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Rocco Leonard Martino, inventor, author, and technology pioneer, dies at 91

Philadelphia Inquirer logo Philadelphia Inquirer 7/2/2020 By Bonnie L. Cook, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Rocco Leonard Martino, 91, a world-renowned inventor, author, and technology industry pioneer, died Monday, June 29, of cancer at his Villanova home.

Known as “Rocky,” he contributed computer and information advances that made the information age possible, including the development of technology for an early smartphone. He held 60 patents, was the founding leader of several technology companies, and authored 30 books.

“In so many ways, he was larger than life,” said Sister Carol Jean Vale, president of Chestnut Hill College, which he and his wife supported with gifts. “Rocky’s accomplishments during some 65 years in technology earned him a global reputation.”

He was born in Canada to Josephine DiGiulio and Domenico Martino, both immigrants from Italy. His father was a noted chef. His mother died when he was 8. As a result, closeness with family and his Catholic faith became his touchstones.

He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics and physics from the University of Toronto, followed in 1956 by a Ph.D. in aeronautical engineering from the school’s Institute of Aerospace Studies.

His doctoral dissertation, in which he worked out the heat calculations needed for the safe reentry of spacecrafts into the earth’s atmosphere, became a building block for manned space travel. Canadian and American defense officials took notice, and his career was launched.

In the 1950s, Dr. Martino worked with John Mauchly, coinventor of the first electronic computer, ENIAC. During this time, Dr. Martino developed computer language for various uses.

In the early 1960s, the two created the Critical Path Method, a scheduling system for complex projects. It was used to create the Polaris intercontinental ballistic missile and to build the World Trade Center in New York.

In the late 1960s, Dr. Martino founded the first national computer training center to advise businesses and organizations on how to implement computer systems. In 1969, his company, Information Industries, Inc., went public on the New York Stock Exchange.

In 1972, he founded the software company XRT, Inc., which created automated systems for finance, business, and health care. He later sold it.

In the mid-1990s, Dr. Martino developed and patented the CyberFone, a precursor to the smartphone. He conceived of using the phone as a data entry device for computer systems, and had the technique operational by 1995, more than a decade before the iPhone was introduced.

Despite the importance of his inventions, he didn’t take himself too seriously. In a 2018 article posted on aletia.org, he apologized for making “addicts out of all of your children in the use of smartphones.”

“They cannot have a meal without their smartphone by their side. … But then again, I keep my own smartphone near my plate just as you do, and we are both often interrupted by messages and urgent emails we just have to read and answer.”

His early allegiance to the Catholic Church paved the way for his own volunteerism and for philanthropy with his wife, Barbara D’Iorio Martino, whom he married in 1961. They donated a building to Chestnut Hill College, her alma mater, and helped acquire the Sugarloaf property for the college.

He was vice chair of the special gift committee of Catholic Charities, campaign chair of the $34 million restoration of the Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore completed in 2006, and head of national and international Catholic charity drives.

In 1991, Pope John Paul II bestowed on him the Papal Knighthood in the Order of St. Gregory the Great. In 2000, Chestnut Hill College awarded him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

Dr. Martino enjoyed sailing, travel, and spending summers with family in Sea Isle City, N.J.

Beside his wife, he is survived by sons Peter, Joseph, Paul, and John; 13 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

A viewing is scheduled from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday, July 5, at McConaghy Funeral Home, 328 W. Lancaster Ave., Ardmore. A second viewing is set for 9:30 to 11 a.m. Monday, July 6, at St. Katharine of Siena Church, Lancaster and Aberdeen Avenues, Wayne. Funeral services are set for 11. Entombment is to be in SS. Peter & Paul Cemetery, Springfield. Masks and social distancing are required.

Donations for Catholic education may be made to the Rocco & Barbara Martino Foundation, c/o Stradley, Ronan, Stevens & Young, Attn: Michele Lubus, 2005 Market St., Ste. 2600, Philadelphia, Pa. 19103.

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