Erna Viterbi, who survived the Nazi invasion of the former Yugoslavia and who gave generously to charities, passed away at 81.
Erna and her husband Andrew Viterbi, who founded Qualcomm, were trustees of the University of Southern California and was a co-namesake of the Viterbi School of Engineering. She was born Erna Finci in 1934 in Sarajevo, found shelter in Italy as the German army invaded, spent the war in Switzerland and moved to California in 1950. A friend introduced Erna and her future husband Andrew, and the two married in 1958. Andrew was pursuing a Ph.D. in electrical engineering at USC.
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Andrew Viterbi discovered the solution to his Viterbi Algorithm while on the beach with his wife and two children. The Viterbi Algorithm enabled error free wireless transmission, and Qualcomm was the first company to employ the algorithm. With wealth created during the wireless revolution, the company founded the engineering school at USC and donated $52 million, which at the time was the largest gift to any engineering school in the U.S. The couple gave $2 million for an electronics chair and $15 million to support scholarships in engineering and genocide studies, in addition to chairs and graduate fellowships. Andrew and Erna Viterbi also created an Executive Director Chair at the USC Shoah Foundation.
Yannis Yortsos, dean of USC Viterbi, said of Erna, “She was a wonderful human being, with great heart, generous spirit, full of optimism, humility and grace. We are all that much better because our paths in life crossed with hers, ” according to USC.edu.