Dec. 2, 1921 — June 8, 2012
Burdette “Skins” T. Person, born Dec. 2, 1921, in Rockford, Ill., to August Person and Frieda Ledin Person, passed away peacefully with his family by his side on June 8, 2012. He was preceded in death by his beautiful wife, Rita Louise Richards Person; and five siblings. “Skins,” as he was known by most friends and family, is survived by two children, Karen Jackson of Sandy Hook, Conn., and Bruce Person of Placerville, Calif.; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
Skins’ nickname is derived from one of his many talents as a drummer. He was also versatile musically as a violinist and saxophone player. His love of aeronautics began in high school after taking flying lessons and then continued as a fighter and a bomber pilot in World War II and the Korean War. Following the end of the war he began a very distinguished career as an aeronautical engineer working on the early development of jet propulsion and space flight at Edwards Air Base in Muroc, Calif.
Skins continued his education and received an Aeronautical Engineering Degree from Northrop Institute of Technology. While working at Edwards Air Base he developed a close association with Florence “Pancho” Barnes, a woman aviatrix and adventurer who was a source of many interesting and fun exploits. For a while he managed the ranch at Happy Bottom Riding Club, made famous in the movie “The Right Stuff,” sharing the excitement with the world’s greatest pilots, who were attempting to break the sound barrier and bring jet propulsion into the world of aviation.
His beginnings at Edwards Air Base led Skins into a very successful career at Rocketdyne in Canoga Park, Calif. He was instrumental in the development of solid fuel rocket propulsion for the Apollo manned space flight missions and then later the Space Shuttle Program. In 1972 his “get it done” work ethic proved invaluable when his career took him to Japan as the envoy from Rockwell International (Rocketdyne) to assist with setup, manufacture and successful launch of large payload rocket engine systems.
He and his wife Rita relocated to Nagoya, Japan, for a period of six years, where his efforts resulted in cementing ongoing working relationships between the U.S. and Japan and providing a completely tooled and productive rocket program for Japan ahead of schedule, earning him distinguished service commendations from the Emperor of Japan and high ranking officials in the Japanese business community.
Upon retirement in 1982 Skins moved to Pollock Pines, Calif., where he and his wife Rita lived until her passing in 2003. In 1986, upon the tragic explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, he was requested to come out of retirement to help determine the cause of the rocket failure. Using his slide rule and drawing on his vast knowledge, he was able to determine the source of the failure, enabling the continuation of the Space Shuttle Program.
Skins, although blind with macular degeneration, was an avid golfer and sunk three holes in one after becoming legally blind. For the last three years he had been a resident at Eskaton Village in Placerville. Our gentle and fun-loving Dad/Papa will not only be missed by his loving family but also by many Placerville residents and businesses where he could be found enjoying dinner and dancing to the music of local bands until after his 90th birthday. His life was an adventure with a purpose that touched all of us in some way.
In lieu of flowers please make donations to the American Cancer Society, P.O. Box 22718, Oklahoma City, OK 73123-1718, or the Disabled American Veterans, P.O. Box 14301, Cincinnati, OH 45290-0301.