For My Father

George Parker Wray 3/9/1928 - 5/21/2008This post is dedicated to the memory of my father, George Parker Wray who died May 21st, 2008.

First, here’s the eulogy I wrote for his memorial service.

It was an amazing service. The Kiskiminetas Mason Lodge 617 turned out as did the Shriner Clowns whom he had been a member of.

The Masonic service was incredibly moving and it was very obvious my father’s fellow lodge members loved him dearly and grieved his death. Being a mason was a big part of my father’s life and when he and my mother returned to the Pennsylvania area, he became active again – eventually joining the Shriner clowns and helping to raise the spirits of sick children. My dad loved children and it’s so obvious in photos and stories told about him – tying balloon animals for hours so that every single child at an event took something away to remind them of the happy time.

Something the Shriner Clowns did was just touching beyond words – they each left a small balloon animal on the altar as they passed. Seeing the Masonic symbols (lambskin apron, evergreen sprigs and scroll) together with these simple icons of childhood were crushingly poignant. Clearly you could see this was a complicated man who touched people on a lot of levels.

There’s so much story to tell that I’m just going to start dropping in photos and describe them. Try and keep up.

Here’s some family photos that came to me after the funeral (click images to enlarge)

George Wray family

My dad was born and grew up on a farm in Spring Church, PA.

This is his family. I think that’s him on the left in the first row of kids.

George Wray family
An earlier shot of my dad’s family.

Parents of George Wray
My father’s parents. Tough-looking people which I suppose comes from farming.

When my father left his family farm (another story!) he went to work in the local steelmill (US Steel) and met my mother (Shirley) and his to-be inlaws. This is such an iconic shot.

Emily and William Rowe
Emily and William Rowe, my mother’s parents. I knew only Emily, William died when I was very little. (here’s my eulogy for my grandmother)

My mother had two sisters, Bobby and Gwenevere and a brother William (my uncle Mickey). Here’s a great shot of all of them after a night on the town:

Eight is too many!

Back row: Mickey Rowe, Les Walsh, Bob Fleissner, George Wray.

Front row: Jean Rowe, Emily’s three daughters, Bobby Rowe (Walsh), Gwen Rowe (Fleissner) and Shirley Rowe (Wray). Note the horns being added by my uncle Bob and my father. I take it from the straws that drinking had been involved. Uncle Bob looks either very sleepy or completely fried. Needless to say, it was a very close-knit group. All of these people were very much a part of my life as I was growing up and I love them all dearly. (High-resolution image available.)

Well, it wasn’t long after (maybe even before) this photo was taken that my parents started building a family.

The children of George and Shirley Wray are, in order:

Bonita Jo (Bunny)

David William (see also this entry)

Georgia Leslie

Mark Douglas

Paula Nadine

Here’s a couple of shots of my mom and I sitting on the front porch of our house in Apollo – we lived in two different places – one in the lower part of town, the other ‘up on the hill’ (Oak Hill) (map).

Shirley and Douglas Wray
Funny shot, eh?

Doug Wray expressing himself at an early age
Take a wild guess who coached me to make that gesture?

Love ya dad.

I start to remember my father’s career starting around the time he got a job at the US Steel Monroeville Research Center. (everybody’s welcome to help me fill in his earlier years in the steel mill, then San Diego in the Navy and then as a door-to-door insurance salesman – all I know is stories passed on) If I remember right, he started out doing welding for vacuum systems, which led him into a position on the new one-million-volt electron microscope US Steel was buying. That was a rough time for him – apparently he’d claimed a high-school diploma and didn’t actually have it! So he had to hurriedly cram for and take the GED, not something you just do in a week. He did. He also learned electronics via correspondence, amazing to me even now. He worked at US Steel for (I think) twelve years, took early retirement and moved to a job at the University of Colorado’s Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology.

Here’s some photos from George’s time at US Steel’s Monroeville Research Center:

US Steel Monroeville Research Center - MVEM Building
The MVEM (Million Volt Electron Microscope) building at US Steel’s Monroeville Research Center. Very modern! Coolest building on the whole campus.

1 Million Volt RCA Electron Microscope
The RCA 1-million-volt transmission electron microscope. That’s George at the console – he spent thousands of hours running this sci-fi-lookin thing. I spent a fair bit of time here with him on various occasions. The room was kept darkened when the microscope was in use. That, combined with the huge, hulking supports, the humming of pumps, clicking relays and control switches only made it more exciting. This was the glowing heart of scientific research at the time – and my dad was square in the middle of it!

Cockcroft-Walton accelerator used to create electron beam.

This is the ‘accelerator room’ – I think they called it that because it made your heart race to come up the stairs, turn a corner and see this. It’s a Cockcroft-Walton generator and was a part of early ‘atom smashers.’ This is where the one million volts of energy was generated to accelerate the electrons into the microscope’s ‘column’ downstairs.

The very latest in video technology!
Cutting-edge, state-of-the-art video recording technology! 2″ reel-to-reel VTR (before cassettes and helical scan!) I think they were recording steel samples being heated/stressed mechanically to watch the crystalline structure change in real time. Never-before-seen effects!

