Thursday, June 6, 2013

My Favorite Machinist

Have I ever told you about Ed, our lab's machinist?  He's special.  And not the weird kind of special.  He's the kind of special that you won't ever forget.

Most days, when I walk into lab and walk through the machine shop, he's there working and I greet him with a smile, "Hello, Ed."  If I'm later than usual, he smiles and comments on it.  If I'm earlier than usual, he smiles and comments on it.  If I walk through the shop later, he throws out a comment about the weather or about how I'm covered in oil.  If I need his advice or his expertise, he's always helpful.  He lets me borrow the shaker bath or gives me bolts and screws, quickly machines anything I need and generally proves again and again to be one the best parts about my lab.

When I came back from Japan, there were rumors floating about how people were trying to force Ed into retirement and how they don't need machinists.  Everyone who loves Ed got really upset with those comments because we understand that great is the worth of an experienced machinist.  In fact, when I got to research conferences and tell people how small our models are and how delicate the internal plumbing, they all stare in shock at how skilled our machinist must be.  The best part is, because he's in house, we can take our rough hand sketched ideas and talk with him until we both figure out a way to make the part fit our needs with the best machining methods.  I can't say enough good things about Ed's workmanship.

Or his character.  He comes to work every morning at 6:30 am and leaves at 1:30 pm sharp.  Every Friday, he leaves Little Debbie snacks for the lab on the plate on the microwave.  And then he scatters sunflower seeds and birdseed for all the creatures outside.  Someone once teased me when I said how much I loved the snacks he left for us.

It's not that I think Little Debbie is the best food - in fact, it's probably not very good for me.  However, it reminds me of my Grandpa Reed who used to make cakes for us when we came to visit.  Even when he was old and really shouldn't be making things for us, he still did his best.  I always knew that one way my Grandpa showed me he loved me was making those desserts for me.  The Little Debbie snacks remind me of my Grandpa who I miss a lot.  Ed reminds me of my Grandpa.  I like to pretend the snacks are his way of making sure I'm eating ok, and happy in life, just like my grandpa.

It's always a big question though of how old Ed is.  The rest of the lab has spent several times debating and wondering how old he is, as well as how long he's been working here at UVa.  He's old and apparently, he retired several years ago but still manages to come in every day.

Yesterday, our lab manager found me, "Erin, I found an article on Ed that was published in a UVa magazine in 2000."

I was so excited.  I went and washed my hands of oil and dirt and read it carefully.  It was delightful to hear a little more about him - he was born and raised in England.  He makes elaborate doll houses for his friends and family.

I turned to show the article to my colleague and he immediately asked the question I should have been asking, "How old is he in the article."

"It says here, he was 71."
"That was 13 years ago."

"HE'S 84!"

84, and still coming to work everyday.  Yep, that's our Ed.  I told you he was special.

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