My former co-worker, the man who was in many ways the model for the character "Handsome Dave" in my I Work On A Starship stories, passed away unexpectedly two days ago. He was 54. He had quit his job last April; he'd been doing plenty of outside work, where his remarkably wide array of skills and knowledge, along with his careful attention to getting things right, had earned him well-deserved respect. At our mutual employer's, I always thought he was taken too much for granted; he was assigned to a lousy swing shift instead of it being shared across four techs. (After he left, that same shift was split between three of us; it's still lousy and is certainly an inducement to find other work.)
Always low-key, he resigned without fanfare (not even a going-away party -- after thirty years on the job!) and was said to be doing well, much relieved to be his own boss. I kept meaning to call him, just to say hi, but figured he was busy.
Dave valued skill and he was an exceptionally good listener; he was able to draw people out. The entire world was his school and he was an avid pupil. He shared his knowledge, too; everyone in my department benefited from what Dave learned and then showed us. He was the primary technician for our RADAR site, a somewhat cobbled-together collection of technologies that was abandoned by the contractor who performed the more recent upgrade nearly a decade ago. Dave was among the small group of us that rolled back the messy, undocumented, hide-your-work-under-a-sheet tradition that had dominated the Engineering department.
More than that, he was a friend. Several years ago, during a run out to a machine shop in a mostly-Hispanic neighborhood, I pointed out the many nice little Mexican bakeries along the way; there'd been one in the small town where I grew up and, at least there, the pastries were outstanding. A few weeks later, he called me, "You'd better get out to the warehouse. I was coming back from the machine shop, stopped at one of those bakeries and bought way more than I should have. It's your fault and you're going to have to help me eat this." That was Dave. (And the baked goods were better than I remembered.)
Over six feet tall, with an iron-gray flat-top haircut (his hair stood straight up anyway, and he'd long ago decided to just go with it), he was usually dressed in Carhartts and hard-toed boots. He looked like an action-adventure hero. He deserved the nickname I gave the character, though he would have blushed to hear that..
With his passing, the world got a little dumber, a little less competent. It was too soon and too sudden, and none of us ever had a chance to say goodbye.
T. R. MCELROY'S STREAMLINED TELEGRAPH KEYS
8 months ago