In the primary transformer pit during assembly
My father didn’t just -work- on this machine, he helped assemble it. This transformer is below the floor of the accelerator room shown above. There’s my dad, as usual, up to his elbows in the dirtiest job. I think he loved doing the ‘messy’ jobs that no one else wanted to do.

George Wray inspecting top of US Steel MVEM electron accelerator.

Here’s George at the top of the electron-beam column. He’s actually -inside- the part that the guy is polishing in the photo above of the accelerator. This was the ‘electron gun’ assembly where the ‘filament’ was housed that actually created the beam of electrons.

An advertisement featuring the MVEM - and my dad, of course.

Here’s a color advertisement US Steel ran -great shot of the accelerator. That’s my dad applying a grounding rod to it. For what it’s worth, my dad didn’t really wear a lab coat all the time.

Group shot 1

I think this group is the team that assembled the microscope. My dad’s in the back row, second to last on the right.

Group shot 1

Another group shot. I think this was the primary building-installation team. My dad’s in the back row, last one on the right. Note that everone’s wearing dosimeters – this thing generated high-energy x-rays when it was on, so radiation exposure had to be monitored.

US Steel Monroeville Research Center - staff

Group shot of the entire research staff. I think this is everyone that worked at the Monroeville Research Center.

Closeup of George Wray
Here’s my dad, closeup from the photo above. He’s in the fourth row back, third in from the left. Look at his face – I know that look. He was so tickled he was probably trembling. This had to be one of the Big Moments in his life to be counted among these people.

When George left US Steel Research after 12 (?) years his co-workers presented him with a notebook filled with significant photos (several shown above) as well as some fun ‘geek humor’:

The cover to the gift book

I love that it’s all elements from the lab: the Dymo labeller (very new at the time and the labels were ubiquitous throughout the lab. The USS logo patch that was on coats, the part-tag (with my dad’s employee number I suspect, but don’t know for sure). Basically it’s supposed to be an ‘operating log’ similar to the one kept for The Scope.

Operating Record for

This page is just filled with all kinds of silly ‘in’ jokes. The ‘Description of Specimen’ is, however, perfectly accurate. One of the signatures at the bottom right is J.Scott Lally. If I understand the ‘Plate exposure’ line, 39,683 photos were taken by the MVEM during my father’s time there. Not a bad record!

Map to retirement party
Map to ‘Party for George Wray’ – I think the location name is also a gag: ‘Elec. Heights Hous. Assoc.’ very likely means ‘Electron Heights Housing Association’ and was perhaps housing for visiting scientists. It had a ‘hut’ which is Cold War slang for a guard shack. This was probably a meeting hall for the research campus. I love that “Informal” has no less than seven underlines. I think they meant VERY informal.

We moved to Boulder, CO in the 1970s and baby, it was a whole different world. From a high-security corporate research lab to a wide-open biology research lab on a college campus. A whole new microscope to install and operate. Nobel-prize-winning scientist Dr. Keith Porter was in charge at the time, so it was pretty heady stuff.

George Wray and Kyoshi Takasaki from JEOL assemble the JEOL 1000C 1MeV TEM at CU MCDBio
This is my dad and his soon-to-be good friend Kiyoshi Takasaki assembling the microscope. They’re getting ready to add the objective lens/sample stage section.

Dick McIntosh and George Wray pose on the upper deck of the JEOL 1000C TEM

Dick McIntosh and George Wray pose on the upper deck of the JEOL 1000C TEM.

George and Shirley Wray pose on the completed JEOL 1000C 1 Mev TEM
Here’s my dad, my mom and Paul Connally posing on the Hanford, WA scope that they stripped for parts when it was decommissioned.

George and Shirley Wray look as Paul Connally disassembles the Hanford, WA JEOL 1000C
Taking apart the Hanford, WA scope. They worked round-the-clock for days salvaging every single unique component they could. Many parts of the Hanford scope went into keeping the Boulder, CO scope going.

George cracking up at his birthday party at the lab.
The folks in the MCD Biology department treated my dad like family. You can see the joy on his face as he reads his birthday card at this party.

George Wray and Eileen O
George Wray and Kate Luby-Phelps at lab event.

George gets some birthday smoochies from the MCDB staff
Aww. Such a ladies man. They all loved my old man. For good reason!

After my father retired from the University of Colorado, he and my mother moved to Winston-Salem, NC. Wake Forest University friends had him teaching students in no time flat. He kept working for several more years and no doubt contributed immensely to the sciences by teaching yet another generation of microscope users how to get the most out of a TEM.

