Gwendolynn “Lynn” Taber says she always felt like a teenager when she was near John Taber (BS ’46). She was 65 years old when she met John, 76, on a hiking expedition in New Zealand in 2002. After spending the day outdoors, the pair would go shopping and eat dinner together. John even bought her a scoop of ice cream. 

Both had been married before and raised large families in Southern California, but they found themselves in love. “I lost my first husband, and I didn’t want to go through the heartache,” Lynn says. “But John made me feel like a 16-year-old girl again and I fell really hard for him.” They married two years later and remained together until his passing in 2022. 

A Sense of Belonging

To love John was to love Caltech, Lynn discovered. Early in their relationship, John drove her to Pasadena and walked her around campus. As they looked at places that were meaningful to him, John talked about his student days. His Caltech education prepared him for a career developing satellite communication systems for TRW (now Northrop Grumman). To honor his contributions, NASA awarded him its Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal in 1974. Yet John’s connection to the Institute ran deeper than academics. The Caltech community offered him a sense of belonging, Lynn says. 

“Growing up, John always felt different from everyone else,” Lynn explains. His analytical mind and precise nature contributed to his brilliance, but could be difficult for others to understand, she adds. “Finding Caltech was a miracle for him. The other students saw the world just as he did.” 

Once John found his tribe, he remained fiercely loyal to it. For roughly half a century, he met regularly with a handful of classmates for dinners and outings. He attended nearly every Seminar Day throughout his 18-year marriage to Lynn, and many more before. Together, Lynn and John attended Caltech Associates events where they dined with Nobel laureates, learned from Caltech researchers, and toured research facilities such as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). Soon, Caltech was not just John’s community, but Lynn’s, too. 

“Caltech events include alumni but also a lot of other really smart and interesting people,” Lynn says. “They made me feel so welcomed.” 

A Risk Worth Taking 

As John was planning his estate, Caltech was again on his mind. He wanted to give back to his alma mater in a way that would make both the Institute and the world better. After talking with staff in Caltech’s Office of Gift Planning, John used his IRA to establish the John and Gwendolynn Taber Discovery Fund. Designed to support research at its earliest stages, the fund empowers scholars in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science to take bold risks. It was John’s hope that his gift would serve as a bridge between ideas and world-changing solutions.

“Doing standard science and engineering is easy,” Lynn says. “Trying something completely new is harder. Yes, of course, there's more risk involved, but without risk, what do we have?”