Memorial service Thursday for Erna Viterbi, wife of Qualcomm co-founder

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Erna and Andrew Viterbi, photographed here in 2005, named the USC School of Engineering and endowed chairs and scholarships. (Photo/Steve Cohn)

SAN DIEGO — A memorial service will be held Thursday for Erna Viterbi, wife of Qualcomm co-founder and philanthropist Andrew Viterbi.

The 81-year-old native of Sarajevo in the former Yugoslavia, died Tuesday at her San Diego home, according to officials with USC. She met her husband, a USC trustee, in 1956 and they married two years later.

“For well over five decades, Erna was Andy’s beloved wife and trusted partner as they built an extraordinary life together,” USC President C.L. Max Nikias said. “She earned the affection and admiration of everyone in the Trojan family, and we take comfort in knowing that her remarkable life story will inspire generations of Trojans to come.”

Andrew Viterbi developed an algorithm that made error-free wireless transmissions possible, and founded Qualcomm with Irwin Jacobs. The company is now a leader in mobile wireless technology.

In 2004, he gave $52 million to USC, where his name is on the Viterbi School of Engineering.

The couple gave $15 million last year to support scholarships in engineering and genocide studies, including five endowed chairs and five graduate student fellowships at the engineering school.

Erna Viterbi, meanwhile, held leadership roles at philanthropies around the world, and along with Andrew gave generously to educational institutions, health sciences research, veterans causes and arts organizations.

As a child, Erna’s Jewish family fled to Italy to escape the German army during World War II. They eventually waited out the war in Switzerland and settled in California in 1950.

She is survived by her husband; son, Alan; daughter, Audrey; and numerous grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday at Congregation Beth El, 8660 Gilman Drive in La Jolla, followed by interment at El Camino Memorial Park, 5600 Carroll Canyon Road in San Diego.

A service at USC is pending.

[UPDATE: An image previously used in the article was incorrectly identified by Getty Images as Andrew Viterbi and his wife.  We regret the error.]

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