E. Towson Moore
Class of 1958, BS
In the early 1950s, E. Towson Moore, as a young teenager growing up in Wytheville, Virginia, was introduced to “ham radio” by a newfound friend and mentor at the local radio station. The radio technician was “probably the closest occupation to an engineer in the entire town of 3,500,” he says. “He helped me with the building of a homemade transmitter, and I would get up at 4:00 a.m. and talk in Morse code to people all over the world. That started my interest in electrical engineering,” Towson explains.
Towson had already sharpened his mechanical skills, working on the family farm. “I spent a lot of time on our John Deere tractor, and I always had to fix parts or get things welded.” And if he wasn’t feeding the Angus beef cattle on the farm, he could be found at his father’s lumber company, helping with the retail business.
The busy youngster still found time for sports, although Wytheville High School only offered its basketball team an outdoor court in the 1950s. “We had some cold practices,” he smiles, and “all of our games were away.” When he selected Virginia Tech’s respected engineering program, he thought he might continue his basketball playing as a walk-on for the team. “It wasn’t long before I turned to the track team,” he reports, “and being on that team was as important to me as anything I did in college. I lettered as a high jumper.”
When Towson arrived at Virginia Tech, he found most of his classmates had come from more advanced 12-year school systems. Having just graduated from Wytheville’s at-that-time 11-year system, Towson remembers, “I was a little awed. For many of these students, the freshman math classes were almost a review. I had to scramble that first quarter” to keep up, the southwest Virginia native recalls. But the true competitor was later inducted into three academic honorary societies at Virginia Tech: Phi Kappa Phi, Eta Kappa Nu, and Tau Beta Pi.
Keeping his tradition for a busy schedule, he was also a four-year member of the Corps of Cadets. Towson recalls an added bonus of being with the Corps was the uniform took care of almost all of his clothing needs. “I did not come from a wealthy family,” and the Corps and ROTC program “solved some of the financial burden.” Upon his graduation in 1958 as a newly minted Second Lieutenant, he entered the U.S. Army. He served the active portion of his military obligation at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, and then spent a few months with Sperry Corporation designing components for inertial navigation systems. At Sperry, his supervisor was a physicist with a doctorate from Duke University. “He was influential in my life,” Towson recalls, and he soon decided to pursue a similar track while he “was still a bachelor with no obligations.” Duke accepted Towson and provided him with a Shell Engineering Fellowship, making it possible for him to be a full-time student. Graduating in 1963, Towson holds the distinction of being the first doctoral graduate of Duke University’s engineering college.
Towson’s academic ability caught the attention of Thomas Wilson, a Ph.D. from Harvard University, who became his faculty research advisor. Together, they authored numerous technical publications and were issued several patents related to the pioneering work they were doing at the Spacecraft Power Systems Group at Duke. At that time, when the U.S. was in the midst of the space race, NASA funded most of the laboratory’s work. Upon Towson’s graduation, he and his advisor started Wilmore Electronics Co., Inc., near the university campus. They chose the name Wilmore as a combination of their two last names.
“Duke encouraged its faculty to work one day a week in industry, so Tom was able to spend time at Wilmore. “We bootstrapped the new company, borrowing money from the bank — as much as they would lend us,” Towson recalls. “We had done some good work at Duke, so we were able to obtain some research money from NASA to investigate power systems and synchronous satellites.” During these early years, Wilmore developed and built equipment for a number of scientific satellites, including Pioneer 10, which was launched in 1972, left our solar system in 1987, and now eight billion miles from earth is the most distant man-made object in the universe.
Towson, who has served as Wilmore’s President and CEO since its founding, gradually moved his company, and its subsidiary, Energy Dynamics, Inc., into manufacturing. “Now 80 per cent of what we sell is proprietary products. We are not interested in selling research unless the R&D leads to manufacturing. We are proud that since we started hiring manufacturing people in 1970, we have never laid anyone off. We have about 100 employees” between the two companies.
Energy Dynamics, located in rural Caswell County, North Carolina, is an interesting concept in business developed by Wilmore. “We have a lot of manufacturers dependent on us to ship products on time. Regardless of the reason — fire, flood, tornado — if we cannot deliver our products, it could shut them down. So we have encouraged people to trust in us by having a redundant plant that duplicates all of our capabilities. This is not commonplace for a small operation,” Towson explains. The two locations provide state-of-the-art industrial power converters to a wide base of domestic and export customers, including energy, utility, vehicular, data communications, and railroad industries. Their customer base extends beyond the U.S. to more than 20 foreign countries.
“My first love has always been the technical challenge involved in the design and development of new products, and I have made a point of continuing a strong involvement with this aspect of the business,” Towson says. “I have always made sure that the administrative responsibilities have not driven a wedge between me and the technology. It’s a wonderful coincidence and a real blessing when one can earn a living at something that is truly fun.” Not surprisingly, he continues to work full time.
Along with the fun and challenges of family and work, Towson found time to take a special interest in the regional Goodwill Industries, serving as the Chairman of its Board of Directors, and in the nearby Durham Technical Community College, serving as a member of its Board of Trustees for nine years. He also served on its Foundation Board and on the Industrial Advisory Committee to its Electronics Technology Program.
In 1965, he married Linda Lunsford, a 12th grade teacher who chairs the English Department at Northern High School, Durham, North Carolina. They have two children: Alan, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree from North Carolina State and a master’s from Campbell University; and Jennifer, who received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Duke University, and a second master’s degree from the University of Maryland.
Class of: 1958
Year Inducted into Academy: 2005