When he finally decided to stop working, he wanted to return to Pennsylvania to his roots. He and my mother moved back to PA near the town of Indiana where my sister Georgia (Missy) lived at the time. My mother began having TIAs and finally succumbed to a massive stroke shortly after they’d renovated a home and were settling in nicely. It was such a blow. My father went on. He became active in the Masons again and then the Shrine and became a clown. Here’s some photos from that time:

My father My father’s Mason ring. For years it mystified me. I assumed the ‘G’ meant ‘George’ – when I found out it meant ‘God’ I think I said ‘Well… more or less SAME THING TO ME!’
Master Mason Jewel The Master Mason’s jewel. Quite an arcane thing.
Top of the jewel Top of the jewel
Bottom of the Master Mason jewel Bottom of the jewel
Lambskin Mason Apron The lambskin Masons apron that was on the altar during the Masonic funeral ceremony. Lovely symbolism.
Shriner My dad drove a van to shuttle kids back and forth for medical exams. I know he loved doing this, he told me so several times.
My dad and his friend Frannie. After my mother’s death, my father met her friend Frannie and they spent the last years of his life together. They spent a lot of happy times together at Shrine events. Fran’s a lovely sweet woman and I know she loved George dearly. God bless her for standing at his side.
Shriners bolo tie My dad loved bolo ties. Here’s one with all the various organization symbol on it.
Close up of bolo tie fastener Closeup of the tie fastener
Finally! Graduated HS! The high school my dad dropped out of to work the farm finally gave him (and many other vets) honorary diplomas. My sister Missy was at the ceremony and reports ‘he was SO happy’. George was all about ‘closing the loop’ so I know this must have delighted his heart.
Program from my dad Program from the graduation ceremony. Nicely done!

And now, the clown pix:

George Wray as BOO the clown George Wray as ‘BOO’ the clown.
George Wray as BOO the clown Closeup of George Wray as ‘BOO’ the clown.
George Wray as BOO the clown, going on All dressed up and going on!
George Wray as BOO the clown making balloon animals Making balloons for the kids.
George Wray as BOO the clown with happy kid Another happy kid – a clown’s best reward.

There’s SO, SO much more to say, but I’ll leave it up to you readers to find the comment field below and add your own memories of George or correct me where I’ve mis-stepped. All submissions welcome. Send your images to macguiguru@spamcop.net and don’t worry about whether it’s appropriate or not. George would have loved it – anytime one of his friends laughs, I’m sure his spirit hears them.

And in all this, my mother appears only a small satellite due to her reluctance to having her picture taken. Know that she was everywhere my father was. For over forty years they walked together as husband and wife and I am certain they are rejoined now. As much as our world is dimmed by his passage, I am sure somewhere there are angels singing and laughing.

Goodbye My Father. You are in my heart always.

13 thoughts on “For My Father”

  1. Hi Doug,

    This is a lovely tribute to your father. What a meaningful and beautiful thing to do. A father is a special person and I feel for your loss.

    Warm wishes,
    Jan

  2. Hey Little Brother
    How are you doing? I like your web site and your tribute to Dad, I just can’t believe that both our parents are gone, we are orphans now!!!! Well, I have to go. Miss ya!

    Love
    Bunny

  3. Great job Doug, Thank you very much. It brought tears to my eyes .A lot of time and love went into making this. The “Old Man” would have been proud. I’ll pass it on to Lisa, Sara and Mike.

    Dave

  4. I still have photos from the reception at the Sportman’s Club that I haven’t gotten done yet, just running in circles the past few months getting Marilyn well! Thanks for commenting! I’m still not processing the loss yet. sigh

  5. Doog

    A heartfelt tribute. Your eulogy, for me, exposes what I would have wished for in a father. “…a father, a mentor, a colleague, a friend.” I am left with concluding I had a father. That’s it. I’ve read your eulogy twice, I’ve studied the litany of your father’s achievements. I am left with the conclusion your father was a good and decent man, a humble man who found it in himself to see the worth of setting aside ego and becoming the clown. What a noble endeavor. What strength he must have possessed. What love he must have effused. I wish I could have known him. My tribute: I wish my father could have found it in himself to emulate George Wray.

    I have seen and wondered at the beauty of the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. I see George Wray doing the same, from a time and place he surely earned entry to by the life he lived, by the mere testament of a son that he was, besides a father, a mentor, a colleague, a friend.

    Godspeed George Wray.

    My deepest sympathy, Doog.

    George

  6. My mother tells me your father joined the navy to support his mother. This put Edie and Timmie (my mother) through school. Sara Emily aka Timmie is still living. It’s really nice to know more about your Dad, my Uncle.

  7. He was a great man. Tough as nails but had a heart of gold! He never talked much about his family so I’m thrilled to hear from you!

  8. Thanx,
    I appreciate your relationship & your father’s accomplishments.
    Gives me thoughts of posting similar honors, altho my folks died a total of 92 years ago. ‘ppreciate thus knowing you a bit better.
    Strider

  9. His life was humble but honorable and I felt it deserved some celebrating. There’s more to be said too. Our ancestors make us who we are and I love looking back at them – it shows me how much they gave us. Thanks for reading!

  10. Old friend works for US Steel and they where clearing out a space and they where on the way to the trash so he held onto them. They hung on the wall at US Steel for all of that time!

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