If engineer H.J. “Jack” Ross hadn’t been fascinated with building things, Beatlemania might never have swept America. The tony Bal Harbour Shops could be Dadeland. Ross’ handiwork also touches major portions of the Palmetto Expressway, many of the roads and bridges in pre-Castro Cuba and even outer space.
That’s because Ross, who died at his Coral Gables home on Oct. 30 at 93, after battling vascular dementia, co-founded the engineering firm Riley and Ross with a fellow Navy buddy in 1947. Ross later acquired total interest in the company, renamed it H.J. Ross and Associates, and grew it into a powerhouse. Upon retirement in 1978, he sold the company and it operates today as T.Y. Lin International/H.J. Ross.
Among the projects Ross’ firm engineered: landmark Miami Beach hotels Eden Roc, Fontainebleau, Shelborne and The Deauville, where the Beatles taped a breakthrough appearance for the Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964.
Ross, born June 2, 1922, in Tampa, also helped develop the Eastern Airlines buildings at Miami International Airport, the former Burdines stores in South Florida and Bal Harbour Shops.
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As President Kennedy accelerated the Space Race in the early 1960s, Ross designed the test facility at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama for the Pratt/Whitney engines that powered the Apollo space mission.
“I have this wonderful memory of Jack always saying how fortunate he was to be in Miami at the time Miami started growing,” said his wife of 36 years, real estate broker Audrey Ross.
Ross remained in Miami after serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II as he was stationed at the Opa-locka Air Station by war’s end. At 19, he earned a degree in civil engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology and studied aeronautical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He saw Miami grow from a small, wonderful town to quite a nice, big metropolis. He expressed a delight and admiration and gratitude for being able to participate in the growth of Miami.
Audrey Ross, H.J. “Jack” Ross’ widow
“He saw Miami grow from a small, wonderful town to quite a nice, big metropolis,” his wife said. “He … expressed a delight and admiration and gratitude for being able to participate in the growth of Miami.”
Oh, Ross could be a card, his wife laughs. Humble. A sense of humor. And, most decidedly, he was a man of Miami’s environs.
Ross bought a home on the water so he could zip over to one of his favorite getaways, the flats of Biscayne Bay where he loved to bonefish. He swam at Riviera Country Club and sailed from Coral Reef Yacht Club. And, of course, helped designers imagine their splashy visions for the oceanfront Fontainebleau, Eden Roc and Deauville hotels.
“I would ask him from time about when he first began doing engineering and he would say, ‘I just remember thinking, When in doubt, make it spout.’ But he knew exactly what he was doing,” said Audrey Ross. “That was just his humorous take on his beginning engineering efforts. He was one of the most caring, sensitive and intelligent men that I ever knew.”
As the couple drove around town, Ross would point to some of the landmarks, turn to his wife and smile. “He’d show me these different hotels he’d participated in and he had a great sense of satisfaction to see it was still there,” she said.
Stanley Whitman, founder of Bal Harbour Shops, grew close to Ross after he worked on the mall. The two were avid duck hunting buddies. “He was a real professional. They just didn’t come any better than him. You couldn’t have a better friend than Jack. He was smart as hell and as friendly as he could be — an all-around guy.”
In addition to his wife, Ross is survived by his daughters Julie Ross Dunn Myers and Sally Ross Muccio, granddaughter Donna Muccio, and stepdaughter Melissa Jackson Loree. A celebration of life will be at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 3 at Epiphany Catholic Church, 8235 SW 57th Ave., Miami. Donations can be made to Epiphany Catholic Church or The Miami Lighthouse for the Blind.