Child Prodigy Leonard Ross, 39, Dies : Served on State PUC; Body Found in Motel Swimming Pool

Leonard Ross, a child prodigy who passed a federal examination for a ham radio operator’s license when he was 7, won $164,000 on television quiz shows when he was 11 and as an adult served on the California Public Utilities Commission, is dead.

His body was found in a Santa Clara motel swimming pool on Wednesday and a Santa Clara County coroner’s spokeswoman said Friday that he had drowned. He was listed as a possible suicide.

Ross, who resigned last June as an acting professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley, was living with his brother in Santa Clara at the time of his death, according to information furnished the Willow Glenn Mortuary in San Jose.

He was 39 and Santa Clara Police Capt. Robert Adair said Ross’ family had told him he had been despondent in recent months. Adair said Ross’ glasses and shoes were found next to the pool at the Capri Motel but that Ross was not staying there.


Climbed Over Fence

The gate to the pool was locked, Adair added, but Ross evidently crawled over a fence. Adair said his department also was treating the case as a possible suicide pending a final coroner’s report.

Ross, who graduated from high school when he was 14, UCLA when he was 18 and Yale Law School at 20, gained national attention at the height of TV game show popularity in the 1950s. As a pre-teen he won $100,000 on “The Big Surprise” and $64,000 on “The $64,000 Challenge” for answering questions about the stock market.

At Yale Ross had been editor-in-chief of the Law Journal and after obtaining his law degree went on to graduate from Yale’s economics graduate school.


A Yale classmate, Simon Lazarus, said Ross was responsible for helping draft some of the civil rights legislation enacted by Congress in the late 1960s. He was the author of three books and a frequent contributor to newspapers and magazines.

Named to PUC

He returned to California and in 1975 Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. named him to the state Public Utilities Commission where he directed development of rates designed to encourage energy conservation and help provide conservation incentives for utility firms.

He resigned from the PUC in 1977 to become an adviser to Richard N. Cooper, undersecretary for economic affairs in the Carter Administration.

Jesse Choper, dean of UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall law school where Ross taught from 1979 until last year, remembered him as a “true genius, a sweet, likable and generous man.”

His survivors include his mother and brother, who asked that they not be identified further.