In memory of
Melinda Alice Rho
"I can do it." A two-time cancer survivor, this was the principle by which Melinda A. Rho lived. An early, strong female science and engineering leader and a devotee to her family, Melinda dedicated her 37-year career at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to making water safe and trustworthy. Melinda, 64, passed away on May 21, 2019.
Born on May 17, 1955, Melinda was raised by her parents, second-generation Korean-Americans Samson and Alice Thun, in Northridge. Melinda forged ahead in the male-dominated biology and engineering fields to obtain three degrees from the University of Southern California: a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences and two Masters of Science Degrees – one in Biological Sciences, with a focus on Marine Biology, and one in Environmental Engineering, with a focus on Water.
Melinda's life was filled with rich and fulfilling relationships with her family, friends, and community. Her husband of 33 years, Jay Rho, knew the moment that he met her that he wanted to spend his life with her. For her daughter Michelle, Melinda was the strongest supporter and confidante, as well as the best partner in baking adventures. Melinda was generous, sincere, and enthusiastic about everything, whether it was serving the public, analyzing Mycobacterium avium complex in surface and groundwater supplies, trying an unusual hot sauce, or collecting themed ornaments and household items reflecting her favorite TV shows, movies, and books. She was proud of the accomplishments of those close to her, and she was always ready to step up, to lend a hand, and to offer a shoulder.
In the words of her colleagues, Melinda was a "compass for public health." She began her career at the Department of Water and Power in 1980 as a Project Coordinator for the Mono Lake Research Program, where she was responsible for developing reservoir management strategies to control algae. Throughout her distinguished career, Melinda was responsible for compliance with all federal, state, and local regulations regarding drinking water quality and regularly presented at conferences and regulatory workshops for the Department of Water and Power, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the Association of California Water Agencies, and the American Water Works Association (California/Nevada Section), among others. Among her many accomplishments, Melinda advocated for legislative and water policy development, planned for the containment, clean up, and restoration of LA's contaminated groundwater sources, and developed a contaminant response protocol in a multi-utility team effort that was adopted by the U.S. EPA Homeland Security Office for public water systems and incorporated into the Department's emergency planning. After 37 years of public service, Melinda retired in 2017 as a Senior Manager in the Department's Water Quality Division, but continued to adhere to her motto: "tap water: good; bottled water: bad."
Melinda was an active volunteer: Melinda visited local schools to read to first graders, joined and helped lead the Korean American Youth Foundation, and donated to virtually every fundraiser or worthy cause that she saw. Every year, she helped organize and moderate the annual Department of Water and Power Science Bowl for high schools across Los Angeles. She was proud that local champions had a strong record at the National Science Bowl—but also proud to help put together an event in which students gathered together to talk science, explain science, and just be excited about science.
Melinda never stopped learning—and encouraging others to do the same. She loved to visit aquariums, oceans, and rivers in order to see and learn something new about octopuses, jellyfish, seahorses, and more. Melinda was happiest when she was in her garden; she tended to her herbs and plumeria and surrounded herself with a variety of orchids. And her scientific nature manifested in other ways as well. With a love of food and travel, Melinda was always ready to try new foods, enjoyed experimenting with recipes, and, at each of her travel destinations, studied the culture, history, and environmental composition of her travel destinations. Melinda enjoyed making things; she would research and master the skills to make homemade presents such as ribbon leis, French macarons, or Halloween costumes.
An avid Trekkie, Melinda lived a long and prosperous life. In the original Star Trek, it was said: "A man either lives life as it happens to him, meets it head-on and licks it, or he turns his back on it and starts to wither away." Melinda met life head-on and licked it. She lived each day to its fullest and inspired others to do the same.
Melinda is survived by her husband, Dr. Jay Rho, daughter, Michelle Rho, and her nieces and nephews, Jennifer, Brandon Aubrey, Cameron, and Cindy Rho, as well as her cousins, mother-in-law, and brothers and sisters-in-law.
A service to honor Melinda's life will take place on June 1, 2019, at 3:00 p.m. at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, Church of the Hills, 6300 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90068.
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