I have a head engineer up there


This is part one of a series about Bill, who enrolled in hospice services with end-stage colon cancer when he was 89 years old. The first time I met Bill, I knocked on his front door and he welcomed me in. Bill was soft-spoken and affable. He immediately made me feel at home.

Bill was born and raised in “The Bottoms” of Lucasville. If you are familiar with “The Bottoms,” you know Bill didn’t grow up with a “silver spoon” in his mouth. Bill declared, “I had wonderful jobs. When I was young, I followed engineers around and was always asking “Why?” I was known as the “why kid.” I exposed my ignorance instead of hiding it. I was willing to stand corrected, because if you aren’t willing to stand corrected, you’ll never grow, you’ll never change.”

And Bill grew and changed. He worked at the New Boston steel mill for 43 years and became the superintendent over the electrical and communications departments, supervising 200 electricians, in Bill’s words, “roughneck steel workers.” Bill explained, “We worked on anything with a current running through it.”

Bill reminisced, “They used to call me ‘Crazy Legs’ at the mill. I injured my knee, and it went out, so my leg wobbled when I walked. When they saw me coming, they’d say ‘Here comes Crazy Legs.’ I hope you don’t think I’m bragging, but Bill Newman was a household name at the steel mill. I could listen to a motor and tell you what was wrong with it. One day, I got a hold of one that I hadn’t seen before, it was a 2,500 horsepower motor. It was old, and there were no prints for it, but you have to start somewhere. I never went straight to the problem in a circuit, but I was usually close, and I just worked it from there. It was difficult when they changed everything over from analog to digital. I hated it for a while. I scorned it at first. I just couldn’t get it, but it finally kicked in. It took me five years before I got it all figured out. I just outlasted it. A guy once asked me how I came about all that I knew. I used to think I was figuring everything out, but I have a head engineer up there.” Bill pointed to the heavens with his crooked index finger and continued, “Answers would just come to me. Once, I’d been working on a problem for days, and I woke up at three o’clock in the morning, and the answer just came to me. I wrote it down because I was afraid I would change it.” Bill halted for a second or two and concluded, “He knit me together while I was in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139) Bill’s comment launched us into a discussion about how there’s nothing that we have that we didn’t receive, so why do we act as if we didn’t receive it. (1 Corinthians 4:7) We talked about how, in the light of truth, the only legitimate response to life and success is thankfulness.

Bill maintained a childlike awe-inspired sense of wonder. He saw God’s fingerprints on all of creation. Bill shared his fascination with mechanics, electricity, nuclear physics, electromagnetics, convection, acoustics and astronomy. He was just as fascinated and familiar with the word of God as he was with the laws of physics, for he reckoned them as emanating from the same “head engineer.”

Bill didn’t like to brag, but I don’t see anything wrong about his daughter, Robyn, bragging about her “daddy”: “I grew up in a house with a daddy who could do anything. I thought everybody’s daddy could build garage door openers before they came on the market, keep football scoreboards and PA systems going, maintain beacon signals at the Minford airport, repair everything from cars to toasters, draw and paint, redesign equipment made by state-of-the-art companies, play the guitar, build an electric car back in the ’80s, sew, upholster, keep a steel mill running and cut my hair. I was much older before I knew how amazing he was. Many people would not want to go back through their childhood. I would, and I would be a sponge.”

Bill embodied genius and humility, a fascination with science and a reverence for God — a rare combination. At the end of my first visit, I suggested to Bill, “I think I’ve got a hold of one that I haven’t seen before.” Bill just smiled and chuckled.

“Talent is God-given; be thankful. Praise is man-given; be humble. Conceit is self-given; be careful.” — Dave Driscoll (Quiet Strength by Tony Dungy)

Loren Hardin is a social worker with Southern Ohio Medical Center-Hospice, and can be reached at 740-356-2525 or at hardinl@somc.org. You can order Loren’s new book, “Straight Paths,” online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.