Frank Lynch (Daily Pilot / December 1, 2010)

Frank W. Lynch, a founding trustee of the Orange County Performing Arts Center and noted philanthropist whose career at the defense and aerospace contractor Northrop Corp. spanned nearly four decades of the Cold War, has died. He was 88.

Lynch, who was born in San Francisco, died suddenly of natural causes at his Corona del Mar home on Nov. 21, his family said.

During the 1980s Lynch was president of Northrop. After retiring from the company, in his 70s he went back to school to pursue a third bachelor's degree. He spent many of his later years as a patron of the arts and education in Newport-Mesa, Irvine, Orange County and beyond, his family said.

On the board of trustees at the Irvine Barclay Theatre and several other U.S. arts organizations, Lynch contributed generously. Along with his wife, Marilyn Hopwood Lynch, who died in 1998, he supported South Coast Repertory, the Corona del Mar Baroque Music Festival, and the (now closed) Ballet Pacifica.

"They shared a love of music and the arts," said his daughter Molly, a Corona del Mar resident.

As a jazz trumpeter in his youth, Lynch once played gigs on a steamboat on the Mississippi River.

His career in aerospace brought Lynch through a series of triumphs and controversies. His career had its roots in high school, when he worked at a local airfield and learned to fly crop dusters. During World War II Lynch served in the Pacific as a technical officer in the Army Air Corps, his family said.

According to the family, he started working for Northrop in 1950, beginning as a research assistant in the special weapons division and developing an expertise in guidance systems. Later, Lynch served as senior vice president of operations and joined the board of directors in 1974.

"We were a Northrop family," Molly Lynch said.

During the 1980s, the defense and aerospace giant developed technology for the stealth bomber. Lynch sometimes saw Northrop's contribution to the stealth program as a vindication of the company's B-49 Flying Wing experiments in the early 1950s, his family said.

Yet it was also during the '80s, when Lynch was Northrop's president, chief operating officer and later its vice chairman, that the company became embroiled in some publicized scandals. For example, according to reports in the Los Angeles Times, in 1987 he testified before Congress over allegations that Northrop falsified test results and otherwise botched the production of a guidance device for U.S. nuclear-armed cruise missiles.

He was the Northrop executive who publically apologized for the problems, according to archived L.A. Times reports. The company eventually paid a $17 million fine to the U.S. government and settled with shareholders for $18 million after a number of corporate scandals became public.

In 1989, Lynch retired from Northrop at age 68.

As a pensioner he didn't have much spare time. Lynch enrolled at UC Irvine where he his third bachelor's, and he volunteered for a program at local schools where he read with third-graders.

Promoting education, as with the arts, was a big part of Lynch's life. He served on the board of trustees for the Newport Beach Public Library, on the California State University Foundation, and on the UCI Deans Advisory Committees for the schools of engineering, arts, and social sciences.

"Nobody had a kinder heart or was more willing to lend his support to a worthy cause or a person in need," said his other daughter, Kathryn Lynch, a professor and dean at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. Both daughters are in academia; Molly is a dance professor at UCI.

Lynch also had earned bachelor's degrees in political science and electrical engineering from Stanford University. His third bachelor's was cum laude in economics.

His daughters said that Lynch was always on the cutting edge of technology. He was the first person on his block to use a hand-held calculator, and to wear an electric wrist watch, own an answering machine, a video recorder, a cell phone and a personal computer, they said. Near the end of his life, he read devotedly from his Kindle.

Also an avid boater, Lynch was a member and one-time commodore of the Balboa Yacht Club. He would race and cruise on several boats he owned over the years, and enjoyed sailing with his family to Catalina.

Besides his daughters, Lynch is survived by his brother Robert Lynch, of Smith River, Calif; and three grandchildren. No memorial service is planned at this time. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to the Balboa Yacht Club Maritime Sciences and Seamanship Foundation, the National Choreographers Initiative, UC Irvine or Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian.