Commentary

By Jacqueline Loomis

Henry Loomis of Jacksonville, Florida, who as a young naval officer in Hawaii in World War II taught scores of officers and men of the Pacific Fleet about radar, then went on to a long career in government and communications in which he served five presidents, died on November 2, 2008. He was 89 and died of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Pick’s disease after a lengthy illness.

Mr. Loomis, a research scientist, grew up in an ideal environment. He was the youngest of three sons of Ellen Farnsworth and Alfred Loomis, a businessman who made a fortune in New York City before the crash of 1929, then moved to Tuxedo Park, a distant suburb, where he converted an old mansion into a private research laboratory. For Alfred Loomis, the career change was a lifetime goal. Funded by him, some of the world’s best scientists worked on projects there. As a teenager, Henry worked with his father on brain wave experiments. With this background, Mr. Loomis went to Harvard, where he majored in physics. Convinced in his own mind that the United States would be involved in the war, Mr. Loomis left Harvard in 1940 in his senior year to join the Navy. He graduated first in his naval training class and because of his background, was assigned to the staff of the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Mr. Loomis established and ran the RADAR maintenance school, the RADAR operations school, and was senior instructor in the RADAR tactical school for senior officers. At the same time, he served as RADAR officer with carriers, air squadrons, and battleships. By war’s end, he had been awarded a Bronze Star, the Air Medal, and the Pacific Ribbon with 13 battle stars. Mr. Loomis left the Navy in 1946 as a lieutenant commander and went to the University of California at Berkeley, where he did graduate work in physics, and was an assistant to Dr. Ernest Lawrence, director of the radiation laboratory. There he drafted a report for the university trustees describing the laboratory’s nuclear work during the war.

After four years as assistant to the president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mr. Loomis was called to Washington, where he started on a long career in government service. In three successive years, he was a special assistant to the Director of the Research and Development Board of the Secretary of Defense and served on the staffs of President Truman’s Psychological Strategy Board and President Eisenhower’s Commission on International Information. Mr. Loomis established and directed the Office of Intelligence and Research at the U.S. Information Agency, and was later named Director of the Voice of America, a position he held for seven years.

In 1959, the Voice of America broadcast a weekly news program to the rest of the world in English. Mr. Loomis, in survey trips abroad, realized that English was becoming an international language. He wanted to make English easier to understand by VOA’s foreign audiences, and asked Barry Zorthian, program manager, to devise a way of reaching an audience with a limited knowledge of English. The result was called Special English and it embraced two changes from VOA’s standard procedures: the news was delivered at the slow pace of nine lines a minute and the vocabulary was limited to 1,500 words. University critics said it would never work; American embassies abroad demanded the program be taken off the air. With the support of Mr. Loomis, the program stayed on the air, and soon, hundreds of letters of praise came in to VOA every month from pleased foreign listeners. After a sharp confrontation with President Johnson during the Vietnam War, Mr. Loomis quit as director of the Voice of America. The President has ordered American intervention in Laos and wanted it kept out of the news. Mr. Loomis thought otherwise. Later, under the Nixon administration, Mr. Loomis served as Deputy Director of the U.S. Information Agency from 1969-1972.

In 1972, Mr. Loomis was appointed president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Critics jumped on the choice because Mr. Loomis had no experience in public television. However, he had built up a reputation as an excellent administrator on earlier assignments, so he weathered the storm and led the CPB for six years.

While Mr. Loomis was deeply involved in Washington assignments from 1950 to 1978, he managed to stay active in his favorite outdoor activities, including sailing and riding with the hounds in with the Middleburg Hunt in Middleburg, Virginia. In his teens, Mr. Loomis and his brother, Lee, built a 25-foot ketch named Lands End, which they sailed on the Atlantic Ocean. Mr. Loomis was a regular participant in the annual wooden boat race off the Down East Shores of Maine at the helm of Lands End. As a hunter, Mr. Loomis traveled around the world to countries in South America, Europe and Africa on bird hunting safaris. He shot big game in Kenya.

Mr. Loomis served 13 years with the Mitre Corporation Board, where he was vice chairman for five years, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Science and History in Jacksonville, Florida, and the Jacksonville Zoological Gardens. He was a member of the Metropolitan Club of Washington. D.C., the Riverside Rotary of Jacksonville, the Florida Yacht Club, the Timuquana Country Club. Mr. Loomis attended the Riverside Presbyterian Church.

Survivors include his wife of 34 years, Jacqueline Chalmers Loomis of Jacksonville, Florida; four children, Henry Stimson Loomis, Mary Paul “Pixie” Loomis, Lucy Farnsworth Loomis, Gordon MacLeod Loomis; four step-sons, Charles Judson Williams IV, John Chalmers Williams, David Finney Williams, Robert Wood Williams; seventeen grandchildren; two great-grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.

Memorial services will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, November 15, 2008, at Riverside Presbyterian Church, located at 849 Park Street, Jacksonville, Florida 32204. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorials to the Jacksonville Zoological Gardens or the Riverside Rotary of Jacksonville. The funeral arrangements are under the care of Hardage-Giddens Blanding Funeral Home, 5753 Blanding Blvd., Jacksonville, FL 32244.

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Additional comments by Alan Heil, former VOA program director and author of Voice of America: A History:

Loomis was the first director I served under, and he was magnificent! He used to listen to tapes of programs during his long commute to and from Middleburg, and fire off notes to individual editors (even ones of very low station like Heil) commenting on programs he heard. As a physicist, he greatly expanded shortwave over several continents. He originated the idea of the Charter, and shepherded it through the White House at the end of the Eisenhower administration as an executive order. (Essentially the same document was enacted into law, largely at the behest of legendary VOA news chief Bernie Kamenske, seventeen years later.)

Bact to post.