Obituary of Jerome Lee Uhrig
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Dr. Jerome (Jerry) Uhrig, 83, of Mountain Lakes, N.J., passed peacefully on March 27, 2021. He is preceded in death by his first wife, Josephine (“Josie”), and eldest son, Joseph. He is survived by his second wife, Lynn (Goldthwaite) Uhrig; daughters, Karen, Lisa (Larry), Emily (Keith), Theresa, and Adrienne (Tom); sons, Patrick, Robert (Tara), Matt (Stacey), and Chris (Sherry); brothers, Ron, Bill (Deanie), and Jim; and fourteen grandchildren. Jerry lived a life defined by love, principle, and purpose. He was brilliant, kind, passionate, and humble to a fault. With interests that spanned the intellect, the arts, and the physical world, Jerry seemed driven by the inescapable fact that however much time he was given on this earth, it would never be enough. He lived every bit of his life accordingly. His accomplishments - as a lead engineer at Bell Laboratories, an environmentalist and naturalist, a life-long musician, and father/grandfather extraordinaire – were many. Most indelibly, he lived a life of integrity and impact. Jerry was born on June 20, 1937 in Pittsburgh, PA, to the late Gilbert Russell and Mary Elizabeth Uhrig. In 1955, he graduated from Huntington High School in Irwin, PA, an accomplished athlete and student, with a deep appreciation for those who had taught, coached, and mentored him in the small community in which he was raised. Throughout his life, he would never miss a class reunion and maintained close friendships with former classmates and vivid recollection of those who had helped forge the value system and work ethic that would carry him through his life. Following graduation, Jerry enlisted in the United States Air Force and was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. There, he would meet his future wife, Josephine Garcia, a young nursing student and San Antonio native, at the wedding of mutual friends. The two were both opposite and alike, from very different worlds but with a shared sense of purpose, decency, humor, intelligence, and adventure. Together, they forged a best friendship and partnership that would endure for the next 38 years, until Josie’s untimely death in 1994. “We grew up together,” Jerry would say simply, many years later. After Josie graduated from nursing school, the two married on December 11, 1957 and moved to Harrisburg, PA. There, Jerry completed his military service and the first of their ten children, Karen was born. For the next six-and-a-half years, Josie worked as an emergency room nurse while Jerry pursued his studies in electrical engineering, on full academic scholarship, earning his Bachelor of Science from Ohio University and Master of Science and PhD from Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon) in Pittsburgh, PA. Despite completing his engineering studies in record time, Jerry also taught himself Russian and worked as a scientific translator during this time to help support his family. To balance out his education, he also studied the literary classics. After graduating from Carnegie Tech in 1965, Jerry was hired to work as a systems electrical engineer with Bell Labs in Whippany, NJ. At Bell Labs, Jerry became a pioneer in the field of performance modeling and systems engineering for the telecommunications industry, until his retirement in 2004. His leadership on various then-classified military programs included the Safeguard system to protect the US ICBM force; the Navy Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) deep-water long-range detection capability, which enjoyed tremendous success during the Cold War in tracking submarines by their faint acoustic signals, and the EMSP and ESAI system used to locate and track incoming SCUD missiles (after the first Gulf War). His contributions were critical to each of the program’s success, as he consistently challenged other engineers to think differently about design assumptions to develop a better understanding of a problem and requirements. He was well loved by his colleagues for his generosity and originality. In New Jersey, Jerry and Josie settled in Mountain Lakes, where they raised their ten children and would spend the rest of their lives. After Josie’s sudden passing in 1994, Jerry remained in town, in 2001 marrying longtime friend and collaborator in local environmental protection efforts, Lynn Goldthwaite. In Mountain Lakes’ natural beauty, Jerry also found a second career, as ardent environmentalist and naturalist. In 1973, forging scientific expertise with a deep reverence for the natural world, he and other residents from neighboring towns defeated a plan to store effluent from a sewage treatment plant in the Tourne Valley that would have devastated the natural environment of the county parklands. In a five-year battle that involved testifying before the N.J. Department of Environment Protection and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the plan was defeated. The pristine beauty of the Tourne Valley was preserved for future generations and still offers a place of refuge and beauty to the surrounding communities. Following the Tourne Valley campaign, Jerry continued to serve, chairing the town’s Environmental Commission for many years. In 