John Savides, Designer of Meteorological Satellites, Was 90

PALO ALTO, CA – John Savides passed away peacefully in his sleep on March 1, in Palo Alto at the age of 90. His spirit held strong until his final breath.

Savides was born in New York City on January 8, 1929. His parents Michael and Susanna Savides immigrated to the U.S. from Greece for a better life. Savides lived with his parents and his older brother Chris in the Bronx until 1931 when his family returned to Greece due to the Great Depression. Savides’ family lived in Piraeus where his father owned a small candy factory. During World War II, German Nazi officers occupied the first floor of the family home. John’s family survived World War II unscathed, but then the Civil War broke out in Greece which caused further challenges for the family. In 1946, Savides left Greece alone and joined his brother in America. Despite speaking only limited English and having little money, he completed his senior year of high school in New York City, then went on to earn a degree in electrical engineering from the City College of New York and his master’s degree in electrical engineering from Columbia University. While in college, Savides was an avid soccer player and worked his way up from busboy to waiter at the famed New York Athletic Club.

Savides’ first engineering position was with Bell Aircraft in Buffalo, NY in 1951, followed by a 1955 position with Sperry Gryoscope in NYC. In 1959, he moved to Philadelphia to become the technical director for General Electric’s NIMBUS program, the first experimental weather satellite. In 1962, he joined Philco Company’s Western Development Lab, later to become Ford Aerospace and then Space Systems Loral in Palo Alto. Savides spent much of his career designing meteorological satellites, especially those for the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite system (GOES) which supports weather forecasting, severe storm tracking, and meteorology research. The early weather report images people watched on the evening news came from the GOES satellites. He also was involved in the Indian National Satellite (INSAT) program and in 1981 was the mission director in India for the launch of INSAT-1A, as well as INSAT 1-B which was launched on the Space Shuttle STS 8. During his aerospace career he was given the honorary titles of “Mr. NIMBUS” and “Mr. GOES” for recognition as the leader of two major space programs, which according to his peers is “like winning two academy awards for best director!”

John met his wife Anita in 1957 at a Greek social in New York City. After marrying in 1959, they moved to Philadelphia and then to Los Altos in 1964. Savides enjoyed volunteering as an Indian Guides dad and coaching youth soccer. He and Anita played much social tennis and later became active members of Fremont Hills Country Club where they still belong. They moved right up the hill from the Club in 1972 and lived in Los Altos Hills for over 40 years. Savides continued playing tennis three times per week up until age 86.

When the children were young, he and Anita brought them to the courts to entertain themselves nearby while they played tennis. In the process, his children picked up a passion for the sport and became competitive tennis players themselves. The main emphasis in the Savides household, in addition to strong work ethic, was always on academics, and most evenings Savides would help one of the kids with their math or science homework.

Savides was very proud of his Greek American heritage. He had a wonderful voice and sang in several Greek choirs over the years, including at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in San Jose. Savides loved Greek dancing and food. He also enjoyed cooking, especially roasting whole lambs on Greek Easter. His annual Christmas Eve party became a ritual for over 30 years for a generation of families and connected a variety of friends around his infamous “fish house punch.”

A perfect day for Savides would be making scrambled eggs for breakfast, playing “family doubles” tennis at Fremont Hills Country Club, followed by cheering (or yelling) for the 49ers, and then a dinner of fried tilapia, Greek salad, and a cold beer. There would always be lots of noise and likely an “Opa!” shouted during the meal. John and Anita also enjoyed feasting with friends at dinner parties, and John remained active as leader of a Loral alumni group, enjoying their meetings and weekly walks in the hills.

Savides is fondly remembered as a true gentleman by his colleagues, friends, and family. He was kind, caring and considerate to everyone, viewed as gentle and even tempered. He was known for working hard and playing hard, and he expected the same from his children. He had an infectious zest for life, for connecting with others, and for having a good time.

Savides is survived by his wife of 59 years, Anita Savides, his three children: Tom Savides of Del Mar, Stacy Savides Sullivan of Los Altos, and Stephanie Savides of Menlo Park, and his five grandchildren: Jack Sullivan, Samantha Andrew, Max Sullivan, Michael Savides, and Jake Andrew, who all loved him dearly.

Family and friends are invited to attend a Funeral Service Thursday, March 7 at 10:30 AM at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in San Jose, CA. The family will be holding a celebration of his life later in March where friends and family can gather to celebrate and remember John, as he touched so many people in the community. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donating on John’s behalf toward Alzheimer’s research or to the Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in San Jose.

(From the San Francisco Chronicle, published on Mar. 5)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available