In memoriam
Ralph Chatham, Ph.D. Oct 15, 1948 - May 18, 2013

(as read at the memorial service)

My name is Riva Meade. I met Ralph when he was at the Defense Science Office at DARPA. I am the unofficial DSO alumni information channel. Thus Valerie Brown, who could not be here as she is traveling today, asked that I read her presentation.

Ralph Chatham was a colleague of mine during a good portion of my time at DARPA. My thoughts and prayers have been with his family and close friends since I heard of his passing. I deeply regret not being able to share these memories of Ralph in person.

There are lots of things to remember about Ralph. He was a very unique, talented and memorable individual. However, there are three things that stand out most in my memories of Ralph.

One thing that I will always remember about Ralph is that he was always willing and eager to help out his colleagues at DARPA. One particular instance that I will never forget occurred the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in 2001 when I was one of the first DARPA PMs to experience what would later come to be known as an email “death spiral” with the still new DARPA Director. The details of the exchange aren’t important but what is important is that Ralph helped me work through what was, at the time, a very stressful situation. I don’t remember how or why I ended up discussing my predicament with Ralph, but I do remember him talking me down from my panicked state and providing some very sound advice for solving my problem. Whenever I think of Ralph, I always remember what he did for me that day as it would have been an otherwise very unpleasant Thanksgiving holiday.

Another fond memory I have of Ralph is the passion he had for his programs. Ralph was one of those PM’s who would not take “no” for an answer when it came to his programs. Unfortunately, he sometimes also had a hard time taking “yes” for an answer as well! I remember once at an office review with the Director, Ralph was on a roll in discussing some positive results from one of his programs and was offered additional money for his program. This was an extraordinary thing that didn’t happen very often and everyone in the room was expecting Ralph to graciously accept the offer of new money and then we’d move on to the next PM. Instead, his passion for his program got the better of him and he kept talking about all of his great results. I remember nervously looking around the room and feeling that everyone else was thinking the same thing that I was: “Sit down Ralph—take yes for an answer and let’s move on”. Finally, the DARPA Director himself, Tony Tether, suggested that Ralph might want to quit while he was ahead and, thankfully, Ralph heeded his advice.

My other fond memory of Ralph is that he was a great listener. We all know what a talent he had for storytelling. He and I would occasionally sit in each other’s office and share stories on the joys and frustrations of parenthood. Of course his stories were always much more entertaining. He was a proud Dad and I enjoyed listening to him talk about his kids. However, he also knew how to listen in a way that made you feel like what you were saying was really important, even if it wasn’t! Being a Mom and a scientist it was (and still is) difficult for me to acknowledge the fact that I am actually NOT the world’s leading authority on the neuropsychology of children. Ralph, of course, knew this was not the case, and yet he would sit and listen intently as I droned on and on about my latest theory about the brains of today’s children--how being raised on computers and video games, they must be wired differently and require a different approach to learning. Ralph would wait for me to finish, and without dampening my enthusiasm or expressing even a hint of condescension would point me to the large body of existing literature that either supported or (more often) refuted my intuitions. Yes, he was a great story teller, but he was also a really good listener.

I feel fortunate to have had the privilege of working with and knowing Ralph. He will never be forgotten. His stories will live on. He is, and will be, missed by a lot of people--including me.

I think Valerie did a wonderful job of describing the Ralph that we all knew in DSO. Though our personal contacts with Ralph may have been discussions on different subjects, Ralph left a mark on our hearts. When Ralph’s name will be mentioned in the months and years ahead as we the DSO Alumni gather, I know that the first thing you will see is a smile; because above all Ralph made us smile. What a wonderful legacy.