Obituary: Carol Ruth (Munro) Yurkas

Beloved wife, mother, aerospace program manager

Carol Ruth Yurkas died peacefully in her own bed with her family by her side on January 30, after a long illness. “As a Claremont resident for 30 years, Carol’s life reflected her love for her family, commitment to the broader community along with a belief in the beauty of scientific thought,” her family shared.

In the words of Robert Frost:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

She was 63 years old.

She was born into a family of engineers in Sacramento. “As a unique young woman in the 1980s,  she chose a path in mathematics and engineering,” her family said. She achieved high academic success starting in her high school years in Mandeville, Jamaica. Collaborating in a world of diverse international students, she found ways to thrive with students of all backgrounds while excelling in the scientific disciplines.

Her journey next led her to complete a B.S. degree in mathematics at the University of California, Irvine, graduating with honors in 1982. She was selected as a resident staff to manage dormitory affairs. At this same time, she was one of the founding members of the Delta Delta Delta sorority. Her efforts helped to establish the house, which survives today on the UCI campus. Later in life, she contributed to the organization by becoming an advisor to the sorority’s California State University, Long Beach house.

In the summer between her junior and senior year she was accepted into a U.S. military internship at Fort Ord, California to work on algorithm design for satellite tracking systems. As a 21-year-old woman, she spent her days working with stern-minded military mathematicians in World War II era buildings, while spending her lunch time in the hills of the California coast looking out on Monterey Bay.

After graduating from UCI she took a position with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, working on linear programming equations to improve transmission line allocations.  During this time, she completed a master’s degree in systems engineering at UCLA.

After graduation from UCLA, she was recruited by Aerojet Electrosystems, the rocket propulsion company founded by Wernher von Braun after World War II to develop U.S. rocket and aerospace capabilities. She was quickly assigned to the defense support program. The Northrup Grumman built satellites were the original space borne segment of NORAD’s Tactical Warning and Attack Assessment System. Using infrared detectors that sense the heat from missile plumes against the earth background, these orbiting sentries detected, characterized, and tracked ballistic missile launches. She was an industry leader in satellite tracking algorithms for DSP.

“Obviously, Carol did not believe that she fit in any preset box,” her family added. “In 1991, while in labor during the birth of her second son, she was on her Blackberry up to delivery discussing satellite tracking during Operation Desert Storm in Iraq. For Carol, debating the mathematics of missile launch trajectory during wartime, while preparing to give birth was just simply a matter of doing two important things at the same time.”

She was instrumental in the deployment of a new DSP satellite on the Atlantis STS-44 Space Shuttle mission. As time progressed, her areas of responsibility increased, and she eventually became a program manager on the new Space Based Infrared Radar Systems. She traveled often to Sunnyvale, California, the Pentagon, and Washington D.C. to coordinate on software programming, military matters, and satellite specifications. She received numerous accolades, including the Northrup Grumman President’s Leadership Award in 2004 and 2006.

“While Carol was committed to making the world safer through mathematics, she devoted her time off to raising her children,” her family said. She was active as a parent volunteer in their schools along with positions in their PTAs. She was a troop leader with the local Boy Scouts and a Claremont Little League team mom. She enjoyed numerous ski trips throughout the western U.S. with her family, and was also able to take them on a private guided tour of the Pentagon. She loved spending time with her family. Not surprisingly, she was particularly fond of helping her sons with their math homework.

In 2008, she suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm. She went through comas, surgeries and seizures that left her partially paralyzed. “Well, of course, Carol didn’t agree with that idea,” her family said. “She spent months learning to stand and months learning to walk with a cane. She eventually went back to work in an advisory role until 2014. Her dear assistant Rosie drove her around for lunches and dinners and shopping and nail and facial appointments, because Carol felt that even if one was disabled, one should still look good.”

In her final years, her paralysis worsened. “Well, Carol didn’t agree with that idea either,” her family said. “Engineering offered solutions to human problems. She co-founded a startup company that developed a system allowing disabled individuals to walk independently without fear of falling. She continued to walk around her home independently even after her condition should have consigned her to a hospital bed. That 1980s gal with the big hair never believed that any woman should ever be placed in a box. She believed that the world was full of endless possibilities. She showed us it’s true.”

She is survived by her husband, two sons, two sisters, and her extended family.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 9 at Todd Memorial Chapel, 570 N. Garey Ave., Pomona 91767. More information is available via email to


Submit a Comment

Share This