Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Of Endings, and Beginnings....

This, the first "official" post on this weblog, is in memory of my father, Wilfred Watson, who passed away three years ago this week.

Dad worked for 33 years as a research engineer at Ontario Hydro. Although based in Toronto, his work often took him to hydro-electric generating stations along the Abitibi and Mattagami rivers of Northern Ontario. An enthusiastic photographer with a love of the outdoors, he would always return from these trips with a couple of rolls of exposed film, and stories about flying into some remote location by bush-plane, or flagging down the Ontario Northland mixed train to take his work party (and a box-car loaded with equipment) to the next dam up the line. While not a "rail-fan" as such, he did keep his camera handy, and would usually shoot a few pictures if a train came by. This picture (scanned from one of the 9000 slides he left behind) was taken in February 1969, probably at Cochrane. Those are FP7's in the green/gold ONR colour scheme.

My father came from a working class family in the industrial town of Bradford, Yorkshire. Young Wilfred got his start in electrical engineering as a boy in the 1920's, watching his father assemble radios from what seemed to him a random collection of coils and glass "valves" (Grand-Dad Watson worked as a warehouse foreman -- electronics was a hobby). Dad graduated with his B.Sc. from Bradford Technical Institute in 1939, the first of his family to obtain higher education. It was also about then that he met a young beauty named Winifred Baldwin, whom he married in 1943.

His war years were spent in the British Army REME, repairing anti-aircraft artillery on the English south coast.

Given Wilfred's early exposure to electronic tinkering, it's probably natural that when the BBC announced the start of television broadcasts (1950), he would build his own TV set from bits and pieces -- on my mother's tea trolley! Of course, the "tinkering" gene probably helps explain why I also wound up in engineering -- and why I like model trains. (We did actually have an HO layout for some years, though I haven't found the pictures of it yet in my slow progress through the slide archives.)

My father's love of learning never stopped. In his late 40's, he went back to school in the evenings to study philosophy. Taking one course per semester while pursuing a demanding career at Hydro, it took him about 10 years, but he finally graduated from York University at age 57 with his B.A. I remember this time -- roughly spanning my teens -- as a period when he would explain either transistor theory or the ideas of Rene Descartes, with equal enthusiasm, to his inquisitive son. (Yes, that gene seems to have been passed on, too).

Dad once remarked to me that he considered himself the luckiest of men: that he had always managed to make his way, to earn a good living, simply by doing the things he enjoyed and was good at. The legacy of my father's life is this: Never stop learning. Never stop thinking. Never stop doing what you love.

In memoriam:
Wilfred Watson
31 March, 1920 - 6 April, 2003