In Memoriam: John A. Leonowich


by Edward F. Maher, CHP

The Society and profession lost a leader and friend upon the untimely death of John A. Leonowich, 53, on 21 May 2007 in Las Vegas, Nevada. John was born in New York City on 16 July 1953, was raised in New York City (Queens), and attended Stuyvesant High School. John prepared for his successful career in health physics at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, receiving a BS in physics in 1974, an MS in nuclear engineering in 1976, and a PhD in radiological engineering in 1985. He also studied for a master of public health at the Harvard School of Public Health from 1978 to 1980 as a United States Air Force (USAF)-sponsored student.

John was an active-duty commissioned officer in the Biomedical Science Corps of the USAF from 1976 to 1986 and was both a health physicist and industrial hygienist. In the late 1970s, John played a key role in managing the relocation of the USAF Radiological Health Laboratory from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (AFB), Ohio, to Brooks AFB, Texas. During his Air Force service he was stationed at Brooks AFB, Texas, and Patrick AFB, Florida. John was responsible for the radiation safety program at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. After leaving the Air Force, John served as a radiological engineer with Public Service Electric and Gas in Salem, New Jersey.

John moved to Richland, Washington, in 1987 and began his long association with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) that spanned from 1987 to 2006. John managed health physics programs for Department of Energy Headquarters. While at PNNL, John supported the USAF Intrinsic Radiation (INRAD) Program and conducted studies that characterized the ionizing radiation environment around nuclear weapon handlers and maintenance technicians. John was also an international expert in nonionizing radiation protection and conducted radiofrequency and microwave radiation surveys at countless USAF facilities and was a committee member of the American National Standards Institute/Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (ANSI/IEEE) C95 Committee for the development of radiofrequency and microwave exposure standards. He was an editor for the peer-reviewed journal Radiation Protection Dosimetry, a Fellow of the Health Physics Society, a voting member of the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists physical agents committee, and a voting member of the IEEE International Committee on Electromagnetic Safety.

Post 9/11, John worked on homeland security-related projects at PNNL that included training at the HAMMER facility in the use of radiation detection instrumentation for customs officers from the United States and Eastern European countries. He was also a highly regarded instructor for the Health Physics Society summer school. John also served as attending health physicist during a monitoring trip to Siberia, Russia, since he was fluent in the Russian language. He also worked on the evaluation of handheld personnel radiation detectors and provided support to the security work at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City.

John was a unique individual with a personality that encouraged friendship and fun. He was an avid collector. These collections included stamps, guns, and airplane/ship models. He had a particular affinity towards Godzilla, collecting all sets of memorabilia, and even flew to Tokyo, Japan, for the premier of the new Godzilla movie. John's contributions to the field of radiation health physics are significant, but he will be mostly remembered for his engaging personality and friendly smile.

In 2006, John changed jobs and moved to Nevada to be the radiation safety officer at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. John had recently started work at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and was happy with the prospects of continuing his work at this new location. During his short time there, he quickly became a well-liked and well-respected member of the staff. John showed kindness and generosity to others on numerous occasions. His good humor and camaraderie will be greatly missed.

John is survived by his aunt, Tina Leonowich-Perry, and his cousin, Paul Leonowich. He was buried on 30 May 2007 in New York City.

Any gifts in memorial for John can be sent to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York.