We lost someone whom many of us in the military electronics industry have known and done business with for a long time: Amos Deacon Jr., founder of rugged data storage specialist Phoenix International Systems Inc. in Orange, Calif. He lost his battle with cancer on 19 Nov. 2015 at his home in California. He was 82.
It was with a rare blend of business acumen, blunt honesty, human compassion, and wry humor that Deacon practiced his craft among us in the aerospace and defense electronics industry for more than half a century.
He was born in Dunedin Isle, Fla., in a house on stilts in the Gulf of Mexico, and grew up in Central Florida and Pennsylvania. After graduating in 1951 as class valedictorian at Paradise High School in Pennsylvania, he attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and Lafayette College in Easton, Pa.
In 1962, he was hired by the Hughes Aircraft Co. and moved his young family to Orange, Calif. He completed the MBA program at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles where he was named to Beta Gamma Sigma, the highest honor of the USC School of Business. According to his family, his entrepreneurial spirit led him to much success as the founder and CEO of various enterprises, most significantly as a pioneer in the mini computer industry with the establishment of MDB Systems in Orange, Calif., and Phoenix International.
In recent years, Deacon turned over day-to-day operations of Phoenix International to his son, Amos Deacon III, so he could start military light vehicle manufacturer All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) Corp. in Orange, Calif. ATV and Phoenix International were at the same location, one behind the other. For many years, Deacon was a fixture in the Phoenix International booth at military and aerospace embedded computing shows around the country. He could talk chapter-and-verse about ruggedized data storage systems that were his company's stock in trade, yet had an eye for the big picture in the embedded computing business.
I remember visiting Deacon at an electronics show in the mid '90s, as the U.S. defense industry was nosing over after the end of the Reagan military buildup of the 1980s. Although he could recite the established public relations line with the best of them, he gave me the straight scoop.
"What's the buzz at the show," I asked him. After an appropriate pause he gave me a knowing smile, looked over his glasses, and said, "John, there is no buzz." Indeed there wasn't buzz at that show, despite all my efforts to find some.
What stays in my mind most about Amos Deacon Jr. was a phone call I had with him a month or two before the Twin Towers terrorist attack on 9/11. My dad had been to Africa where he was stricken with a paralyzing disease. I spent several agonizing days in Atlanta waiting for a long-delayed commercial flight from Johannesburg that brought my paralyzed father and exhausted mother back to the U.S. I arranged for an air ambulance to get him from Atlanta to Los Angeles where UCLA Medical Center was waiting for him. I left Atlanta on a commercial flight, and arrived in L.A. at about 3 a.m. to meet my dad, mom, and sister at UCLA.
There was little, if any, sleep that night, and I needed to speak to Deacon that morning on other business. The stress and lack of sleep must have come through in my voice when I spoke to him from the waiting room at UCLA Medical Center.
He asked me what was wrong and I explained the story. Knowing that he was just one county away from me in Southern California, he didn't hesitate. "John, if you need anything... and I mean ANYTHING... you call ME." I never forgot that, and I never will. Amos Deacon Jr. was a good man. I know we'll miss him.