Noted Cyber Security Researcher 'Had a Certain Magic'
Daniel Perez | April 11, 2013 | UNIVERSITY COMMUNICATIONS
Dr. Ralph Martinez
Those at The University of Texas at El Paso who studied under or worked alongside Ralph Martinez, Ph.D., were unanimous in their love and respect for the professor who died suddenly April 2, 2013, but it was his wife who offered a different perspective that completed the portrait of the man.
Martinez, 69, was lauded as a brilliant, patient and caring individual by those who knew him as UTEP's George W. Edwards, Jr./El Paso Electric distinguished professor in the College of Engineering and the University's director of Energy Initiatives and its Regional Cyber and Energy Security (RCES) Center.
He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering from UTEP in the late 1960s and returned in 2010 after more than 35 years in academia and industry. University officials coaxed him out of retirement to help build its energy security curriculum.
Taking the job made him happy, said Nina Alvan-Martinez, his wife of 11 years. She talked about her husband in the couple's West Side home next to the Coronado Country Club as their two cairn terriers, Sasha and Maggie Mae, lounged nearby.
"He loved it. He was thrilled to be back. He felt at home. He was so proud of UTEP and loved his students and incorporated them into his life," she said. "Coming back here was the best thing he ever did."
While she agreed with the representation painted by his UTEP family, she added that her husband, who she affectionately called "Ralphie," was as mischievous as a little boy at times. One of his latest examples was hiding colorful malted milk Easter eggs for her to find around the house.
She said he was professional and inquisitive to the end. He submitted a project proposal before he left for the hospital the day he died of a pulmonary embolism, and requested to see his X-rays in the emergency room. She said the doctor asked if he could read one and Martinez responded that he couldn't, but would figure it out.
"He was one of a kind," she said.
Martinez, a four-sport athlete at Burges High School, was among three sons born to Ralph and Consuela Martinez, owners of a downtown El Paso typewriter shop. Although financially strapped, the family's home was full of love and laughter. He followed his older brother into electrical engineering and put himself through school by taking several jobs, including some at the University.
He left home to pursue his doctorate in electrical engineering, which he earned in 1976 from the University of Arizona. He worked there for around 22 years and "retired" in 2005 as an associate professor emeritus. Through the years, he also contracted with the U.S. military and defense firms across the country where he interacted with utility, commercial, and industrial customers to develop new products and services that involved computer networking, distributed computing, power systems, and telemedicine applications.
One of the main reasons he returned to academia was to work with students such as Pablo Rangel Guzman, an electrical and computer engineering doctoral student who had known Martinez since 2011 and was sometimes entrusted to care for the Martinez's dogs while the couple was out of town.
"He was a great man, a great boss, a great mentor," Rangel Guzman said. "He was a genius, but very human. He had a certain magic."
Other current and former student staffers mentioned how Martinez also was a father figure who had an open-door policy to discuss work and life. Several said how he used his personal story of perseverance to get them to stay on their academic journeys. Among them was Theresa Provencio, who started working with Martinez as a systems engineering graduate student and now is an RCES staff member.
She worked closely with Martinez and several others to create the "EmPower the Miner M" design competition where student teams had to create viable and cost-effective ways to use solar energy to light the "M" on the mountain next to the Sun Bowl Stadium.
"I hope to see this project through to completion because the 'M' will not simply stand for Miners to me. It also will stand for Martinez, someone who empowered students to live up to their potential," she said.
His combination of personal and professional skills made him a valuable resource, said Richard Schoephoerster, Ph.D., dean of the College of Engineering.
"In tough situations involving tough negotiations with tough people, we always sent Ralph because he stayed calm, stayed with the facts, and could move things forward in a positive, professional way," he said. "He was brilliant at that."
Schoephoerster praised Martinez as a mentor to students, junior faculty, and even himself in his efforts to become a better golfer. He was one of many friends who talked about Martinez's lifelong love of golf. He said Martinez had a "beautiful" swing and would practice his short game on his backyard putting green.
He said that other faculty and staff would try to fill the professional void left by Martinez's death, but added that Martinez had created a superior team at the RCES Center that could keep things moving forward until a new director is hired.
Martinez is survived by his wife, his two sons and a daughter, eight grandchildren, two brothers and extended family. He was preceded in death by his parents and his son, John David.
The Martinez family and friends have begun a scholarship in Dr. Martinez's memory. Donations can be made to UTEP for the Dr. Ralph Martinez Memorial Scholarship.
Please make your donation online at givingto.utep.edu. Select "Other" from the pull-down menu and enter Ralph Martinez Memorial Scholarship.
Donations may also be mailed to UTEP, Office of Institutional Advancement, Kelly Hall 7th Floor, 500 W. University Ave., El Paso, TX 79968-0524.