BY DON SORCHYCH | FEBRUARY 26, 2014
Another “Unforgettable character”
A woman doing research and writing about Uryon Davidsohn recently contacted me asking about a brief reference I made about him in an August 2008 My View column. The original publication date of this column was February of 2008.
In 1965, five years into my career after graduating from the University of Illinois with a BSEE, I was faced with a dilemma. A couple of years prior, I had been offered a substantial promotion to move to Silicon Valley and join a semiconductor company. The little company I worked for, Radiation Inc., had flirted with starting such a business and promised I would be able to transfer there if I stayed.
Radiation, after a search, hired Uryon Davidsohn, who had been a freelance staff scientist at General Electric. He started the Physical Electronics Division charged with the goal of developing integrated circuits.
Underfunded from the start, nothing much materialized so when I was offered the Director of Engineering position, I refused. Pressure was applied and I reluctantly agreed to take the position.
Although “Urie” was still the head of the division, corporate had sent over a V.P. of marketing, Jack Hartley, to find out why so much money was being spent with no tangible outcome.
Urie was a short, humpbacked, bug-eyed, homely guy, exceedingly brilliant, weird, but with a certain charm.
Urie’s staff meetings were a riot, with a gaggle of engineers mostly hired from Texas Instruments. These engineers were out of control, undermining each other and trying to figure out why the limited output of circuits suffered from a failure mode no one understood.
A technician named Ed Guerra, also from Texas Instruments, found the answer in a technical paper published by IBM, but what did a technician know?
Eventually, Guerra’s findings solved the problem.
Urie had unusual ideas and decided to build his own photo masking method rather than using industry standard step and repeat cameras. He ordered a precision Plexiglas board with holes drilled at regular intervals to hold film. It took a year to have it produced. He placed an array of high intensity lights behind the board to illuminate the film.
When it arrived and the lamps were turned on behind the eight by eight feet Plexiglas board, it began to melt.
That was the end of that project.
Tension between Hartley and Urie mounted, so Urie went to corporate management with a series of allegations about Hartley, which were untrue, and raised the tempo of animosity.
Somewhere along the line, Urie divorced and bought a bachelor pad on Merritt Island. He was an extremely anal person and a clean freak. He invited Hartley to his home. It had been raining and he told Hartley to clean his shoes on an outside carpet.
When Hartley came inside, Urie pulled a four barrel .22 caliber Derringer from his pocket and shoved it in his face. That resulted in Urie being involuntarily committed.
When he was released, he would call me at all hours of the night and threaten suicide unless I came and had a brandy with him.
He had a collection of antique stringed instruments and he would sing folk songs while plucking strings. It was agonizing to listen to.
One morning at about 3 a.m. he called and said he was with his ex-wife who he was going to kill and then commit suicide. I raced up there only to find him singing love songs to her, but with his ever present Derringer at his side.
Finally, he began a long soliloquy about what a decent husband he had been, never sparing money, being a loving, caring father to his children and on and on.
Then he told his wife to bring brandies for us. She handed each of us a drink and sat down. He looked at his glass, looked at mine and yelled, “Bring me Don’s glass.”
He held the glasses up side by side and screamed, “You f***king bitch you gave him more than me!”
Later he decided it was important for a teen-age daughter to experience sex, but under his supervision. He took her to the Bahamas in his small boat. His boat experiences are another whole series of stories.
He followed her from club to club until she was picked up by an Irish seaman. He followed them down to the wharf, and when they got to the boat, the seaman turned around and said, “Get lost old man.”
Out came the Derringer. Two quick shots near the toes of the seaman led to a quick retreat, as fast as the seaman could run.
Urie’s secretary was a tall, attractive woman named Laura. She adored Urie, called him Dr. Davidsohn and held him in high regard, so she was pleased when he invited her to dinner at the Melbourne Beach Steakhouse.
When they got in her car, he reached over under her dress. “Dr. Davidsohn, what are you doing?” she screamed while pushing him away.
He said, “Well, I bought your dinner, didn’t I?”
Laura said, “How much was it?” He told her. She reached in her purse, counted out the amount and gave it to him.
Somewhere along the line an investigation revealed Urie was a phony. He didn’t have a Ph.D. as claimed, among other things. Although he held a high scientific position at G.E. it was not clear whether his brilliance stood on its own or whether they were fooled too.
Urie joined his friend Dr. Arnie Lesk at Motorola in Phoenix. Lesk was in charge of a research lab. I followed Urie’s career through technical papers, usually about a method called dielectric isolation.
I think he remarried and two of his sons were either visiting or living with him.
One day Urie told one of his sons to clean the pool. He resisted. Urie insisted, apparently strongly.
The boy went in the bedroom, retrieved a shotgun, came out and blew Urie away.
Jack Hartley was promoted to another division and later became President and CEO, then Chairman of Harris Corporation, who acquired Radiation in 1967.
I took over the Physical Electronics Division, which later became Harris Semiconductor.