Aaron C. Dutton, who walked away from a scholarship at Morehouse University to join the United States Marine Corps at the age of 17, died from stroke complications on Aug. 25. The 40-year Baltimore resident was 74.
Born Aaron Coleman Dutton in September 1939 and raised in New Orleans, he was the oldest of four children to Aaron Dutton, a teacher at Dillard University, and Annabelle, a principal at Gilbert Academy.
In 1954 at the age of 15, Dutton won a statewide physics contest and then received a Ford Foundation Scholarship to Morehouse College. Two years later, Dutton sought his parents' permission to join the Marines and escape the racial segregation gripping Georgia.
"He wanted to get out of the south," said his wife Teresa Schiano Dutton, whom he married in 1987. "He experienced terrible segregation."
After basic training, Dutton went to electronics school at Treasure Island in California. He then served in Okinawa before leaving the Marine Corps in 1959. With the goal of learning to fly, he then joined the Air Force. His bad vision scuttled that plan.
But electronics training in the Marine Corps pushed him into similar training at Kessler Air Force Base in Mississippi. The training launched a career that took Dutton across the globe.
With the Cold War developing, Dutton joined RCA Corp. and worked 18 months in Greenland on a Ballistic Missile Early Warning System that could detect Soviet missiles.
He later joined a division of Bendix Corp. and worked on a radar-tracking station in Guam. After teaching himself Boolean algebra, he transferred to a station in Spain that provided support for the Apollo space flight missions of the 1960s.
Dutton settled in Baltimore once the Apollo program ended. He then spent years as an engineer for Computer Services Corp. at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. Some of his work involved the Hubble Space Telescope. He retired in 2005.
While living across the globe, Dutton learned to scuba dive and sky dive, making more than 50 jumps.
"He was afraid of heights," said daughter Marie Dutton of the Hampden neighborhood. "He loved adventure."
Others hobbies included reading history and philosophy books. Dutton lived in the Cheswolde neighborhood and also enjoyed volunteering at St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church.
But one of his biggest passions dated back to his childhood in New Orleans. He got a magic set as a gift and started a quest to learn magic tricks.
As a child, he frequently visited a magic shop—one of the places he could enter where skin color didn't matter, his wife said. Dutton became enthralled with card and coin magic as he grew older.
He later joined the local chapter of the Society of American Magicians and became friends with Arturo de Ascanio of Spain, considered one of the world's best magicians. The friendship developed after Dutton interpreted for de Ascanio at a magic convention in Las Vegas.
One of Dutton's prized possessions included a picture taken years ago with Muhammad Ali during a magic convention.
Marie Dutton recalled the countless times she brought friends home as a child. Her father always pulled out the magic tricks to test the kids.
She speculated that her father used magic as a way to grow his knowledge. He could often be found at a magic shop on Reisterstown Road.
"He just always wanted to learn something new," she said. "He wanted to learn the answers."
In addition to his wife and daughter, survivors include a son, Aaron C. Dutton III of Baltimore; daughter Montserrat Eva of Texas; sister Sarah Richardson of New Orleans; and brother Charles Dutton of Atlanta.
A memorial survive will be offered at 2 p.m. Sept. 28 at Homewood Friends Meeting, 3107 N. Charles Street.