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Gene Meeks - In Memorium

Posted: Mon Dec 18, 2006 11:10 pm
by Richard Hull
It is with great sadness and sense of loss that I announce the passing of my friend Gene Meeks.

Gene was living with his daughter and in generally good health. He suffered a stroke on Wednesday, last and actually made it out of ICU and was in a normal bed in recovery, but flatlined last Friday and all efforts to revive him, failed.

I last talked with Gene a couple of weeks ago. He seemed in fine spirits and was very happy to hear from me.

I met Gene in 1999 when I went to Fort Wayne to interview four of the Team members still residing there. Gene was a major team player on the original Farnsworth team. We bonded very quickly and his memory was one of the best of all the team members as he was very involved, even though he was but a technician on the team.

Gene acutally pre-dated all of the team members as he helped Phil Farnsworth start to setup a fusor lab in his State Street home back in 1958-59. This private effort was before any funding by ITT was forthcoming. Gene worked after hours at Phil's home and Phil paid Gene out of his own pocket. Gene literally became part of the Farnsworth family as Pem would often fix midnight snacks and even full meals for the pair as they labored in the basement nightly and on weekends.

Gene was a young technician at ITT and Phil recognized that Gene was multi-talented and kept him at his side throughout the whole project, having him transferred from his asigned ITT post over to the fusor project as the very first team member, once the project became funded.

Ultimately, Farnsworth would allow Gene his own fusor station and he worked independent of the others in his spare moments.

Bob Hirsch speaks very highly of Gene as being one of the "best pair of hands" he has ever known. Gene turned ideas into hardware and shepherded systems for any and all team leaders and members.

Gene's life was very tough back in those days with many personal troubles and difficulties at home and financially.

Gene was often viewed by some at ITT as being a bit obstinate and troublesome. He seemed to not function well within the more rigid ITT corporate idea of what a technician class person should or should not say or do. Suffice it to say, any issues involving Gene were put aright by Phil, The Admiral, or Bob Hirsch, supporting him fully. They knew Gene's true worth was in his ability to perform very well if just nudged instead of being pushed.

I have had many hours sitting in person with Gene in three visits I have made to Fort Wayne. I have also spent many, many hours on the phone over the last 8 years. Each time I called he would offer up more information on his time as a team member.

Alas, his vibrant personality and his ability to supply useful insights and closely held personal information are now part of history.

I will fondly remember Gene as a man with a beer in his hand and a smoldering cigarette close by. I never saw him, but what there were not a lot of beers on hand which would be consumed one after the other. Still, I never saw him drunk. (Or, if he was, he functioned normally and without apparent impediment)

I remember during one interview, when he had finished his last beer in the fridge, he told me it would resume only after we took him out to eat and then to a store for more beer and smokes. He was a product of his times; a sort of likeable Marlboro-Budwieser man.

Gene was, at all events, his own man. He did not equivocate or complain. He was always immediately friendly, very much alive and once he accepted you, could really open up about many things that would both amuse and amaze.

I will miss him mightily

Richard Hull

P.S. I append an image from 1999. Taken in front of the Pontiac street plant.
left to right Myself, Gene Meeks, Freddy Haak.

Re: Gene Meeks - In Memorium

Posted: Tue Dec 19, 2006 12:13 am
by DaveC
Richard -
Another page has turned. But thanks to your vivid word pictures, we all have a clearer idea of what transpired in those interesting days with Phil Farnsworth, and those who helped turn ideas into hardware.

People like Gene Meeks are rare, in any experimental scene, and literally worth their weight in gold. Virtually any R&D project that has a measure of success, owes a good portion to such people.

Again, your personal insights and shared anecdotes help us all, and are greatly appreciated.

Many thanks!!

Dave Cooper

Re: Gene Meeks - In Memorium

Posted: Tue Dec 19, 2006 12:21 am
by Richard Hull
Thanks Dave for the kind words. I think you might have missed part of the post that was warming and humourous as I was composing,editing and correcting as you answered.

You might want to read the ending statements which make Gene appear as I saw him.

Richard Hull

Photos (Re: Gene Meeks - In Memorium)

Posted: Tue Dec 19, 2006 12:24 am
by Paul_Schatzkin
I also had a chance to spend some time with Gene Meeks on two occasions in the spring and summer of 2001. I'm going to upload a couple of photos from those visits so you all will get a better sense of the man we have lost tonight.

The first photo picture attached here shows Gene in Kent Farnsworth's back yard in Fort Wayne Indiana after we opened up a 1966 vintage, Robert Hirsch model fusor that Kent had in his garage. We got Gene to come by and help us open the thing and get a good look at the innards. Then he started explaining in great and clear detail some of the processes that take place inside -- ion paths, electron returns etc etc. I have the whole conversation on mini-disk, too... might make some interesting listening some day.

The second photo was taken at Steve Blaising's house (if memory serves me) during a visit that Richard Hull and I made to Fort Wayne in July of 2001, when we sat down with Steve and Gene and let them reminisce at great length about their days at the Pontiac Street lab. Those interviews provided the material in the fusion chapters at the end of "The Boy Who Invented Television."

I think this photo shows Gene in what might arguably have been his favorite posture - i.e. with a beer in one hand (and possibly a cigarette in the other...) . These photos would seem to affirm the sentiments expressed by Richard at the end of his In Memorium post.

Thank you, Richard, for introducing me to Gene and the other members of the old Farnsworth fusion team.


Re: Photos (Re: Gene Meeks - In Memorium)

Posted: Tue Dec 19, 2006 12:51 am
by Richard Hull
Thanks Paul for posting those images. I knew one of us had to have some shots of Gene in his natural habitat. Most of mine are on video.

Everyone will note that Gene had no favorite beer. All beers were consumed with equal relish and gusto. I one time asked him what was his favorite beer to which he responded; "Free BEER is my favorite." He admitted that nothing ever tasted quite as good as a FREE beer. For Gene, Beer was food!

Richard Hull

Re: Photos (Re: Gene Meeks - In Memorium)

Posted: Tue Dec 19, 2006 1:03 am
by Paul_Schatzkin
I don't know if Richard mentioned it, but he told me earlier this evening that Gene Meeks was 76 when he passed away. Which means that, regardless of his personal habits or regimen, he got his "three-score-years-plus-ten" and then some.

Which would seem to underscore the basic truth in that old saw: "eat right, get plenty of exercise... die anyway."


Re: Photos (Re: Gene Meeks - In Memorium)

Posted: Tue Dec 19, 2006 1:18 am
by Jon Rosenstiel
Sad news, indeed. Thanks Richard and Perfesser for the photos.

Jon Rosenstiel

Re: Photos (Re: Gene Meeks - In Memorium)

Posted: Tue Dec 19, 2006 1:59 am
by DaveC
I missed the picture, Richard.

Glad you were editing "in" and not ":out".

Dave Cooper

Re: Photos (Re: Gene Meeks - In Memorium)

Posted: Tue Dec 19, 2006 2:00 am
by Chris Trent
I doff my cap at the changing of the guard, to salute him gone before. Yet a new path he has shown to me, so stride I forth once more.

Hats off to a pioneer. May we mourn his passing, celebrate his life, and carry on his work. I wish I could have met him.

Re: Gene Meeks - In Memorium

Posted: Tue Dec 19, 2006 7:05 pm
by Starfire
I too add my condolences to Genes family and close circle of friends. While not having a chance to meet him in person – I feel we are of kindred spirit. That he has contributed, is demonstrated by the fact that so many people across the world know his name and his work, it is with regret that we note his passing, but his name is marked in history and will for ever be recalled with respect for a true pioneer of science.