LaFranchi was born Edward Alvin Lafranchi in Petaluma, Calif., on July 23, 1928 to Fridolino and Zelma LaFranchi. He was raised in Nicasio on his family's dairy and attended Nicasio elementary school. He graduated from St. Anselms High School and in 1950 he graduated from Santa Clara University with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering.
Upon graduation in 1950, he went to work for the University of California Radiation Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) as we know it today, where he worked on the development, installation and maintenance of electronic systems connected with a 32 MEV LINAC. After only a year at Berkeley, his boss told him that due to a change in the draft law, they were not going to ask for a draft deferment for him. This was during the Korean War, so LaFranchi signed up for the U.S. Air Force where he spent two years serving as a communications officer. Upon discharge, he resumed his job at LBNL and then transferred in 1953 to the University of California Radiation Laboratory site in Livermore, known today as the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), as one of the Lab's earliest employees and one of the first computer engineers at the Lab.
George Michael, a pioneering computational physicist at LLNL, worked with LaFranchi at the Lab beginning in 1953. In 1997 he interviewed LaFranchi on his career, which began in the Computation Department.
In the interview, LaFranchi recalls that when asked to come to Livermore to work on computers, he had no idea what computers even were. His first job was working on the UNIVAC. "I remember the first time I walked inside the machine and saw the Mercury Delay Tanks and tried to figure out what was going on. It was fascinating stuff, it really was," LaFranchi said.
LaFranchi held numerous leadership positions at LLNL during his 38-year career. While LaFranchi spent his early years at the Lab in Computation, he is most well-known for his contributions as a senior manager in the Engineering Directorate.
LaFranchi became the department head of the Electronics Engineering Department in 1973. In this role he was responsible for the technical and administrative management of the organization, which consisted of six divisions and approximately 1,100 people. In 1987, he became the deputy associate director for Engineering Operations and in 1989 became deputy associate director of the Engineering Directorate where he remained until his retirement in 1991. As deputy associate director, LaFranchi was responsible for the management of the Engineering Research Program, Computer-Aided Engineering Program and the Lab's Small Computer Systems Program. He also acted as an alternate to the associate director.
Roger Werne, deputy director of the Industrial Partnerships Office (IPO), was the associate director of the Engineering Directorate when LaFranchi was the deputy associate director. "Ed LaFranchi was one of the pioneers in the Engineering organization as we know it today," Werne said. "His care for the people of Engineering was always at the top of his priority list while at the same time ensuring that Engineering 'delivered the goods' for the programs. That spirit and practice is still alive today thanks to the legacy left by Ed. "
Monya Lane, associate director for the Engineering Directorate since 2010, has worked in Engineering since she joined the Lab in 1979. "Ed was one of the early employees of the Laboratory, and as the Laboratory grew and progressed he personally influenced a great many employee careers as an Engineering leader, friend and colleague," she said. "Even after retiring, Ed continued to be active with the LLNL Archives committee. He also authored a wonderful book, "History and Reflections of Engineering at LLNL 1952-2002," for the Laboratory's 50th anniversary, which was widely distributed and which I still use as an ongoing reference."
Randy Pico, senior superintendent and safety officer within the Engineering Directorate, has known LaFranchi since joining the Lab in 1981. Pico also associated with LaFranchi at St. Michael's church. Pico fondly recalls LaFranchi as a "larger than life figure who enriched colleagues and summer interns with leadership, passion and integrity," he said. "His presence and expectations exemplified professionalism. From the moment I met Ed there was never a doubt that working at LLNL was something to be proud about science in the national interest," he said.
LaFranchi was a devoted member of the St. Michael Catholic community. A long-time member of the Knights of Columbus, one of the original Lectors and later Eucharistic Ministers, he was responsible for training new volunteers in these duties until his death. At various times, he chaired the parish council, was President of CCD and later led the legacy fund to build the parish education center.
LaFranchi enjoyed golfing, attending 49er games, wine tasting, deer hunting with his family, playing bridge and spending time with family especially his wife of 59 years,Ann.
Condolences and memories may be written in his guestbook on Legacy.com.