Published: June 7, 2024

Helms in the photometric lab with an identified person in 1967.
Professor Ron Helms (right) in CU Boulder's photo-
metric lab in 1967.

Betty Helms (Docs wife), Peter Ngai (a CU grad from the 70's and an icon in the lighting industry) and Doc at the i
Betty Helms, wife of Ron Helms, Peter Ngai, CU Boulder 
graduate and an icon in the lighting industry, and Ron
Helms at the Illuminating Engineering Society's 100th
anniversary in 2006. 

Ron Helms, a former professor fondly known as ‘Doc’ by his CU Boulder architectural lighting students, passed away on May 23. He was 85 years old.

Helms joined CU Boulder’s architectural engineering faculty in 1965 and taught lighting courses in the architectural engineering program. During his tenure, he advocated for the importance of the illuminating engineering program, establishing a benchmark for advanced lighting education. Illumination engineering focuses on the design, implementation and analysis of lighting systems.

Helms is believed to be the first to teach a complete set of lighting coursework for the department.

He also created the Illumination 1 course, which teaches the fundamentals of illuminating engineering. In 1973, Illumination 1 became a required course for all CU Boulder architectural engineering students and has been taught ever since. 

“Doc nurtured and inspired so many engineers, designers, educators and manufacturing professionals,” said Cheryl English, one of Helm’s students from 1977-81 and a retired lighting executive. “We remember Doc for his keen sense of humor and dedication to his students, whom he referred to as his ‘family.’ ”

Helms received his undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of Illinois and PhD from Ohio State University.  He left CU Boulder in 1981 to become the head of University of Kansas’ architectural engineering program, where he established the Bob Foley Illumination laboratory in 1985. He then went on to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University to establish a new illuminating engineering program; he retired in 2006.

Helms published many papers, authored three textbooks and presented technical programs.

"He was a strong advocate for the recognition of architectual engineering and illuminating engineering as credible disciplines in the industry," English said. "He worked to establish that recognition in professional organizations and engineering accreditations."

Helms leaves behind his four children, eight grandchildren, extended family and "countless lighting professionals who had the privilege of benefiting from his mentorship or attending his education programs,” English said.

A memorial service was held on June 1 at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.