forum, which brings together several organizations of the electronics industry, and has engendered cooperation between IEEE and industry groups.

He also went to Moscow to reestablish formal relations with the Russian Popov Society, and to resume an international exchange that has been of great benefit to the two organizations. Mr. Eldon also played a key role in developing the Western Electronic Show and Convention (WESCON), as a profitable asset, by leading critical negotiations to purchase part of the trade show from the Western Electronic Manufacturers Association, also known as WEMA. Shortly thereafter, he helped to sell a portion of IEEE's stake in the show at a tremendous profit. This important West Coast trade show was valued at several million U.S. dollars. 

 Through the years, Mr. Eldon had been extremely active in IEEE and held several volunteer positions. He was a founding member of the Bay Area Chapter of the Institute of Radio Engineers’ Professional Group on Product Engineering and Production, chair of the IEEE San Francisco Section, director of Region 6, and eventually treasurer, executive vice president, and president of IEEE.

 Mr. Eldon also received many recognitions throughout his career, including the IEEE Centennial Medal, the IEEE-USA Award for Distinguished Contributions to Engineering Professionalism, and the Region 6 Committee Service Award. He also was the recipient of the 2000 IEEE Haraden Pratt Award “for innovative leadership of the Institute, particularly in the area of strategic planning, and through the promotion of a stronger industry interaction.” Additionally, Mr. Eldon received the WESCON Don Larson Award, and honorary membership in the Russian Popov Society. 

I recommend reading a reflection on Mr. Eldon’s life that his grandson posted at TechCrunch. There’s also an oral history available on the IEEE Global History Network. In it, among many other things, he describes the unusual path through which he became president of IEEE. And there is another interesting memoir, with more emphasis on his 39-year career at Hewlett Packard.

We will honor Mr. Eldon's memory during the November IEEE Board of Directors meeting. 

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