2003, he founded -- and for 15 years chaired -- the Woodlands Management Committee, which addressed many environmental issues, including threats to the woodlands posed by invasive species, insects, and other pests. In 2005, together with wife, Lynn, he received the Janice D. Hunts Lifelong Service Award. In 2017, the Shade Tree Commission honored him for his efforts to re-introduce the endangered American chestnut tree locally. In 2018 and 2019, respectively, the Mayor of Mountain Lakes and Woodlands Management Committee awarded him volunteer appreciation awards for his near-half century of tireless work to understand and to preserve the region’s natural environment. On one award was written words that embodied one of Jerry’s personal ethos, “Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” - Author Unknown. Jerry’s sense of stewardship coupled with a profound personal appreciation for the natural world. He plied formidable athleticism into trail runs, marathon-running, hiking, cycling, camping, and -- following his retirement from Bell Labs in 2004 -- kayaking through local and coastal waters. (Not one to do anything half measure, in his late 70s, Jerry would travel to take courses on kayaking technique, including whitewater safety/rolling in Class 3 or 4 rapids, impressing upon his children that we are never too old to learn new skills and pursue our passions.) When his children were young, family vacations involved summer camping trips throughout the northeastern states and Canada, where Jerry would pitch the family’s 12-person tent, break out the field guides so his children could understand the native environment that was hosting them, and then let Mother Nature work her magic. In later years, with children grown and with families of their own, camping morphed into summer vacation rentals in Virginia Beach or the Outer Banks, NC, with kids and grandkids settled under one roof and Jerry leading family kayaking trips into local waters. Jerry was also a life-long musician. One of his first, and most enduring loves, was music. At the age of six, his father gave him his first guitar, a now-vintage Gibson, and Jerry began redirecting lunch money to pay for guitar lessons. Throughout school and adulthood, he played and performed in various bands and, before joining the USAF, even considered pursuing a career in music. In later years, he also folded into his repertoire (and instrument collection) the banjo, mandolin, ukulele, and dulcimer. A trip to any city inevitably involved detours to local music stores and long conversations with fellow musicians. Grandchildren became eager recipients of ukuleles, Irish drums, Native flutes, and guitars and students of musical instruction, thus ensuring that his love of music will long survive him. Meanwhile, Jerry, himself built a remarkable collection of musical instruments, accessories, equipment, and music books of all genres, each with its own story as to how it found a home with him. In 2010, Jerry joined the Mummers-style, Denville String Band (DSB) at the urging of dear friend, Andy Bulfer, with whom he had played music for many years. In 2015, Jerry assembled a ukulele group from within DSB, which performed sing-alongs at DSB concerts. Within the band, Jerry was greatly admired, always with a ready, welcoming grin and rarely missing a rehearsal or event. They still talk about the St. Patrick’s Day party several years ago when Jerry, who was not known as a soloist, got up and to everyone’s surprise conducted a sing-along of Irish songs, accompanied by guitar. Fittingly, his last day at home before his passing was punctuated by an hours’ long St. Patrick’s Day jam with his cherished band, marking the first – and last -- time they would reunite to play in person since COVID. But above all else, Jerry was devoted to his family. After Josie’s death in 1994, and for the rest of his life, he marked her birthday, their anniversary, and holidays every year with a rose and card left on her grave, then sharing a photo of his tribute with his kids, who now extend across the country. In the spring, he would plant sweet woodruff or other native perennial at her gravesite. With Lynn, he found a second, 26-year chapter that was rich in love, friendship, mutual respect, and the pursuit of many shared interests. Jerry never missed a family wedding, reunion, or other special occasion, whether to support a daughter who was running the Boston or Los Angeles marathon or most recently, to attend the investiture of daughter, Emily, to the California state judiciary. With a life abundant in external accomplishment, Jerry’s life was markedly devoid of boast or self-promotion. Unfailingly humble, his approach to everything was principled, purposeful, and persistent. Despite many challenges in recent years to his physical health, Jerry remained fully engaged in the game of life to the very end, without self-pity or remorse, feet planted firmly in the moment with a keen eye on the horizon. We have lost a good one. But his example of what it looks like to live a meaningful life continues to animate all those fortunate enough to have known him. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, July 17 at 1:30 p.m. at the Community Church of Mountain Lakes, 48 Briarcliff Road.