Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Dr. Paul R. Garabedian.

I entered college at the tender age of 17 and began studying to become an aeronautical engineer. When I was a freshman I was lucky enough to have a seminar class with Dr. Paul R. Garabedian, who passed away on May 13th.

Garabedian was a mathematician whose computer computations helped lead to fuel-efficient wings for modern jetliners. Oddly enough, Garabedian didn't work on a computer at all. He did his calculations long hand on 4x6-inch pieces of paper and would leave them to his students to verify and test.

After I worked for him for a year, he had decided to leave Columbia for the west coast to do some esoteric work on nuclear fusion. He began looking for magnetic field structures that could better hold and harness hot gases for future power plants. He was, I was told, still working on that problem at his death.

After Garabedian left Columbia, I was without a mentor. Aeronautics seemed less interesting without him. Fact is, for the first time in my life I became wayward. I drank too much. I cavorted with too many co-eds and, eventually, came close to flunking out of school.

I had lost my keel, my rudder.

It wasn't until I was a junior that I snapped out of it. Switched my major to literature and decided to try to become an English professor. I didn't succeed in that dream either.

However, if Garabedian were here today, he'd say this to me, as he said to me so many years ago. "Alfred," (he always called me Alfred no matter how often I corrected him) "A tree-legged donkey can go down hill as fast as a stallion."

Somehow that always made me feel better.

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