Saturday, December 04, 2010


I'm not sure when I first met Norb, it seems like I've just always known him. I probably first met him in the spring of 1985 shortly after I started working at Global. Back then the thermoelectric conference was always held in Arlington, Texas in the spring. Norb managed the thermoelectric group at General Atomics and it was right about then that General Atomics closed their thermoelectric group and Norb, along with two of his friends (Jack Bass and Bob Campana) started Electro Technology which later became Hi-Z Technology (but that is another story for another day). I remember that Hi-Z presented at one of those first conferences and I was fascinated with their technology. I liked Norb as soon as I met him and back then I never dreamed that we'd become as close as we have. I didn't really know Norb too well until 1992 when we started talking on the phone rather regularly. I could tell he wanted to hire me but he also wanted to get to know me better before he made me an offer so we talked on the phone quite regularly for several months. We talked about everything, not just technical stuff. Finally Norb made me an offer that I couldn't refuse and I packed up my family and hauled them off to San Diego. That is when I got to know Norb probably as well as I know my own wife. I think we have spent more time together than my wife and I have.

Norb was my mentor. Our degrees were in the same field but he had decades more experience than I did. We complemented each other well because I had a lot of experience in one area of thermoelectrics and most of his experience was in another field of thermoelectrics. We taught each other a lot but he taught me much more than I could ever have taught him. I owe him more than I could hope to repay. My career that I love dearly is largely due to working with Norb. Even after I left Hi-Z I still stopped by nearly every week for a few hours in the evening. I helped where I could but my favorite evenings were when we would just sit and talk. We talked about Hi-Z. We talked about proposals that he was working on and we talked about the projects that they had going. We even talked about families and politics and religion. Norb was a very devout Catholic and he loved to talk about everything to do with religion. He lived his relgion too. When you first meet Norb you may think he's a grumpy old man but I've seen him perform countless acts of charity all done in secret. The only reason I've seen them is because I was told by the person who received the charity. Even though we belong to different churches we agree on just about everything and our few differences were never a problem.

I am so glad that I was able to return to Hi-Z when I did. It was like I'd never left and my return was very timely. I was able to be a part of an exciting time at Hi-Z and they were just starting a project that was well suited to my background.

Not long before I returned to Hi-Z doctors found a tumor on one of Norbs kidneys. The kidney was removed and everything looked fine. Unfortunately this last summer they noticed that a few tumors were growing on Norbs abdominal wall so they went back in and took those out. That surgery appeared to go well but I've never seen Norb so sick. He'd undergone surgeries before but he always bounced back quickly. This time he didn't. He did gradually improve but it was a long hard process. In the fall however the doctors noticed that some tumors were already coming back. This time they decided that surgery was no longer an appropriate option. They finally decided to go with some form of chemotherapy. Within two days after starting the chemo Norb had a very bad reaction. He was delirious and weak and didn't recognize anyone. I went to visit Norb at least once a week and he looked very bad. I expected we'd lose him then but the treatments were immediately stopped and Norb slowly returned to us. he recognized me again but sometimes his comments were just gibberish. Slowly however he improved and was almost normal. He would call into work and contribute to the discussions and even though he'd make the occasional remark that was a bit weird, it was good to have him back.

The Friday after Thanksgiving Norb went home. The following Tuesday (four days ago) we even saw Norb at Jacks birthday party. He didn't look too good but compared to what he had been it was a big improvement and it was great to see him out. Wednesday he was having trouble breathing and they had to take him back to the hospital. It turned out that he had water on his lungs. Thursday night at 10:30 Norb passed away. It doesn't seem possible that someone who has been such a huge part of my life is gone. I always knew that Norb would work right up to the day he died. It was the way he wanted it. It just all happened so fast. I had hoped that he would be able to go home and spend a few months with his family before he went but it wasn't to be. My prayers are with his wife and kids. I am a better person for having known Norb.


Lisa said...

What a beautiful tribute. I have been in tears the whole time I've been reading it. I know you loved Norb. He was a good man and such a wonderful example and mentor to you.

Lynn said...

So Sorry Fred. Like Lisa said. A very beautiful Tribute to your close friend. I bet he is doing a dance now that he is pain free. Isn't it wonderful to have the knowledge that we do....that you two friends will one day see each other again. And I bet those religion talks will have a different feeling. ; D

Alycia (Crowley Party) said...

I didn't know Norb that well, but I honestly felt like I did. Just by how often you would talk about him :)

Kira said...

I am still so sad for you dad. I am sad bat norb but I am so glad that you got have him be such abhuge part of your life.

Brent said...

Fred, sorry to hear about Norb, I remember you talking of him fondly at the game night we had the other day and whet his friendship ment to you. Sounded like a great friend.

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