Kermit Oliver Laughon, Jr.
February 6, 1939 – May 7, 2023
Kermit Oliver Laughon, Jr., 84, of The Villages, Florida, passed away on Sunday, May 7, 2023 at the Watercrest Senior Living Facility, Lady Lake Florida.
Kermit was born to Kermit Oliver Laughon, Sr. and Edith McDowell Griggs in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. He grew up in nearby Ashe County, graduating from Jefferson High School in 1957. “K.O.” as he was affectionately called, was President of the 47- student class. His accolades included leadership in Student Government, the Beta Club, and starring roles in theater productions as a member of the Dramateers. His ease on the stage and with public speaking served him well throughout his life; a favorite role being master of ceremonies for the many class reunions that occurred over the years.
Kermit attended the North Carolina State College of Agriculture and Engineering, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nuclear Engineering in 1961. His accompanying honors included membership in: The National Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, in Sigma Pi Sigma, the national honorary fraternity for physics, and in Tau Beta Pi, for engineering scholarship in the top of his class.
Upon his graduation, Kermit married his high school love, Nancy Jane Houck, in 1961. They moved to Hartford Connecticut, where he attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, graduating with the degree of Master of Science in Nuclear Science in 1964.
Kermit’s early employment included management and engineering positions with Pratt and Whitney Aircraft, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) (1961-1977). He relocated first to Oak Ridge Tennessee and then to Washington, D.C. He was instrumental in development of the first uranium power reactor of its kind in the United States.
In 1977, Kermit was employed by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). He directed the U.S. government program on high temperature gas cooled reactors. He represented the U.S. in negotiations and agreements for international cooperation and development with Germany, France, and Switzerland.
In 1979 he served as Deputy Director of Nuclear Power Systems, managing sensitive and controversial programs including the Three Mile Island accident. In 1985 he served as Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary for Uranium Enrichment, collaborating internationally with customers in the United States, Europe and the Far East. He negotiated and managed an agreement with Japan for development of remote technology for reprocessing advanced nuclear fuels.
Kermit ultimately had responsibility for direction and administration of the DOE’s uranium enrichment program, playing major roles in international and domestic marketing and in developing advanced technology for uranium enrichment. He facilitated the passage of legislation to establish a U.S. Government corporation for uranium enrichment, the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC) in Bethesda, MD. The Energy Policy Act of 1992 transferred this responsibility from the Federal government’s DOE to USEC. Kermit served as the Vice President of External Relations, responsible for communications with Congress, the Administration, media, and the nuclear industry, as well as with the general public and international organizations. He negotiated and managed cooperative nuclear energy programs with the U.K., Germany, Switzerland, France, the Czech Republic and Japan to name a few of the many countries. He served as corporate spokesperson until his retirement in 1994. Kermit’s breadth of education and experience in design, construction and operation of nuclear power reactors and all steps of the nuclear fuel cycle and his excellent ability to communicate have been acknowledged inpersonal communications from top government officials including the then Secretary of Energy John Herrington.
Kermit loved the outdoors, and enjoyed camping, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, and fishing. He learned to ski, becoming an instructor for children at a local resort upon his retirement. Many a child learned to ski under his direction making “pizza pies” and playing “red light, green light.” Kermit obtained his certification in scuba. A sailing and diving trip to the Windward Islands with friends was a highlight of that time.
Kermit was preceded in death by his wife Nancy in 1983. Through his love of ballroom dancing he found Carol, whom he married in 2000. They moved to Manteo, N.C., enjoying life on the Outer Banks which included boating, fishing and dancing. Kermit and Carol’s passion for an active lifestyle and dance led them to move to The Villages, FL in 2006. They headed the Ballroom Dance Club and taught dance to numerous Villages residents. Give Kermit a microphone and a pair of dance shoes and he was in his element. Together they traveled the world for as long and often as they were able.
He is survived by two daughters, Beverly (Brian) Welch of Fairfax Station, Virginia, and Julie Robinson of Rockville, Maryland; two granddaughters, Emma Wilson and Jennifer (Zachary) Chidlow; three great-grandchildren, Liam, Jameson and Hudson Chidlow; and Cousin Richard (Reay) Griggs and family. Kermit is preceded in death by his son Gary Laughon. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations to the Alzheimer’s Association at https://www.alz.org or Hospice Foundation of America at https://hospicefoundation.org or local chapter would be greatly appreciated.
A private celebration of Kermit’s life for family and close friends is being planned.
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