Leandra Vicci of Chapel Hill, NC, died on 27 July 2019 at her home at The Cedars Retirement Community after struggling for several years with progressive worsening paraplegia and increasing pain.
Born as Vernon Longstreet Pou Tu Chi in China on March 18, 1940 to Emily Exner Chi and Hilary S. Y. Chi, she is survived by her sister Sylvia Stanat ’59 and her brother Benjamin Chi ’55, a niece Melissa Stanat and two nephews Greg and Doug Stanat, and predeceased by her wife, Ina Minerva Ish.
As Vernon, he attended Ridgewood (NJ) High School and graduated with a B.S. from Antioch College. Vernon had a stellar career as an engineer, working in a variety of roles at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Boeing Aerospace, Oregon Graduate Center, University of Oregon and Electro Scientific Industries.
He was particularly proud of his participation in the lunar orbiter program. In 1980,
Vernon moved to Chapel Hill to accept an appointment as founding Director of the Microelectronics Systems Laboratory of the Computer Science Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
As Leandra she continued on at UNC-CH as a lecturer and as the Director of the Applied Engineering Laboratory. During his/her tenure at the University of NC she received both the esteemed Chancellor’s Award for Innovation in Research and the NC Governor’s Award for Innovation. She was an author of dozens of scientific papers, book chapters and conference proceedings, and the holder of eight patents. Much of her work was collaborative with scientists of other disciplines; she had publications with dozens of co-authors.
His/her life was filled with adventures and with scientific achievements. As a young boy in Minnesota, Vern was encouraged to develop his imagination and was given “real” tools for toys. He was as inventive as he was curious and it served him well throughout life. As an undergraduate, he spent a year aboard a scientific research vessel with Woods Hole taking measurements all over the Indian Ocean, visiting ports of call in India, Africa, Australia and Southeast Asia, greatly enlarging and enhancing his world view.
Vernon and Ina became partners in 1973 while living in Washington State, later moving to Oregon where Vern worked at the University of Oregon and Electro Scientific Industries. The home most loved was in Portland in a modest wood-heated cottage tucked away a quarter mile behind a locked gate to Fire Lane 5 in Portland’s Forest Park, a 44,000 acre wilderness park. Vernon and Ina were married in 1980.
Vern was offered a position at UNC-CH in 1980 as Director of the newly formed Microelectronics Systems Laboratory. The volcanic eruption of Mt. Saint Helens affected their decision to move to Chapel Hill. Later they moved to a 26 acre farm in rural Silk Hope to accommodate their shared business, Longstreet Morgans. They remained there until 2017, producing a modest line of Morgan horses.
Late in life, Leandra described herself as a “techno-geek”, and her entire life revolved around her love of science and the technology for exploring and exploiting it. Vernon’s early jobs had been as engineer on specific projects, but his appointment as Director of the Microelectronics Systems Laboratory gave him unprecedented access to a variety of research projects and collaborators.
The result was a blossoming of Vernon’s and Leandra’s activities into a plethora of research projects with collaborators from a wide variety of disciplines. Research, publications and patents ensued on such topics as displays for virtual and augmented reality, circuit design for novel specialized computers, stages of mitosis in cell division, clock synchronization, fluid dynamics of waves and a first of its kind wave maker, a 3D microscope for exploring forces at the atomic level, and digital camera sensor design.
You can learn more about Leandra’s life and accomplishments at her UNC Department at http://www.cs.unc.edu/~vicci/
In 1999, after a lifelong struggle with her gender identity beginning at age 6, Vernon came out as Leandra and officially made the transition from biological man to transwoman. She and Ina remained married as loving committed partners. Lea suffered a spinal cord injury in 2015 resulting in paraplegia with concomitant progressive and painful spasticity. She became unable to continue her work at UNC and to keep up the farm. Lea and Ina moved to a small cottage in Durham. After Ina’s death, Lea’s final move was to The Cedars, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Chapel Hill where she lived until she died.
In lieu of flowers, please send contributions in her name to WCPE. This radio station was a constant companion in Leandra’s home and was rarely silenced. A memorial gathering of her friends and her colleagues will be held at a future date to be announced.