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Friday, September 23, 2016

I must be 'old' because I'm reading the obituary page

The Advocate obituary for Mark Thompson in 2016 and his gay history book 'Long Road to Freedom,' 1994

PHOTO: A magazine obituary by Lucas Grindley, "Former Advocate editor, Mark Thompson, Dies at 63," The Advocate, Oct./Nov. 2016, p. 32, online as "Editor and Author, Mark Thompson, Remembered for Grasp of Gay Spirit," posted Aug. 13, 2016 is shown next to the gay history book edited by Mark Thompson, with a Foreword by Randy Shilts, "Long Road to Freedom: The Advocate History of The Gay and Lesbian Movement," St. Martin's Press, 1994. "The Advocate" obituary says, Thompson was "a founding member of the Bay Area-wide Gay Students Coalition at San Francisco State University, and it references his website. Thompson started writing for The Advocate in 1975 and would spend two decades at the LGBT magazine." The Website by "Mark C. Thompson - Biography," accessed Sep. 23, 2016 says he "is a world-renowned authority and top speaker on Leadership, Driving Change and Innovation, Sales Growth, and Customer and Employee Engagement. . . Mark has worked side by side with three of the world's most legendary disruptive innovators: Steve Jobs, Charles Schwab and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson. . . Mark was Charles Schwab's former Chief of Staff and Chief Customer Experience Officer, and the Executive Producer of which today has assets over $2.4 Trillion." Thompson's colleague Randy Shilts was a University of Oregon graduate who in 1975 went on to work as a journalist for "The Advocate" before becoming a famous reporter for the "San Francisco Chronicle" while he was reporting on the AIDS crisis before he died of AIDS himself. Shilts reporting work was made into a major motion picture, "And The Band Played On." (See previous posts Randy Shilts 'Reporter Zero' on Logo (3/10/07), OSU mentioned in The Advocate 45th anniversary issue (8/18/12), Advocate Touching Your Lifestyle 1976 (9/16/06), Wall Street Journal 1975 Advocate Story (7/8/06)) and Advocate 40th anniversary issue (9/11/07)

Decades ago, when I still exhibited the arrogance of youth, I thought that reading the obituary page was something that only 'old people' did and so I would rib my mother about her constant reading of obituary pages. However, I must now be "old" too because I am not only reading the obituary page, but I now understand why I my mother did it. My mother's stated reason for wanting to read the obituary section of the newspaper was so that she "could keep up with the town gossip," but I now realize she probably read it for the same reason I do now -- to keep track of friends and acquaintances.

My older, retired neighbor, who lives across the street from me, explained her reason to me was because she and her husband know everyone in town and they were both getting of the age when many of their friends were passing away and she didn't want to miss reading about it in the newspaper.

A few years ago when I was working with an estate attorney to button up my estate plans, part of her process was for me to write an obituary for my friends and family to use, if they wished, and so it was that around then was when I started to notice the obituaries of people who I had worked with over the years. (See previous posts Obituary for Thomas Kraemer (1/4/12) and OSU Foundation Magnus Hirschfeld Fund Agreement (1/4/12) for more on my estate plans)

I more recently noticed how both the history of the Corvallis college town and Oregon State University were epitomized by three obituaries of people who had touched my life over the last half of a century.

The most recent obituary of these three was for Bob Adams, who was the 10th employee of the consulting engineering firm CH2M-Hill that started in Corvallis, Oregon, where he was born in 1924 and graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering from Oregon State University in 1948 after serving in the Navy during World War II. At OSU he became a member of Σ Φ Ε Fraternity (Capital Greek letters written in English as Sigma Phi Epsilon) and later became a lifelong member of the Corvallis Lions Club. (See Obituaries: "Robert R. Adams 1924-2016," Gazette-Times, Aug.17, 2016, p. A4 posted Aug. 16, 2016) His funeral was held at the historic Corvallis First Presbyterian Church, Est. 1853, 114 SW Eigth Street, Corvallis, Oregon and was streamed live on the Internet. (See First Presbyterian Church Corvallis, Est. 1853 (History page accessed Aug. 19, 2016), Bob Adams memorial service and reception Friday, August 19, 2016, 2:00 pm accessed Aug. 19, 2016, "Live Streamed Worship - Bob Adams memorial service and reception," accessed Aug. 19, 2016 2 PM and "Live Streamed Worship - Bob Adams memorial service and reception," accessed Aug. 19, 2016 2 PM at First Presbyterian Church Corvallis)

My first memory of Bob Adams was when he spoke to OSU students who were interviewing with his firm for engineering jobs and I was impressed by his "home grown" approach to things, as locals like to call it.

The second obituary that epitomizes Corvallis history is of a former colleague who taught me about the politics of disability (see her obituary Lynn Andrews Gibson (Dec. 18, 1956 -- Feb. 16, 2016) posted Feb. 26, 2016) as she suffered from multiple sclerosis (MS), which is a neurological problem that only a few decades ago was considered the "faker's disease" because of its widely disparate symptoms that doctors did not believe were possible to suffer from. This skepticism did not change until MS could be diagnosed more scientifically diagnosed with modern brain imaging technology, such as CAT scans and functional MRI machines that can show how multiple regions of the brain that are not functioning.

