In Memory of Professor John Tanaka (1924-2012)

Professor John Tanaka

The Electrical Insulation Magazine and the DEIS have lost one of their longest-serving, hard-working and ardent supporters.  Professor John Tanaka passed away on April 14, 2012 at the age of eighty-seven, due to complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.  John received a B.A. in Chemistry in 1951 from UCLA and a Ph.D. from Iowa State University in 1956.  For the next seven years John taught Chemistry at South Dakota State University, but during the summers spent time at the Westinghouse Research Labs in Pittsburgh where he developed his passion for electrical insulation. He was a post-doctoral fellow in inorganic chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh from 1963 to 1965. He joined the University of Connecticut in 1965 and spent the next 45 years there, 40 of which as Professor of Inorganic Chemistry. Among his many research activities were the electrical properties of polymers, particularly electrical ageing and the nature and formation of space charges in polymers filled with inorganic fillers. His studies included polymer blends to determine why some blends seemed to exhibit higher dielectric strength, examining the mechanisms of corona erosion by studying the bombardment of polymers with ions of known energy, and determining the role of volatiles in the aging process of polymers.  This work resulted in an Honorary Doctorate from Paul Sabatier University in Toulouse and a Distinguished Lectureship from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. He graduated 15 Ph.D. students, published 59 peer reviewed articles, co-authored 5 books and received two patents. He was the Director of the Honors Program at the Department of Chemistry for 22 years. Even though John officially retired a few years ago, he continued to have an office in the department and regularly took laboratory classes up to less than a year ago.  John also served as the faculty advisor to the Pre-Dental Society, and in this role, helped hundreds of students, by preparing their pre-med or pre-dental letters, opening the doors to dental school.

His keen interest in the electrical properties of polymers naturally led John to become active in the Dielectrics and Electrical Insulation Society (DEIS) of the IEEE and the Insulated Conductors Committee (ICC) of the Power and Energy Society. He served as Vice President-Technical (1981 and 1982), Vice President- Administrative (1983 and 1984), and President (1985 and 1986) of the DEIS, then known as the IEEE Electrical Insulation Society.  John was always pro-active in both DEIS and ICC. Two of John’s major achievements in DEIS were promoting the practically-oriented Electrical Insulation Conference (EIC) and helping create the Electrical Insulation Magazine.  The Magazine’s original purpose was to help create and maintain interest in the EIC.  John co-authored an excellent history of the EIC that was published in the July/August 2003 issue of the EI Magazine.  John worked very hard to get co-sponsorship for the EIC.  The most successful co-sponsorships were those with the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) and the Electrical Manufacturers and Coil Winding Association (EMCWA).  John was directly involved in the organization of the EIC/EMCWA, both as Chairman of the Board of Governors and also responsible for many years for the very successful Short Course Program.  The first issue of the EI Magazine was published in 1986 and John was a member of the Editorial Board.  When the Editor-in-Chief died unexpectedly in 1991, John took over the editorial duties on top of his heavy university workload.  In addition to finding competent authors to write articles of interest to industry, John made sure that readers were kept up-to-date with EIC activities. With some editorial assistance he continued as Editor-in-Chief until the end of 2001 when he passed the baton (pen!) to John Densley.  This did not mean that John relaxed.  He maintained contact by preparing regular feature items in the Magazine, EIC Company Profile and EIC Volunteer Profile in which companies and individuals active in the EIC were duly recognized. To separate his university from his DEIS activities, John spent the normal working day on his regular duties at the university, would go home in the late afternoon, eat, take a short nap and then return to the university where he combined regular and DEIS activities.  This meant regular phone calls with the new Editor-in-Chief anytime between 10 p.m. and midnight. John would eventually return home after 1 a.m.  John always felt that, for DEIS to prosper, more participation was needed from industry. As a member of the DEIS Nominations Committee he was constantly looking out for industry personnel to serve on DEIS AdCom.   John was a Fellow of the IEEE and given the EIC Hall of Fame Award in 1991.

At the ICC, John was the Chair of the Discussion Group (DG) on the performance of extruded cables. Through his unique ability of persuading prospective speakers, the sessions quickly became the most attended DG, even surpassing the main subcommittee on cable insulation.   He also introduced detailed minutes of the meetings.  Getting some assistance with recognizing the persons asking the questions, John would take meticulous notes that resulted in an accurate summary of the presentations and question and answer periods.

Although a tireless worker who always seemed to get things done on time, John had a keen sense of humor.  At some committee meetings he noted that Canadians were in the majority, so he wanted to apply for Canadian citizenship in order to better understand the accent.

He is survived by his wife, Patricia, his two sons, Peter and his wife Lisa, and Paul and his wife Marta, and grandchildren John, Tyler, Stephanie and Joey, as well as his sister Iris and brother Tyler and his wife Peggy.

Rest well John, you thoroughly deserve it.

John Densley,  Bruce Bernstein,  Alan Cookson,  Michel Frechette,  Bill McDermid,

Keith Nelson,  Harry Orton,  Clive Reed,  and Greg Stone

May 1, 2012