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Symon, Keith Randolph

Symon, Keith Randolph

SPRING GREEN / MADISON - Keith Randolph Symon was born in Fort Wayne, Ind., on March 25, 1920, and died peacefully on Dec. 16, 2013, in Spring Green, Wis., surrounded by family members. His parents were Claribel (Crego) and James Jefferson Keith Symon of Terre Haute. He grew up in Terre Haute with younger brothers, Bobby and Bill, and sister, Judy. Keith was an Eagle Scout, later becoming a Scoutmaster and introducing his sons to scouting. In his late teens, he was nationally ranked in youth doubles tennis.

Keith graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, from Harvard in 1942, with a B.A. in philosophy and mathematics. In 1948, he was awarded a Ph.D. in physics.

During World War II, he was an ensign in the U.S. Navy, working on radar in Washington, D.C. He met Mary Louise Reinhardt on a blind date in 1942. They were married in 1943. They had four children, Judith E. Symon Hanson (Jerry Hanson), Keith J. Symon, James R. Symon (Beth Grabowski), and Rowena L. Roske (Russ Roske); 12 grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.

The family moved to Royal Oak, then Walnut Lake in Michigan when Keith taught physics at Wayne State University in Detroit from 1946 to 1955. In 1955, they moved to Madison, where Keith was professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin until his retirement in 1992, when he became emeritus professor. From 1956 to 1967, he was on the staff of the Midwestern Universities Research Association (MURA). In 1982 and 1983, he was acting director of the Madison Academic Computing Center and from 1983 to 1985, and acting director of the UW-Madison Synchrotron Radiation Center. His textbook, Mechanics, has been a staple in physics classes since publication of the first edition in 1953. It has been published in multiple languages and is still in use around the world.

Keith was awarded the Particle Accelerator and Technology Award of the IEEE Nuclear and Plasma Science Society in 2003, and the American Physical Society Robert R. Wilson Prize in 2005. With four colleagues from around the country, he published Innovation Was Not Enough A History of the Midwestern Universities Research Association, in 2010. Keith was an internationally recognized figure in plasma physics and particle accelerator design, developing the FFAG (fixed field alternating gradient) accelerator concept in parallel with physicist colleagues. He contributed to the work at Fermi Lab, Argonne National Laboratory, Brookhaven National Lab, labs in Los Alamos and La Jolla, and did early research for the Hadron collider at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, where he and the family lived for a year in 1962 and 1963. His work took him to Europe, Japan, China, India, Russia, and Australia. He taught himself useful French, German, Dutch, Russian, and some Chinese.

Keith was a charming man, honored and respected by all who knew him. His dry wit kept his family and friends smiling (or groaning at his puns). He frequently entertained them with funny old songs and poems.

Keith and Mary Louise always supported and participated in groups to further peace around the world and at home, equal opportunities for all, and conservation of our natural environment. They enjoyed playing bridge throughout their lives. Keith loved camping, canoeing, sailing, and skiing with family and friends. He was handy at building things, being involved with remodeling and building two houses, small boat building, and building radio and hifi equipment. He loved his retirement activities on the family's rural property in Spring Green.

Keith was preceded in death by his wife, Mary Louise. Survivors include his sister, Judy Sophianopoulos; his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.

The family will gather privately this Christmas and there will be a memorial celebration with friends and colleagues in the spring. Memorial donations in his name would be welcomed by organizations supporting his interests and ideals, such as The Nature Conservancy, The Smithsonian Institution, Vets for Peace, Wounded Warrior Project, Friends of the Spring Green Community Library, and The Wonders of Physics.

The family wishes to thank the skilled and sensitive people at Greenway Manor in Spring Green, Wis., for their kind, thoughtful care of Keith during his final years.

Online condolences available at

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