Remembering My Uncle Joe (Ed)
Updated: Aug 20, 2021
I don't talk about my uncle Joe too much. He had a sharp sense of humor, was the quiet type, and took trust very, very seriously.
He was the guy who told me never to forget where I came from. I took that to mean just because I got a college education don't go around thinking I'm smarter than everyone else. That's funny because I work with some of the smartest people in America. While I can keep up with them, I would never claim to be smarter or better than anyone else because I'm not. I'm just honored to be in their presence.
Because my dyslexia was undiagnosed most of my life, I know how it feels when someone makes you feel stupid because you're a slow reader, or can't do math in your head. When you have a learning disability, you must get creative. So, I learned to lean on photography, music, and comic books. I can honestly say I learned reading comprehension and plot development from comic books. I learned calculus by reading Manga describing it. Manga helped me picture linear algebra, too. There was something about looking at walls of equations and dryly written text that kept learning from sinking in. But in comic form, hey, no problem. Even during my engineering classes, my 3D free body diagrams became stuff of legend at New Mexico Tech. My advisor, Harold Walling, used to compliment me on my use of colored pencils. You see, I had to turn learning into art. And then learning became clear.
To Joe I would say, "There are many kinds of education, I just so happen to think classical education methods give you a lesson and then you take a test." In real life, you get tested first, and then you learn your lesson. What I learned in school was most teachers were fake. They never held a job at a refinery as an engineer, and didn't work at a national lab. They never built anything, and never worked with a group of people to get a job done. In school, most teachers were purely academic.
So, I listened to my Uncle Joe. I never forgot where I came from. And I challenged my professors. One professor asked me why I just didn't keep my mouth shut and learn to play the game. I told that professor I wasn't interested in games, I was paying for an education and expected him to deliver it. My blue collar approached rubbed some professors the wrong way. The smart professors hired me to build things for them.
I built New Mexico Tech's first unit operations laboratory, from concrete floor to scrubbing towers with a small team of friends. Because I knew how to pour concrete and put in plumbing, we got New Mexico Tech's Chemical Engineering Program ABET accredited. I was among 16 other students (half of whom I taught) to graduate with a no kidding degree in Chemical Engineering.
I miss my Uncle Joe for many reasons. One reason is I never had the chance to say goodbye. Another reason is Joe had a sense of doing the right thing even if it was tough. He also didn't let people who were bigger than him push him around. His experience was his teacher. And he knew more about fixing up old cars, and fixing facilities than most men. He was also very smooth with the ladies. A quality I often envied.
He died when I was in Los Alamos at the lab at a conference around the 16th of November. And as usual, it wasn't a big deal. He was a quiet type.
But he formed an impression on me that was both warm and memorable. Did I say he was also a very accomplished musician? Probably not. Accordion wasn't a popular instrument. He was also killer on synthesizer.
Thanks for reading, my friends.