A memoir of my life.

Here's an easy reading and entertaining account of what I've done so far, with an insight into what makes me tick.

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Excellent Autobiography of an Excellent Engineer and Manager      John

Brilliant penmanship had me glued to the pages    J H

A Quiet Rampage

CHAPTER ONE       "A Quiet Rampage"

“What do you do?”

“I’m retired.”

“Oh. What did you do?”

“I was with Boeing for thirty-four years,” spoken in a tone which didn’t invite further questions.

Why the squelch? By the usual yardstick I was successful, rising to a position of Chief Engineer of Avionics and Flight Systems before retiring. When I mentioned that to my mother, she immediately began telling everyone her son was THE Chief Engineer at Boeing. Congratulations from family members alerted me to the need for convincing her it was not that big a deal, there were at least ten chief engineers in the commercial airplane division alone.

No, the squelch was prompted more by a reluctance to delve into what I considered important in a career and how I measured up by that yardstick. It was a Pandora’s box that, once opened, would take more time to close than any sane listener was prepared to spend.

Then, my daughter echoed a comment heard occasionally over the years from my wife, “When people ask what you did at Boeing, I have no idea what to say.” That touched a nerve.

How many people go through life, accomplishing much or very little, only to leave no trail for future generations? We owe our family a legacy, good or bad, to serve as a threshold for them to build upon. So, my loved ones, this book tells what I did and to some extent, who I am.

Everything related is factual to the best of my recollection. Nothing is made up or even embellished. It’s hard enough to remember what actually happened without inventing any expansion. Names are included when relating something complimentary and omitted when nothing good about the person can be found. I must hasten to clarify that only a few of the good people in my life are named. If your name doesn’t appear, don’t slam the book down in anger. You are in good company and you can take credit for not turning this into a who’s who directory.

In addition to why the book, one might ask why the title? Like thousands of productive people, my career went unrecognized by prizes or awards, other than the internal company variety. Industry awards are usually reserved for higher level managers that have the foresight to collect people with vision and allow them to use it. I was one of the collected.

But there’s more to it than that. I’m proud to say I’m an introvert. Some would say, “Oh, you’re shy?” No, a shy person is afraid of social interaction. I’m not. I just prefer solitude to raucous gatherings, to think and work on my own rather than confined to participate on task teams. Our extrovert culture claims a group will produce better results than an individual. Better than an individual extrovert, maybe, if one is ever found alone.

Steve Wozniak invented the personal computer working alone. Einstein and Newton didn’t produce their quantum leaps forward as part of a team exercise. These and countless others are examples of introverts beavering away in solitude. True, a project benefits from more minds giving input but lock-stepping a team of diverse personality styles through a project is horribly inefficient and stressful. And it runs the risk of a loud extrovert leading the team down a wrong path.

So, I am an introvert. My father was an introvert. Probably almost every generation in my ancestry contained an introvert. I never thought of Dad as being that until he told me one day when I was twenty, for no apparent reason:

“As a boy, I crossed the road when I saw a girl coming, so I wouldn’t have to talk to her.” (Maybe he was a little shy too.)

We’re not a family known for discussing personal things, so it came as a surprise. Dad usually had a purpose for what he said. Perhaps he thought I was dating challenged, although he never interfered with my social escapades or even questioned them. His priority for us was do what’s right, do well in school and work hard during school “holidays”. Social success was not on the list.

We were raised in the school of expectations. Nobody preached. Seldom scolded, we just felt the expectations. That’s not to say we didn’t hear about our serious transgressions. As a carpenter, Dad always seemed to have a three-foot rule folded in his back pocket. The ultimate punishment was being bent over his knee and whapped by the rule on our bottoms…with our pants on.

An example. When I was five, I found a hand saw one day and, looking around for something to cut, spied our rowboat lying upside down in the yard. By the time Dad caught me, the saw cut was a good third of the way through the hull about a foot from the transom. That one warranted carrying me into the house and introduction to “The Rule”. Somehow, he managed to patch up the old rowboat with sheet metal and tar because we were still using it ten years later.

Mum, on the other hand, was a hair-puller. She had a knack for getting hold of some of the short hairs at the back of the neck. With them, it didn’t take much of a pull to induce a sharp pain. Since she felt obliged to take an active role in our disciplining, I have more vivid recollections regarding the top end than the bottom.

Still, discipline was rarely needed. Between expectations and examples set, it was very clear when we were on thin ice. Now, sixty years after Dad died, I still feel the expectations and have a strong sense of right and wrong. Our daughter says we brought her up the same way so maybe there’s an expectation gene at work.

As stated before, my introversion is not in the shy or autistic direction. Thrown into a social environment, I respond well. “Thrown” is the operative word here. I don’t wander, walk, or leap into social environments. As a youth, you could find me in the center of athletic events, usually in a leadership role. At dances, you could find me at the fringe, pretending to ignore the girls’ eyes pleading for a dance. I might have become a hard-core wallflower if I hadn’t started playing the saxophone. By the second year, our band was just good enough to play for the school crowd. By the third year, the dance pleading eyes became more like groupie eyes. But I was safe up on the stage and could even pretend to be sacrificing valuable dating and dancing time to provide music for my fellow man and woman.

After what Dad said, it was possible to see his introversion at times. I vividly recall the one time I saw him take a drink. We were visiting his sister, our Aunt Laura. She and Uncle Lloyd had invited some old acquaintances over for a little party. Ebullient Laura, who also seldom drank anything, forced a little scotch on Dad. I can still picture him standing in the background, next to a wall, sheepish grin, occasionally sipping a little scotch, never saying anything. This was the same man who commanded respect, loyalty and performance from a hundred different construction crews over a fifty-year career of building everything from two-hole outhouses to the Vancouver Hotel.

