... wherein I bloviate discursively

Brian Clapper,

Happy Birthday, Robert Negus

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My father-in-law, Robert Negus, would have been 75 today. He was an amazing person, and I liked him a lot. He’s pictured here, in December, 2000, holding his infant grandaughter, Arden–my daughter, his second grandchild.

Robert Negus

He was the most versatile engineer I’ve ever met. He literally could build anything. In his later years, he was a blade test engineer for Boeing, working out of their Ridley Park, Pa., facilities. He worked for Boeing for most of his long career. But that was just a part of who he was.

As I said, he could build anything. There are gadgets galore in his workshop, to this day. Plug them in, and they still work.

He did his own plumbing. He inspected his own cars. Using an old automobile engine and his considerable metal-working skills, he built his own lawn tractor.

Robert Negus

One summer, he decided that the one thing he hated most about exterior painting was scraping paint. So he built his own water compressor, which he then used to blast the paint off his house and his rental property. He spent a good hour describing to me his trial-and-error efforts to get the nozzle diameter just right.

When my wife, Charlotte, was still a child, her dad decided to hook up to public water and sewer himself, rather than pay someone to do it. He rented a backhoe, figured out how to use it, dug the holes, and laid his own pipe.

He was one of the most inventive people I have ever known.

He had his flaws, for sure. (Don’t we all?) He wasn’t the most emotionally accessible man. And he did not suffer fools gladly, a trait many engineers and geeks share. But once he decided someone was competent, that was pretty much it.

I remember a particular incident of that sort, early in our marriage. I was installing a ceiling fan in the bedroom of our first house. In the middle of this effort, Charlotte’s parents stopped by for a visit. Bob came upstairs to see what I was doing. I had just finished sawing a hole in the drywall and attaching the electrical box to the joist, and I was working on attaching the fan to the box. He watched me for a minute, then said, “Well, it looks like you’re doing just fine, Brian,” and went back downstairs to visit with Charlotte. On the one hand, I’d have been happy for the help, especially from him; it would’ve made the job go faster. On the other hand, I really appreciated his vote of confidence.

He and I got along just fine, perhaps because there’s enough geek in me that I could relate to and understand a lot of his seemingly esoteric interests.

Robert Negus was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma while Charlotte was pregnant with our daughter. Charlotte spent a good part of her pregnancy shuttling him to and from the doctor and the hospital, in an ultimately vain effort to buy him more time. He died February 5, 2001–barely a month after he turned 70, and not even three months after our daughter was born.

He died too young.

He left behind a wife, two daughters, two sons-in-law and two grandchildren.

December 21st and February 5th are sad days in our house, every year. Charlotte still misses her dad, of course–all the more so on those two days.

I miss him, too, and we both grieve that our daughter will never know her maternal grandfather. I never knew my maternal grandfather, and I would like to have known him. And I’m sorry that Arden’s Grandpa Negus isn’t here to delight in watching another granddaughter grow up.

Happy Birthday, Bob. We’re thinking of you. We miss you. And, we love you.