This month will be 13 years since I retired from Rocketdyne. At the time it was owned by United Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney division. When I first joined the organization in 1987 the mother ship was Rockwell International. Later it was sold to The Boeing Co. It is currently owned by Aerojet, but negotiations are continuing to complete its sale to L3Harris.
Throughout all these changes, which I have either experienced or watched somewhat closely from not too far, one thing has remained relatively constant. The quality of the people who work there. I believe I was privileged to work with some of the smartest, most competent people on the planet. After all, it WAS rocket science. To be more precise, Rocket Engine science.
Now, I’m neither an engineer, nor a scientist. I am not a machinist, technician, or mechanic. I had nothing to do with the actual design, manufacture, assembly, test, or flight of the rocket engines we manufactured and provided to NASA. Not directly, that is. An organization such as Rocketdyne cannot operate without ancillary functions to ensure lines of communication are robust and effective between and amongst each of the dozens of functions such an org needs and I am happy I was able to provide some of the skills and knowledge necessary to facilitate those connections.
When I left the company in May of 2010, I took home with me numerous mementos of my time there. These include printed editions of studies I played a major role in conducting, training materials for a tool I was the project manager for, internal awards I received, and other items that had some meaning for me. Today I once again came across this simple ticket. I’ve kept it all these years because it reminds me of one of my favorite people ever. Myrna Beth Thompson or, as we knew her, Beth.
She was one of the first people I met and became friends with when I joined the Program Office of the Space Shuttle Main Engine team. In an organization composed of very conservative people, she was another progressive I could relate to and she wasn’t shy about her beliefs. She was also kind, caring, empathetic, and always available to help anyone who needed it. Tragically, she died of a massive heart attack nine years ago this month.
The ticket is a prop from a class Beth championed and taught as part of our efforts to instill the concept of Systems Thinking into the heart of the organization for which we labored. It was based on Barry Oshry’s book, Seeing Systems: Unlocking the Mysteries of Organizational Life. If I recall correctly, one of the concepts taught was that of the Abilene Paradox or, as many people refer to it, The Road to Abilene. You can read about it here. It’s understanding, however, is ancillary to my reason for posting this.
Beth has been gone nearly a decade. I don’t think of her often, much as I don’t think of my father, mother, and others who have passed on. But I’ve kept this simple little ticket all these years because it reminds me of her and our friendship. I can’t bring myself to part with it. I’m pretty sure it will be one of those things my children will unceremoniously dump when I am gone. It has absolutely no intrinsic value any longer. Its value is entirely dependent on my memories and my life. I consider that extremely valuable.
PS – In case you’re wondering, SSME stands for Space Shuttle Main Engine (the program we both worked on for many years) and O.E. stands for Organizational Excellence, one of the numerous efforts we indulged in over the years to improve how we did business. They were often spectacularly unsuccessful, but that’s another story.