In my long life I’ve had an uncanny number of memorable encounters — most in person but some via correspondence — with folks who’ve had, let’s say, more remarkable résumés than mine. I feel immensely blessed in this. By way of a general expression of thanks, here are a few of these delightful, improbable encounters.
Physics has always fascinated me. In the early ’60s I read a book called “The Dawn of Life,” written in 1957 by Dr. Joseph H. Rush — a physicist with a deep love of the environment. When I finished it, I called him up to ask questions. He was astonished; it had been years since the book came out and I was the first person to call. He answered courteously and at length, inviting me to write if I had more questions.
A few years later my company sent me to Colorado for training. I dropped in at the National Center for Atmospheric Research at Boulder, knocked on the door and told them I would be grateful if Dr. Rush could autograph his book. He came down to sign it and we spent the whole afternoon together.
What an experience! He had worked with J. Robert Oppenheimer on the Manhattan Project (the atom bomb) and got his physics degree from Duke, which he chose because Dr. J.B. Rhine was physically testing extrasensory perception there.
In the early 1900s, when quantum physics was blooming, one of the luminaries was Hedrik B. G. Casimir. He discovered the Casimir Effect: bring two highly polished metal surfaces together and quantum forces will make them stick. Dr. Casimir wrote a layman’s book about the quantum heyday called “Haphazard Reality”. I read it, and wrote to ask his thoughts on Tesla (the scientist, not the car). His kind reply is framed over my desk.
When Einstein died, arguably the foremost theoretical physicist was Georgiy A. Gamov. He visited Davidson in the ‘60’s and I got to ask him a few questions. (Imagine Einstein asking you, “Any questions?”)
The Cold War Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, had a son who teaches in the USA. A colleague at the University of North Carolina Charlotte arranged an introduction.
For many years my hobby was stereo photography. The gold standard for 3D back in the day was the Stereo Realist. While in Colorado, I looked up the inventor, was taken through his optics lab and had my picture taken with him ... in 3D of course.
W. Edwards Deming introduced Japan to the statistics-based total quality manufacturing system which catapulted the wreckage from WWII to the precision technology behemoth of today. Deming’s ideas bounced off Japan and re-made US industry too, starting with cars. I was trained in quality logic by Mr. Deming. His hand-written overhead projector notes are rolled up in my drawer. I was with him on his 92nd birthday and have a Realist 3D image of us sitting together as he cut his cake.
In 1998, German geophysicist, Dr. Holger Busche, first described the potential for powering regional trains using wind turbine electricity, carried onboard as hydrogen. Last month in Hamburg, Dr. Busche and Herr Detlef Matthiessen — the recent leader of the Green Party contingent in the Schleswig-Holstein Parliament — hosted Mooresville’s and Appalachian State’s 14th International Hydrail Conference. All the conferees, including three from China, were treated to a ride on one of the first hydrail trains in public service, Alstom’s Coradia iLint.
In 2016, when the iLint was rolled-out in Berlin, Herr Matthiessen (who founded the Green Party which made major gains in the last German elections) had me as his house guest; cooked an amazing dinner for Dr. Busche and me; took me to Berlin; introduced me to Transportation Minister Alexander Dobrindt; and took our picture together as we shook hands onboard Mooresville’s green transit invention.
Erskine Bowles — President Bill Clinton’s Chief of Staff and later president of the University of North Carolina — helped then-Mayor Bill Thunberg and me launch the “SciTech Section” in the area publications.
After Mooresville’s 2007 Hydrail Conference at Catawba College, a few of our conferees created a hydrail-related doctoral program at Italy’s University of Pisa, where Galileo Galilei taught and did his famous gravity demonstrations. The first Pisa hydrail-related diploma was awarded to our friend Dr. Tarun Huria, now with Indian Railways, whose Integral Coach Factory will commence hydrail manufacturing soon.
Dr. Andreas Hoffrichter, a close friend who organized Mooresville’s Hydrail Conference in Birmingham, UK, now directs hydrail leadership at the Eli Broad School of Management at Michigan State University, partnering with the U.S. Departments of Energy and Transportation.
So much wisdom can be had, in person, just for the asking. All that’s needed to engage with it is patience, respect and the Internet.