Hammond “Ham” M. Rolph, former administrator at the USC College School of International Relations, World War II veteran and East Asian studies scholar, has died. He was 85.
Rolph died of natural causes on July 27 at the San Gabriel Medical Center, his wife of 61 years, Julia Rolph said.
Rolph served as associate director of international relations for nearly a quarter-century, from 1964 to 1988. He oversaw the school’s overseas programs and was among the first to teach undergraduate and graduate East Asian studies courses at USC.
Last year, the Rolphs created The Hammond and Julia Rolph Endowed Fellowship for Graduate Students, providing funds for students in international relations and the department of East Asian languages and cultures. The Hammonds created the fellowship by donating their San Gabriel home to USC while retaining a life estate so they could continue to live there.
“Both Julia and I felt strongly that student aid was critical to the continuing success of USC,” Rolph told USC College in August 2006. “Working overseas for much of my career helped Julia and me realize the importance of advanced education with an international direction. Julia’s USC work with the department of East Asian languages and cultures helped us to focus our gift in those two directions.”
Born Oct. 13, 1921 in El Campo, Texas, Rolph graduated from the University of Texas with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1942. He was commissioned in the Navy that same year and was sent to Boulder, Colo., to a Japanese language school.
Enrolled in his class was his future wife, Julia Hilts. Rolph returned from his service in World War II on Christmas Eve 1945, and the couple married the following May. They had a daughter, Rebecca, who learned Japanese when the family was stationed in Tokyo.
“We both found it amusing and frustrating to hear our 3-year-old speaking colloquially and fluently in no time, while Ham and I sounded bookish!” Julia Rolph wrote in 1993.
Rebecca later earned her doctorate in British history at USC and was an academic adviser at the College. Rebecca Rolph died of cancer in 1997.
During World War II, Rolph was stationed in the South Pacific, where he used his Japanese language skills.
“He used to love to tell the story of recovering a sunken ship from the Japanese military,” said close family friend Carolyn Crane. “He found a teletyped message that held Japanese military secrets so important it was sent by courier to Washington, D.C. At the end of the message was the command, ‘Destroy this paper once read.’ ”
During his military career, Rolph, who also spoke Chinese, was stationed in China, England, Washington, D.C., Seattle and Alaska. He retired after 22 years as a commander and immediately began his second career at the College.
Michael Fry of La Jolla, Calif., who was director of international relations during Rolph’s tenure, described Rolph as a man of integrity.
“He was absolutely devoted to the school,” Fry said. “He was in the office every day. I can’t remember him being ill one day. He was a good man all round. Everyone had deep affection for him.”
Peter Berton, professor emeritus of international relations, had known Rolph for more than four decades.
Standing 6-foot-5 and lanky, “Ham was always with a smile,” Berton said. “He had a great sense of humor, and I knew I could always rely on him.”
USC College Vice Dean Steven Lamy, professor and former director of international relations who now oversees undergraduate programs in the College, remembered Rolph as being “one of those people who was always willing to help the professors. He was an active participant in the intellectual life at the School of I.R.,” Lamy said.
Rolph wrote extensively about Pearl Harbor, North Vietnam, and communist strategy and propaganda. His book Vietnamese Communism and the Protracted War (American Bar Association, 1971) analyzed communism and its contrasts with liberty under law.
Julia Rolph, 85, who earned her bachelor’s degree magna cum laude in Chinese with a minor in Japanese at USC, described her late husband as a true Southern gentleman.
“It was just a love affair,” Julia Rolph said of their long marriage.
A year ago, the couple celebrated their 60th anniversary at the same Pasadena hotel where they spent their wedding night, even visiting their honeymoon suite.
“He used to always say,” Crane recounted, “ ‘I don’t know what I did to deserve two such beautiful and intelligent women in my life,’ ” referring to Julia and Rebecca. “He was so grateful for their love.”
Rolph is also survived by his sister, Marilyn Caine, two nieces and a nephew. He was preceded in death by his brother, Norman Rolph.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 3, at the Church of Our Saviour, 535 West Roses Road in San Gabriel.