I learned from her how most doctors are trained is to look for diagnoses that are explained by a single cause and have a single effect, which are measured by blood tests, brain images or other medical tests such as a physical exam. Hoever, if a test doesn't exist yet, then the person is not ill as far as doctors are concerned, even if they are falling over for no reason, which doctors will usually dismiss as being due to a psychological or psychiatric disorder called somatization or worse, due to malingering, the legal term fo "faking it" for some personal gain from the system. Many early victims of HIV and AIDS suffered from this kind of assumption because there was not test for HIV and no proof that HIV caused AIDS, which led many doctors to dismiss their disability as an attempt to rip-off the disability insurance system.

For example, I witnessed her and other Hewlett-Packard employees' dealing with third party disability administrators who had been hired mostly to minimize the costs to her employer, instead of helping the employee continue to contribute at work. She was virtually blind, in a wheelchair, and unable to walk, before anybody would finally admit to the fact that she was too disabled to work and that she was deserving of the generous permanent disability insurance benefits that were provided by our employer.

Her experience with MS highlights how doctors can be blind to the reality of complicated medical disorders that have not yet been identified because medical technology lacks a scientific test to detect them or measure it. I believe the so-called psychiatric disorders that most doctors treat as not being real and "all in the head" will someday have a scientific test and explanation for it, similar to how the test for HIV and its linkage to AIDS was eventually developed by medical science.

For example, it is now well known that so-called "psychiatric symptoms" are common with many metabolic disorders, such as diabetes, but these symptoms are not yet easy to measure or trtreated as can be a diabetic's blood sugar level. As a result, symptoms often get ignored by medical doctors who dismiss the symptoms as being "all in the head." The metabolic system in the human body is more complicated than an electronic digital computer and it can exhibit strange and buggy behavior just like computers commonly do. Anybody who has debugged a computer knows that it is too easy for engineers and technicians to dismiss all problems with a computer program as being the fault of stupid users, instead of going to the trouble of digging into the design to figure out the complicated sequence of events that must occur for a defect to surface.

As captured in the above two obituaries, Oregon State University, the CH2M-Hill consulting engineering firm and Hewlett-Packard have had dominated the small town of Corvallis, population 50,000, including the more than 20,000 college students, for more than half of a century. There has been a cross fertilization of students and University researchers.

When I graduated from OSU four decades ago, I was fully expecting to move elsewhere for a job, but was lucky to land a job at the brand new Hewlett-Packard handheld scientific calculator division that HP had just moved up from Silicon Valley to Corvallis to keep with up with customer demand for this wildly successful product line. In fact, Steve Jobs, founder of Apple COmputer, was in love with this HP product and it inspired him to produce the Apple PC's and iPhone smart phone. In fact, Steve Jobs successfully hired some HP engineers to help him create his empire, and he tried to recruit me when I showed him in 1982 the HP prototype of a handheld cell phone with an LCD calculator display, along with the Objective-C dynamic linking programming solution HP had devised with a thrid-party company, which eventually became the basis for iPhone Apps.

The third obituary that epitomizes the history of Corvallis and HP was the one of "Ronald Ward Keil" (1940-2014) posted Aug. 16, 2016, who was the first engineer I was assigned to work with at HP in HP's research and development lab in Corvallis. (also see short version of obituary of "Ron Keil," posted Aug. 15, 2014)

Ron Keil had been an engineering college professor before coming to HP, where he was often made fun of as being too analytical by the more seat-of-the-pants engineers who like to learn by cutting and trying things out instead of over analyzing them. As his obituary documents, he retired from HP at the age of 60, and then went on to work as a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Oregon State University for ten years, until retiring at the age of 70. Of course, this made him one of the retirees who are called "double dippers" because they get full retirement packages from two places, in his case the standard HP retirement package in addition to the very generous State of Oregon PERS (Public Employee Retirement System) that likely paid for all of his medical expenses before he tragically died of cancer just a few years into retirement. I can confirm that engineering students loved him for his practical engineering knowledge that he acquired while working in industry, which he could share with students who hated the typical engineering professor who is super theoretical and disinterested in the details of actually building something and making it work.

I accidently stumbled into Ron's obituary while working on an estate plan. (See previous post Obituary for Thomas Kraemer (1/4/12 revised 8/19/14 accessed 8/18/16))

Finally, an example of an obituary I missed because it wasn't printed locally, was the one for my mother's younger sister, Ann Baldwin Heck, published in The Washington Post on Oct. 1, 2015. She was born in 1931 and I recall visting her every summer when I was a kid -- my mother would take me and my sister to visit with both her and my Grandmother who lived in an an apartment building literally across the street from the U.S. Capitol building in washington, D.C. My grandmother's building was full of U.S. Senators and Congressmen who she would greet on a first name basis, and I would get a chance to learn about government service from her friendly neighbors. I never found out if she read the obituary page or not!