Education – Melchors spent 50 years helping others live their dreams

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

UNC-CH News Bureau
High-tech pioneer Jack Melchor (UNC Class of 1948) and his wife Norma, a former nurse, have spent the past 50 years helping others live in good health ó and still more live their dreams.
They’ve made gifts to construct, then expand, El Camino Hospital in their beloved hometown of Los Altos, Calif., where Norma began volunteering in 1957 before there was even a hospital building. Supporting a range of needs, from education and conservation to human services, the Melchors have been generous with their time and money. Jack Melchor, a prolific entrepreneur with six patents and a long career with Hewlett-Packard, aided in the start-up of more than 100 companies as a venture capitalist, many in the Bay Area.
Their latest gift for the Melchor Distinguished Professorship in Physics in the College of Arts and Sciences at UNC continues that tradition of service ó this time benefiting Jack’s alma mater and future generations of physics scholars and teachers. The $1.5 million endowment will include $500,000 from the N.C. Distinguished Professors Trust Fund supported by the state General Assembly.
When a letter from physics and astronomy chair Laurie McNeil arrived in his mailbox in 2006, Jack was impressed that Carolina named a woman to chair the department.
“There was only one girl in my physics program in the 1940s,” Melchor said.
And though he estimates it’s been 30 years since he was in Chapel Hill, his Tar Heel connections remained strong.
A native of Mooresville, just north of Charlotte, Melchor was raised by family in the nearby mill town of China Grove after his mother died when he was 6 months old. An excellent student, Melchor focused on schoolwork and developed a special interest in math and science. He credits Paul Huffman, his high school science teacher, who inspired him with an early love of physics and scientific inquiry. Melchor’s potential was recognized with an invitation to Carolina’s Navy V-12 program in 1943, which prepared military officers for service during World War II.
While on leave from military duty in late 1944, Melchor met Norma at a USO event in South Bend, Ind. In 1946, they married and moved to Chapel Hill ó living in a 14-foot-wide trailer in Carolina’s famed Victory Village ó so Jack could complete his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics, and Norma could work at Duke University Hospital.
After earning his Ph.D. in physics in 1953 at Notre Dame (the Melchors also created a professorship there), the couple moved to California, where Melchor had a job at Sylvania Electronic Defense Labs. Within three years, he’d started his own company, Melabs, and by 1959, with six patents in microwave technology, he retired ó the first of four times. Until he retired for good in 1990, Melchor’s talent for business development kept him in demand as a consultant worldwide. Today, the couple enjoys keeping up with their four children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
They can also look forward to news from Chapel Hill when the first Melchor Distinguished Professor is named, and a top physics scholar and teacher inspires future scientists.
“The Melchors are giving us the opportunity to attract an outstanding scientist and educator at the most exciting stage in her or his career, when the early promise has borne fruit but there are still many exciting discoveries to come. Their gift will also help us attract excellent graduate students, the lifeblood of all science research,” said McNeil. “Private support makes the difference between hiring people whom we hope will become excellent and those whom we know already are.”
To read more about the Melchors, named Los Altans of the Year in 2007 by the Los Altos Town Crier, visit