Bill Reagan created the technology for the LoJack recovery systems that help police around the world find stolen cars, but that wasn’t his only invention. It was just the idea that became famous.
When his children were young and playing near household electric outlets, for example, he thought up ways to reconfigure wall sockets so sticking in a bobby pin wouldn’t result in a shock.
“He was always thinking of something. He was an extremely creative person,” said his wife, Genevieve. “If he saw something, no matter what it may be, he would say, ‘There’s got to be a better way to do it.’ ”
Mr. Reagan, who launched LoJack Corp. after developing the technology in the 1970s and was its first chairman and chief executive, died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease July 1 in the Avery transitional care center in Needham. He was 78 and lived in Medfield.
“LoJack Corporation exists because of Bill’s creative thinking, passion and dedication to keeping law enforcement safe during the tracking and recovery of stolen vehicles,” Randy Ortiz, the company’s president and chief executive, said in a statement the company issued last week after Mr. Reagan died.
Ortiz added that “Bill built the foundation that LoJack still stands on today.” The company estimates technology developed from Mr. Reagan’s invention has led police and businesses to recover about $4 billion in assets worldwide.
In the 1970s, Mr. Reagan invented a microprocessor and radio transceiver that could be hidden in a vehicle and linked to its electrical system. When a vehicle was stolen, police could activate the device remotely, follow the signal, and track down the car, possibly apprehending the thief as well.
‘LoJack Corporation exists because of Bill’s creative thinking, passion and dedication to keeping law enforcement safe during the tracking and recovery of stolen vehicles.’ — Randy Ortiz, LoJack Corp. president and chief executive
According to the LoJack Corp. website, the technology has been adapted from those beginnings as an anti-auto theft device. Now, LoJack products perform tasks including protecting cargo and computer laptops. The company also creates bracelets that help locate people with dementia who wander away.
In the statement praising Mr. Reagan’s life and accomplishments, LoJack Corp. noted that his technology is now “in use in 28 states and the District of Columbia, and in more than 30 countries.”
With an imagination that never seemed to rest, Mr. Reagan was “certainly was not a 9-to-5 type,” his wife said. “He liked to relax, but that doesn’t mean his mind wasn’t going.”
Their daughter Maryalice Reagan Whalen of Medfield said that “more than anything, he was someone who was always curious about life. He was first of all incredibly intelligent, but he had a very curious mind and wanted answers to everything.”
Although the LoJack technology became financially successful, Mr. Reagan was an inventor “for the intellectual pursuit of it,” his daughter said. “It was always, ‘What do we do and how can we make it better?’ ”
Born in Brockton, William Ralph Reagan was the older of two children and grew up in Dorchester. His father was a dentist with a practice in Charlestown and his mother was a schoolteacher.
He graduated from St. Sebastian’s School in Needham, where he played hockey and “was a little feisty,” his wife said with a chuckle. Her father was a hockey referee, and when Mr. Reagan arrived at her front door for a date, her father immediately remembered having thrown Mr. Reagan out of a hockey game. “I wasn’t sure if Bill was going to run away,” she said, laughing at the memory.
Mr. Reagan attended the University of Notre Dame and briefly took time away from college to attend St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, before deciding the priesthood wasn’t in his future.
“You would ask, ‘How long were you there?’ He’d say, ‘Until lunchtime,’ ” his wife said. “He had a great sense of humor and loved seeing people smile.”
Maryalice recalled that her father “would fill a room with laughter and jokes. He could tell stories like no one I’ve ever met. At the end of the day, it made him happy if he could make other people happy.”
Mr. Reagan left Notre Dame before graduating so he could enlist in the Navy. He became a lieutenant and flew reconnaissance missions over the North Atlantic in the late 1950s and early ’60s.
“He loved flying airplanes,” his wife said. “He flew for five years and he still hasn’t stopped talking about it.”
Mr. Reagan married Genevieve Kelleher in 1961.
After the Navy, Mr. Reagan worked in corporate government relations, first at an electronics company and then with a defense contractor. He opened Reagan Associates, his own mergers and acquisitions firm, in the 1970s.
Mr. Reagan helped launch Medfield Youth Hockey, was elected to the town’s Board of Selectmen in the late 1970s, and served into the early 1980s, including as chairman. Under the Town Charter, members of the board serve as commissioners of the police department, and his family said that role helped inspire his idea for the LoJack technology. He thought if police knew whether a vehicle was involved in criminal activity, officers would be safer during traffic stops.
“He wanted to stop putting police officers in harm’s way,” his wife said. “He said, ‘You don’t know when you get out of a cruiser if you’re going to run into a bad guy.’ ”
As intent about his hobbies as he was about coming up with new ideas, Mr. Reagan “was an avid birder. He was a painter. He was into photography,” his daughter said. “It was all in for two or three or four years, and as one thing was waning, then he was on to another thing.”
But during that time Mr. Reagan was devoted to a pursuit, his wife said, “he went at it 200 percent.”
In addition to his wife, Genevieve, and his daughter, Maryalice, Mr. Reagan leaves another daughter, Maryalice’s twin, Lisa Reagan Hendrix of Medfield; two sons, William of South Lebanon, Ohio, and Michael of Boulder, Colo.; and 11 grandchildren.
A funeral Mass will be said Monday in St. Edward the Confessor Church in Medfield. Burial will be in Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne.
Mr. Reagan “was a man who truly just loved life and loved people,” Maryalice said. “And he loved his family.”
An enthusiastic singer, Mr. Reagan used car trips to and from school to try to teach his children to harmonize.
“He had a favorite phrase he would use all the time,” Maryalice said. “He would look around and say, ‘Aren’t we lucky that we have each other.’ The love of family was paramount to him, and that’s a gift that he passed along not only to his children, but to his grandchildren. We feel really blessed.”Bryan Marquard can be reached at email@example.com.