Nicholas Begovich, an engineer, car enthusiast…
Nicholas Begovich, an engineer, car enthusiast and supporter of Cal State Fullerton, has died
Nicholas Begovich died Sunday, May 3 at the age of 98. On Feb. 29, Begovich, here with wife Lee, donated a postwar European sports car collection worth an estimated $10 million to CSUF’s Center for Gravitational-Wave Physics and Astronomy center. The center was renamed in his honor.
By SUSAN GILL VARDON, Orange County Register
PUBLISHED: May 6, 2020 at 7:50 p.m. | UPDATED: May 7, 2020 at 4:54 p.m.
Nicholas Begovich, an engineer and philanthropist who has been in awe of the “wonders of science” all his life and combined those passions with a $10 million gift of his beloved collection of postwar European sports cars to Cal State Fullerton’s gravitational-wave center earlier this year, has died.
Begovich died Sunday, May 3, at St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton after a year of declining health, said his stepdaughter Ann Carlson. He was 98.
“It’s very sad that he died, but he got 97 years of good health,” Carlson, of Los Angeles, said Wednesday, May 6. “His mind was sharp until the end.”
Longtime Fullerton residents, Begovich and his wife of 21 years, Lee, 91, have been major donors to Cal State Fullerton and St. Jude Medical Center.
The couple’s gifts to CSUF total $12 million. Initially, their support centered on the arts, Pollak Library and the President’s Scholars Endowment Fund. Following a $1 million gift to the Arts Department in 2010, the Main Art Gallery was renamed the Nicholas and Lee Begovich Gallery in their honor.
But after touring the university’s gravitational-wave center and hearing about its contributions to the first discovery of the ripples in the fabric of space-time in 2016, Begovich became an enthusiastic supporter of the research and the center. He read scores of books on the subject and frequently stopped by to quiz physics professors Joshua Smith and Geoffrey Lovelace – keeping them on their toes.
On Feb. 29 at an event at CSUF, officials announced that Nicholas and Lee Begovich, an art historian and former first-grade teacher, were donating 15 postwar sports cars valued at $10 million to the gravitational-wave center, which has since been renamed the Nicholas and Lee Begovich Gravitational-Wave Physics and Astronomy Center.
At the event, Begovich talked excitedly about exposing CSUF students to the “absolute wonders of science.”
“If you look at what Einstein did 100 years ago, he predicted gravitational waves, and he did it by sitting at a table with a pad of paper and pencil and cooked it up in his mind,” he said. “It took 100 years to get the technology to actually measure what he said. That’s absolutely amazing – that a human mind can think of something that it took us 100 years to measure.”
CSUF President Fram Virjee, a longtime friend of Begovich, described him as a “kind and caring friend, mentor, teacher and colleague – not just to me, but to every single Titan who was ever blessed to have crossed paths with him.”
“The collective brainpower of our world is diminished today, but will rise to even greater heights because of Nick’s passion for education and knowledge,” Virjee said. “Long before transforming CSUF, Nick quite literally changed, and some would even say saved, our nation with his engineering ingenuity and legendary generosity. He encapsulated what it means to be a Titan, and in many ways, he was the Titan, inspiring generations of students, faculty and staff to continuously learn, mentor, teach, grow and share.”
Begovich received his bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Caltech. He spent 22 years with Hughes Aircraft, advancing to director of engineering and later vice president of Hughes Ground Systems Group at Hughes Fullerton. He retired after having served as corporate vice president and president of Data Systems for Litton Industries.
After his retirement, he served on the Army Science Board and on the staff of the Applied Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins University.
Begovich was single-minded about his passions, said Carlson, a professor of environmental law and faculty co-director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the UCLA School of Law.
“He had few interests and loves, but he had interests and loves that were incredibly deep,” she said. “He knew at 5 he wanted to be a scientist. He didn’t understand why the kids went off to college and didn’t want to study science. That was foreign to him.”
His first wife, Joan Deopker Begovich, died in 1987. When he met Lee they had both been widowed. Begovich didn’t have any children, but Lee had three daughters.
“We really became his daughters,” Carlson said. “Family was very important to him.”
His love for his cars – ranging from a 1952 Jaguar XK120 from England to a 1953 Pegaso Z102B from Spain and a 1956 Porsche Speedster from Germany – continued to his last days, his stepdaughter said.
“He didn’t just collect them, he worked on them until about a month ago,” she said. “He keeps them in a couple garages and machined his own tools, took the engines out, found the flaws and would rebuild them. It was really what kept him alive and going.”
Begovich is survived by his wife, Lee Begovich; three stepdaughters, Ann, Cynthia and Jill Carlson, and their spouses; four step-grandchildren and four step-great-grandchildren.
A private burial service will be held on Thursday, May 7, at Loma Vista Memorial Park in Fullerton.
The family plans to do a memorial service when it is safe to do so, Carlson said, probably on the Cal State Fullerton campus.