Thanks Dad

JVR working for NASA

Thanks, Dad.

I grew up in a time, in another century, when you had to dial a telephone to make a call. If the line was busy, you hung up and called back. If you wanted to send someone a written message, you put it on paper, and either hand delivered it or put it in the mail. The only limit to the emoticon library was your imagination. Cameras required film, mobile phones existed only in movies, and movies required that you go to a theater to watch one. In our house, you could find a fancy calculator called a slide rule that could be used to perform complex arithmetic computations to many decimal places. That slide rule belonged to my dad.

Dad was a Physicist of the rarest sort, the learn-by-doing type. He trained as a machinist and an Army linesman, then went to work in the machine shop at the University of Chicago. He designed and made scientific instruments that were needed to perform an experiment. He moved our family to Oregon in 1966 to head up the machine shop at the University of Oregon that served the Physics, Chemistry, and Biology departments. He took the ideas of world-class physicists and made them real in form of an apparatus that would test their hypothesis. In doing so, he became a world-class scientist himself. He was not so much self-taught, as he was eager and willing to learn from whatever and whoever life brought to him. In the end, he earned the deep respect of his lettered colleagues, which more than balanced out the absence of those letters (PhD) after his name.

JVR's handmade fishing reel

His creations were made from aluminum, brass, and steel, plated with gold, machined to the tolerances of a nuclear device, and done so without the benefit of computer controlled milling machines and lathes. Put into service on telescopes around and above the earth, they had to work the first time, every time. You might say that had an effect on me. People call me a perfectionist? Thank you. And thanks, dad.

In his spare time, dad fished, played harmonica, read voraciously, and made a magic potion called Krupnik. He made his own fishing rods, reels (yes, reels), weights, lures, and flies. Before he tied flies, he made the tools (bobbins and vises) that you need to tie flies. If something in our house broke, he took it apart and fixed it. Once, a replacement part for our busted washing machine turned out to be made from plastic. He was not willing to pay for a new part that was as likely to fail as the original. Dad machined his own version from brass so that he would never have to fix that part again.

He documented his work and our family life in photos, so we always had a camera around. In middle school, I caught the photography bug that would stay with me to this day. Thanks, dad. He left this earth just over twenty years ago, so he won’t read this, but in one of my last conversations with him, I told him that he was my hero. He still is.
Thanks dad.


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