Ralph V. DeCourcey, 87, an early radio surveillance specialist who was instrumental in establishing the National Security Agency's technical capacity, died Nov. 10 at Arlington Hospital of congestive heart failure. He lived in Arlington.
Mr. DeCourcey was part of a cadre of radio technicians who were recruited just prior to World War II for the Radio Intelligence Division being set up by the Federal Communications Commission. The division's mission was to detect the shortwave transmissions of Axis spies as their countries prepared for war.
Mr. Decourcey had served with the Navy for two decades between the world wars, largely in the Far East. He left high school at age 16 to join the Navy in 1919, and later, as a chief radioman, he had sailed on destroyers assigned to Yangtze River patrols in China.
When he retired from the Navy in 1939, Mr. DeCourcey was recruited to help monitor German agents in South America from listening posts in this country.
As a code interpreter, he would help locate the sources of the transmissions to assist U.S. and British intelligence working to "take these people off the air in South America," said Hal Feinstein, a security analyst who is preparing a book on the Radio Intelligence Division.
As World War II broadened, Mr. DeCourcey was called back into Navy service as a radioman and served here, in Imperial Beach, Calif., and in Hawaii. He retired from the Navy a second time at the end of the war with the rank of lieutenant j.g. and then went to work for NSA.
He left NSA for several years to sell radio equipment and then returned to the agency as a radio specialist. He was assigned several times to listening posts in Japan and did administrative work before retiring from NSA in 1972.
Mr. DeCourcey, a native of Malden, Mass., was a amateur radio operator and a member of the Society of Wireless Pioneers, the Yangtze River Patrol Association, the Radio Intelligence Division Association, the Masons, and Western Presbyterian Church in Washington, where he served as a deacon, trustee and elder.
Survivors include his wife, Eva S., of Arlington; two daughters, Jeanne Iwasaki of Fairfax and Eva Marie DeCourcey of Arlington; a son, Ralph Jr. of Arlington; and a grandchild.
MICHAEL C. LEWIS
Bethesda Drama Teacher
Michael Craig Lewis, 45, an English and drama teacher at Walter Johnson High School in North Bethesda and an actor at local dinner theaters, died Nov. 10 at his home in Rockville of congestive heart failure.
Mr. Lewis had taught for 15 years at Walter Johnson, where his classes included television communications. Several of his students later became actors or teachers of drama.
Lisa McCord, who started in Mr. Lewis's productions in the late 1970s, is scheduled to open in a production of "Grand Hotel" this week on Broadway. Others have appeared on television and in New York productions of "A Chorus Line" and "42nd Street."
Mr. Lewis graduated cum laude from Catholic University in 1966, with a degree in theater arts. He toured after graduation with a theater group from Catholic University, the National Players.
He taught English and drama for five years at Good Counsel High School in Wheaton.
He had been active in theater since college and sang baritone roles in musicals. He was featured in recent years in performances at Toby's Dinner Theater in Columbia, Petrucci's Dinner Theater in Laurel and the Harlequin Dinner Theater in Rockville.
At Walter Johnson, he founded a student dramatic group called the Upstage Players, which put on performances in the summer. Proceeds from the performances benefited a camp for indigent, developmentally disabled children, Camp Good Counsel, that Mr. Lewis had directed for two summers.
He also had directed and acted for the Montgomery Players, and worked one summer in the late 1960s as stage manager of the Olney Theater. His nickname in local theatrical circles was "McLew."
Survivors include his parents, J. Harry Lewis and Helene Lewis, both of Rockville; two sisters, Lynn Ann Lewis of Rockville and Janet Lado of Olney; and a brother, David, of Upper Marlboro.
PHOEBE H. BANNISTER
Social Security Official
Phoebe Hearst Bannister, 84, a retired Social Security Administration official who had served as an advisory neighborhood commissioner from 1976 to 1980, died Nov. 11 at her home in the Thomas House retirement home in Washington. She had Parkinson's disease.
During her years on the commission, she worked to clear the site of the old Providence Hospital and replace it with a park.
Miss Bannister, who was a native of San Francisco, was an honors graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, where she also received a master's degree in political science.
She came to Washington and began her career with Social Security as an associate technical adviser here in 1938. The following year, she transferred to San Francisco, where she worked until 1944. From then until 1947, she served as a welfare division director in the Italian mission of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. She then returned to Washington and Social Security. She retired about 1973 as assistant chief of its program operations division.
Miss Bannister, who was a member of St. Peter's Catholic Church in Washington, had done volunteer work for the Catholic Charities. She was a member of the American Public Welfare Association and the Woman's National Democratic Club.
She leaves no immediate survivors.