Jim Polese, 1914 – 2011

10/27/2011

Jim Polese, an expressive family man and self-made engineer whose seminal patent for klystron electron broadcasting tubes revolutionized the electronics industry in the 1950s, passed away in his sleep on September 20 at Stockstill House, in Point Reyes Station. He was 97.

Compassionate and flirtatious, Jim left an indelible mark, even if he couldn’t always remember it, on his small coastal community. “One time I took him to get his hair cut in Point Reyes and two or three girls came over from The Western saying, ‘Hi,’ ‘Hey,’ ‘Good to see you Jim,’” said Natalia Meyerson, an administrator and close friend at Stockstill House. “Of course, he couldn’t remember at all who they were but he just raised his hand and kept saying, ‘Hey ladies, how you doin’?’”

“He was a very engaging man,” said his son, Richard. “Intelligent, affable, and always very charming with women.”

Jim Paul Polese was born on September 23, 1914 in the now-defunct Winehaven district of Richmond to Luigi, a woodworker and barrel stave maker, and Florinda, a housewife.

Luigi had emigrated to the U.S. from Italy, laboring for wineries in Washington State and saving until he could pay for his wife and four young children to join him. He wanted his fifth child, the only to be born in the states, to have as American a name as possible.

Jim was close with his siblings and loved his neighborhood, which he later wrote about in a self-published 1995 memoir, Tales from the Iron Triangle: Boyhood Days in the San Francisco Bay Area of the 1920s. He graduated from Richmond High School and apprenticed as a machinist at Mare Island Naval Shipyard. In 1940, while skating at an ice rink in Oakland, he fell in love with a local girl named Esther. The two were married within a year, and welcomed their first son, Richard, some months after that.

After teaching in a machine shop at Ventura Junior College, Jim enlisted in the Merchant Marines during World War II. He and Esther returned to the Bay Area following the war, raising their four children in Berkeley, and then Orinda and Menlo Park. Jim loved to tell the kids stories and take them gold panning near Redding.

“One thing that I got from him early on was the importance of just following your own creative intuition,” said his daughter Lia Cook. “We were hiking some place one time and there was this big ‘no trespassing’ sign and I remember he just said, ‘Well, that has to be there to stop everyone from entering. But it doesn’t mean we can’t.’”

That sense of inquisitiveness led Jim, who was not an academically trained engineer, to eventually design and patent a new type of ceramic electron-transmitting broadcasting tube.

“He got a $100 for it and the company he was working for made millions,” Richard said. Nevertheless, the invention earned him considerable industry attention, and led to a number of subsequent engineering positions throughout the South Bay and then nascent Silicon Valley.

In the late 1960s, Jim and Esther purchased land adjacent to Ducks Cove, on Tomales Bay. Jim, who inherited his handiness from his father, had designed and constructed the family’s previous two homes mostly on his own, and set about doing so once again.

A year into the project, the federal government approved the legislation creating Point Reyes National Seashore. The property was taken over by eminent domain and leased back to the family, which allowed Jim to finish construction.

Jim and Esther were adamant dancers, and were part of the square-dance club at the Inverness Yacht Club for many years. Jim was also a licensed fisherman, and often unmoored his fully restored 1916 Fisherman’s Wharf crab boat, the Angelina, for long trips into the bay and out along the coast.

Esther passed away in 1996, and Jim took increasingly to his boat and
dominoes. “That was his thing,” said Alice Wallace, a close friend from Novato who visited regularly with her son for picnics and boat trips. “Jim was just the most principled and honest man,” she added.

As his short-term memory began to fade, Jim moved to Walnut Place, a senior housing facility in Point Reyes Station, and years later to Stockstill House, where he impressed attendants with his persistent optimism and tender heart.

“He never wanted to bother anyone,” Natalia said. “Even when you could clearly tell that he wasn’t feeling well.”

 

Jim is survived by his children, Richard Polese, Lia Cook, Carolyn and Katherine; his grandchildren, Tamsin Clark, Kalle Cook, Vanessa Rohrer, and Martin Burch; and his two great-grandchildren, Lindsey and Gavin Clark. He will be remembered at Stockstill House, the assisted living residence on Highway One, just north of Point Reyes Station. Remembrance services at Stockstill begin at 2 p.m. on Saturday, October 29. Friends may call Natalia Meyerson at Stockstill House at (415) 663.9267 or (415) 246.4278.