Perhaps my introversion also appears to be an illusion. Certainly, over my first career I spent countless hours in front of crowds, giving presentations, emceeing dance competitions, conducting meetings and participating on panels. The introversion never showed then. Well, perhaps it sometimes surfaced at related cocktail parties. It’s said that many comedians are introverts, Johnny Carson is cited as one. He once said, “I’m great with 10 million people and lousy with 10”. Is forced entertaining a cover-up? I’m fairly entertaining in a group or in front of a crowd, triggering a succession of chuckles interspersed with a few honest-to-God laughs. Usually not with a joke but asides, quips and making fun of either myself or the topic at hand.

Furthermore, my life has been varied, often exciting and always interesting. For an introvert, it has been a rampage. Few people I know can claim to have experienced or accomplished more. Don’t expect to find an account of a timid soul. “Rampage” might be a touch strong but certainly not far-fetched.

Still the introversion is there and often it reaches up to bite, leaving me in the background, trying to look casually detached, secretly in hopes some extrovert will drag me back into the social melee.

Only a very small fraction of the multitude of people in the fields of science and engineering have an opportunity today to develop something they can say is theirs and theirs alone. Progress is usually made by projects that build step by step on the work of those before. On the other hand, with imagination and perseverance, individuals can often remove roadblocks and point the industry off in a novel new direction. While they can’t take sole credit for the final product, in a very real sense they share responsibility for its invention. I believe this happened to me.

Despite that claim, like many introverts, I am inclined to downplay accomplishments, particularly when praised for them. To illustrate, after a drive straight down the fairway, another golfer might say “great shot”. My response will probably be something like “at least it’s not in the woods”. I conscientiously work at simply thanking them which is the courteous thing to do and the one most appreciated. Still, it’s hard to break the introvert habit. This book has forced me to push that aside and if the result at times seems like bragging, I apologize.

CHAPTER TWO       Baby Steps

If memoirs should start with one’s earliest memory, mine is of a day at the beach which, per Mum’s calculations, occurred when I was about one and a half. Oh sure, you think. Well, it had to be on the half year since my birthday is on the shortest day of the year (some say the darkest, one charitable niece suggests the world got brighter after I was born) and the beach only makes ocean water warm enough for wading on hot summer days. I can vividly recall staggering around on a pebbly beach awash to my knees pushing a model sailboat around. It was as long as I was tall.

Why do memoirs feel obliged to start with earliest memories? Mine was hardly noteworthy. The second memory is not much better. Sometime around age three, I recall sitting on the bottom rung of a rail fence at Stewart Lake while my older brother Jim took a swimming lesson from Mrs. Butt. Curiously, the dominant memory is of the pain the rail exerted on MY butt. From then on, there’s a mishmash of recollections.

Some say early memories are usually of traumatic events. That hardly applies here. As a baby, I fell on a piece of broken glass which cut my abdomen and left a crescent scar still visible. Seems like that would be a traumatic event, for my mother if not me. No memory lingers.

Those early years were spent running rampant on our farm in Fulford Harbour on Salt Spring Island, paddling an old dugout canoe or poling a small scow on the creek Dad dammed each year to give a quarter mile of navigable waterway. There were trout in the creek to catch with a worm on a hook on a string on a pole. Farm animals often resembled pets. One young ram loved a “push-of-war”. We would go shoulder to shoulder like a couple of football linemen. He proved that four-legged traction beats two. Each year we filled the barn with hay to feed the cow through the winter. That allowed us to climb up in the rafters and jump into the hay or tunnel forts in it. All in all, an idyllic, carefree time.

There were a few tense moments, however. Once, Jim lobbed a boulder onto a trailer hooked to our tractor. Only, my head intervened. Another time, my foot became wedged in the “vee” formed by two alders joined at the base. For a time, it looked like Dad would have to cut one of them down to free it. Perhaps the most frightening accident involved stepping on a pitch fork. A tine went completely through my foot. Dad yelled at younger brother George to run and get a bowl. Then he grasped my foot and the fork and pulled it back out. As he carried me to the house, George ran along beside us catching the blood pouring out in the bowl. I remember dreading the thought of having to drink it. Fortunately, Mum’s nurse training surfaced, she bound the foot and Dad ran me off to the hospital.

Real trauma occurred during my first few days in school. Life on a farm does not teach a boy to schedule bathroom visits. My teacher became convinced that I wasn’t pottie trained and matters came to a head when I left a sizeable calling card on the playground. Dad had to come and take me home. The remedy involved a stern warning from Mum that I would not be allowed back in school if I didn’t shape up. Okay, some traumatic event memories exist.

That part of my education fell in her province. Once he got me home, Dad washed his hands of the problem. Perhaps he even laughed about it later. However, he didn’t laugh at one other misstep. When I was somewhere around eight, he taught me to shoot a small 20-gauge shotgun. The first time he took me hunting, we walked up a road on the hillside behind our farm, he in front, me a few paces behind. Even though I wasn’t touching the trigger, the gun went off and kicked up a cloud of dirt not six inches behind his foot. It must have scared the hell out of him, as it did me. However, he turned around and calmly explained how to hold the gun when you were in the front, middle or rear of the line. He demonstrated a fortitude few could emulate.