Bernie Camin

Bernie Camin

Aug. 18, 1930 – July 9, 2016


Since no one alive knows the scope of my life, I have chosen to write my own obituary. I undertake this task with awe and gratitude as I view my life, which has spanned what may someday be seen as the golden age of the democratic experiment that is the United States.

I was privileged to contribute to two of the 20th Century’s most significant achievements: the technology evolution and the U.S. landing on the moon. I also experienced the Great Depression of the 1930s, World War II, the Cold War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and two wars in the Middle East, as well as an East Los Angeles race war, the ‘60s, the Civil Rights Movement, and women’s rights. Scientifically speaking, my lifetime encompassed the Higgs-Boson “God particle,” the discovery that gravity and time are variables, and the theory that we (perhaps) live in a multiverse. When I was young, we could barely glimpse our own solar system, and I used a slide rule for calculations. Now, we explore the far reaches of a vast universe, macro and micro, and youngsters do their calculating on computers that fit in their pockets.

I had a lifelong difficulty in characterizing my worldly achievements. My best solution was to call myself a creator, an inventor, a designer. For my inner world, I prefer a quotation from the educator and peace activist David Starr Jordan, “ Who you are to be, you are now becoming.” I began my high school valedictorian speech with these words, which I now feel aptly describe both my inner world and my relational life. Mine was a life of changes, of becoming.

I was an unwanted child, born into an impoverished immigrant family at the depth of the Depression. My earliest years in Los Angeles were strife-ridden — at home, at school, and in my community, where open warfare raged between Hispanics and sailors. I survived by focusing on school and my accomplishments. In high school the debate team became a grounding for my early talent and a springboard for my later life. The debate team was the first place where I felt any sense of belonging. My years in the U.S. Army Signal Corps in the Korean War were an escalation of strife, and I returned home with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which affected me for much of the rest of my life.

It was, however, sometime in these early years that certain constructive traits appeared in me: determination, persistence, focus, drive, an insistence on excellence within myself and others. These attributes, which served me well, were not always appreciated by others, and I was a misfit throughout my early years. My personal creed was always “the power of excellence,” and over time I saw myself as “designing for people” with “reduction to simplicity” as my goal.

My formal education included UCLA, where I studied physics from 1948 to 1950; UC Berkeley, architecture, 1950-1952; UCLA, industrial design, 1954-1956; and UCLA graduate school in industrial design and engineering, 1956-1960. Learning went far beyond my formal studies, however. I was a student for life.

My life played out in two vastly different arenas. The first, generally covering the first half, was “manifesting into physical form.” The second entailed self-discovery and reinventing myself. The constant was change, outer and inner — I was, as I’ve said, becoming.

One measure by others of my outer contributions is my inscription into 11 Who’s Who compendiums, including Who’s Who in the World and Who’s Who in Finance and Industry, “inclusion in which is limited to those individuals who have demonstrated outstanding achievement in their own fields of endeavor and who have, thereby, contributed significantly to the betterment of contemporary society.” I also hold various honors and several patents.

I had an early and natural inclination toward design, which I explored first through physics and then architecture. Later, I found my niche with industrial design. When that became too limiting, I broadened into areas that included early electronics, retail facilities, aircraft interiors, consumer products, audio-visual equipment, showrooms, graphics, corporate identity programs, and architectural facilities. My scope was physical/configurational design and development. My dozens of projects included defining requirements, winning contracts, designing, and managing implementation or construction. Looking back now, what I produced seems antiquated. At the time, however, most of these were innovations — new, unique, and pushing the forefront of technology. During the three decades I spent in this phase, I was led to positions and situations where I was allowed, and even invited, to manifest what was needed at that time.

Specifically, I took part in the transition from vacuum tubes to solid-state electronics. I did the physical design of the PB250 and the PB440 computers. (The PB250, which weighed about 200 pounds, was the first “portable” desktop computer). Later, at Hughes Aircraft Co., I designed the first personal interactive computer with a screen and a keyboard.

