period of influence: 1945 - 1958 - ongoing.
Richards was my Grandfather. He had a profound
influence on me - so great, that I did not realize
the extent of it until in the last few years. This
has dawned on me slowly... As I look in the mirror,
today, I see my Grandfather emerging. I am about
the age, now, that he was when I met him in 1945.
and Grandmother came to stay with us awhile, in
Orlando, after he retired at the end of WW II.
I had met my Grandmother, before, and stayed with
her at for periods when my parents were relocating.
My Grandfather was always away, on assignment,
until his retirement. When I did finally meet my
Grandfather, I adored him. He seemed to
me to be everything a man should and could be.
his early 60s he was still physically vigorous
and magnetic. A powerful man with an Irish temper
and a keen intellect. He made things. He
solved problems. You could hand Grandfather a basket
full of parts and he would lay them out on a table
and stare at them as he puffed his pipe - then,
he would assemble them into working form in a matter
of minutes. If there were missing or broken parts
he would improvise and make new ones. Whatever,
it always worked.
followed Tom Richards like a mantel - I grew up within this
myth before I ever met the man. When I did, I found
that he exceeded his reputation. He stepped into
my like larger than life - the typical crusty,
always resourceful master sergeant made popular
in so many war movies. Here was John Wayne in the
flesh: opinionated, direct, charismatic, immensely
strong, with total disdain for hierarchy and organization,
compelled to action and ready to fight at the drop
of a hat. No one, including generals, messed with
was whispered that he killed a man with one blow,
before the war, who had accosted a woman in a public
place. The Judge recommended and the Army transferred
him to another base. They did.
were many stories about Grandfather and will recount
just two. The form the essence of his myth and
my Grandfather got together, in the years that
made things - much to the annoyance of the
rest of the family. We were always putting something
together. Grandfather ran a golf driving range
as one of his many retirement jobs. There were
thousands of golf balls to pick up, clean and paint
strips of various colors on. After a few months
we had an amazing amount of this process automated.
This is where I first learned the virtue of systematic
and constant improvement. Grandfather brought the
same focus and intensity to this project that he
did to keeping airplanes flying during WWII.
Grandfather instructed me
in one other way - a sad way. From this experience
I made a decision that plays large in my life to
this day. The instruction is in how he died. To
understand, you have to know why he retired. He
service under age, with no education. He literally
grew up with the Air Force. Before the War he was
asked to take a commission but turned it down.
In those days pay was heavily based on years of
service and this would have meant a reduction.
Additionally, he was a very senior NCO - to become
an Officer would be to start over in another chain
of command. After the War he was asked again, and
having no family to raise, he accepted. Also, by
this time the pay process had greatly changed.
the required physical exam it was discovered that
he had a heart condition. Instead of promotion
he was retired. He was told that he was going to
die. The Air Force was right - he died nearly 20
years later to the day.
was not happy for my Grandfather. He did odd jobs,
mostly running places, sometimes as an inspector
in aircraft factories but nothing that had the
focus and importance of the lifetime of work he
had invested in the Air Force.
died a very slow death.
have often wondered what the Air Force lost with
that decision - I know what Grandfather lost. I
decided, before I ever went to work, that this
would never happen to me.
was not an intellectual. My mother was and from
her I inherited those traits. From Grandfather,
I got my grounding in physical reality. My desire
to build, my intensity to act. From him I got my
physical nature and a fair measure of my zest for
adventure and disdain for those things that stand
in the way of getting things done.
sparked my sense of life.