In May 1966, Mitford M. Mathews was awarded the Department of Defense Distinguished Civilian Award, the highest honor that can be awarded a civilian employee by the Department of Defense. The award citation read, "Throughout his entire career Mr. Mathews … demonstrated a distinct professionalism and unique capability that had far-reaching effects." The citation succinctly summarizes the brilliant twenty-three-year cryptologic career of a man who served in many vital positions and was well known for his achievement and dedication.
"Mit" Mathews was born on 16 March 1922 in Alabama. He received a bachelor's degree with honors in mathematics from the University of Illinois in 1943. Upon graduation, he was commissioned in the U.S. Army, where he was assigned to the Research and Development (R&D) Division from 1944 to 1946. His far-reaching engineering and scientific contributions won him the Legion of Merit.
Upon his release from the military, Mathews joined the U.S. Army Security Agency as a civilian engineer, making the transition to Armed Forces Security Agency and National Security Agency. He held a series of management positions in the R&D organizations, including chief of Communications Security (COMSEC) R&D. From 1962 until his death in 1971, Mr. Mathews was assistant director for research and development.
According to his peers, Mathews turned NSA's R&D group into a premier technological organization with his management acumen and technical leadership skills. He was an active participant in all phases of research and engineering at the Agency and made major contributions within the cryptologic community in both signals intelligence and communications security. He was a "hands-on executive" whose technical advice on topics related to communications and computer science was sought by his subordinates, peers, and superiors within the intelligence community, as well as in academia and private industry. Mathews led the transition from World War II era rotor-based equipment to high-tech electronic devices and ciphony equipment. His efforts transformed the fundamental processing of radar signals from analog to digital. Extremely gifted at translating technical jargon to standard English, he was frequently sent to testify before congressional committees on both cryptanalysis and information assurance.
In 1967, Mathews received the Exceptional Civilian Service Award, NSA's highest civilian award. He passed away suddenly on 19 January 1971.