I also worked with NASA, the US space agency, on what were called “Man on the Moon” projects. One of these was an automated checkout system for NASA’s Saturn space booster. This was the first automated preflight checkout for a space vehicle—now a standard operating procedure. There was never a failure of a Saturn booster stage in US space flights. Another space project was meteorological displays, which are critical in launch decisions and used at all space-vehicle launch sites. A third project was the conceptual design of the attitude-control computer for the Lunar Orbiter, which circled the moon after launching the Lunar Lander.

The national defense programs I worked on included the physical and configurational design of the U.S. Air Force’s Field Mobile Operations Centers for the tactical control of field forces and aircraft. Subsequently, I also designed the first conceptual airborne version of this — what is known as the airborne warning and control system (AWACS) — which performs the same tactical missions in the air. Another project was the design and construction of a strategic planning facility for the U.S. Marine Corps.

My employers included Henry Dreyfuss Industrial Design, Packard Bell Computer, and Hughes Aircraft. I owned an industrial diamond tool manufacturing company as well as two industrial design consulting firms.

While working on these design projects, I also did some sculpting. I gave shape to visions and inner voices that told me to “depict the balance between the male and female principle,” creating bronze pieces that were few in number yet significant. I also worked in clay.

At midlife, my wife Judith and I became drawn to group and individual psychotherapy. From this exposure, I came to realize the extent to which my earlier life had been singularly focused on work. I used to characterize myself as a “g—d—f— designing machine,” not fully realizing what this self-characterization meant. At this point in my life, I set a new course of self-realization. I embraced various therapies, attended retreat centers, began a deep psycho-spiritual practice, and, through the interactions and frictions with the various people in my life, I sought personal answers.

I began my inner work in Southern California and continued it through a move to Whidbey Island. On Whidbey this work became a personal mission, a labor of love, and what some people for whom I have great respect called “a deep evolutionary transition.” I would say that in the second half of my life almost everything I did was, in some way, a process of self-discovery and growth. I would like to think that in both my outer and inner endeavors, I was mostly successful.

I had two near-death experiences during my three open-heart surgeries, four close calls in Korea, and multiple other escapes from death throughout my life. I had out-of-body experiences, and numerous other subtle events. In retrospect, I saw these as part of my curriculum. I also lived with multiple health challenges, including problems with my lungs, diabetes, hearing loss, and the PTSD.

Various people accompanied me through my outer and inner journeys. These included my parents and my older brother. My family of origin staged my life’s issues and introduced me to their Judeo/Russian culture. My first wife, Judith Abramson, facilitated my outer production years through her acceptance of my devotion to my work. She also received deep satisfaction as a schoolteacher. I was deeply grateful to her for being the primary parent in raising our two children, Lisa and Evan, whom I loved very deeply. This love extended to my four grandchildren, Jason, Dayna, Jessica and Samantha. Both Lisa and Evan and his wife, Stacey, are extraordinarily accomplished, and the foundations they have provided for their children have fostered their flourishing.

My second wife, Ellen Weaver, facilitated my growth further. It was with Ellen that I learned to give and receive deep love. She had a concerned worldview and taught me the value of philanthropy, service, and generosity. She especially inspired me, as she did many others, through her dying process. Ellen was, and will always remain, my true love.

My life lessons were conveyed to me through loves and lovers, acquaintances, close friends, protagonists, personal and professional mentors, inner and outer guides—all of whom helped me learn to surrender and trust in the present. I would like to mention in particular the Circle of Caring, a group of dear, close friends with whom I explored issues of aging, dying, and living. Many wise and sage people supported my forays through psychological, religious, spiritual and emotional issues and growth. Many doctors and practitioners kindly supported my aging body. Toward the end, there was dear Kat Daniel who facilitated and brightened my daily life.

In short, this was a heavy, working growing life for me. There were numerous challenges. There were numerous delights. I accomplished. I loved and was loved. I remained active, curious, and engaged. In my limited way, I helped others. To the end, I reached and I stretched, coming at last to a deep sense of who I am and where I fit into this spiritual world.

Services are entrusted to Cody Cremation Services in Kent.