Hello everyone. I am pleased to recognize some of you; I am even more pleased to see so many faces I do not recognize. Young and old alike. Many families. That’s a testament to the man.
I agree with those who spoke before me: I cannot hope to do justice to the life of our beloved Gene. I can only hope to give you another set of anecdotes for you to remember him by, and a little bit of the history of the man as I knew him, from stories he told me, which many of you may have already heard.
When I met Gene I was only 28 years old. I was newly married and fresh out of college. Foolishly, I studied too hard and burnt myself out somewhat. I didn’t want to continue in my field of choice, which was history. Some September day I found myself driving past Gene’s jobsite and on a wild hair I decided to get out of my S-10 and ask him if he’d take me on. I told him up front that I didn’t know anything, but I did value manual labor.
He smiled with that drawn face of his and said: “I don’t!”
He gave me the job and taught me everything I now know. Which is that manual labor is romantic to those not doing it. But he also taught me precision.
Gene believed in precision because it gave a man the most leeway. This may sound paradoxical, but it isn’t. Not to him, and not in reality. The best analogy I can give to explain is that of the Little White Lie. You tell a little untruth, which misses the mark only a bit, and then you’re on the hook for every next lie you tell. You sacrificed precision for less work in the short-term, and you ended up with more work. And of course, dear children, lying is also wrong.
In our line of work, precision is a value because it saves you from pointless work and will bring customers back to pay you for more. It’s a value creator. “Do it right the first time, save yourself a dime.” And then there’s the engineering element. A home which is built with precision is a house that will stand upright and last a generation or two.
“You know people raise kids in these things?” I remember he said that to me once, after I screwed something up. At that point I wanted to kick his butt for the remark. But he won in the long run, because I don’t remember what I did to warrant it, and I do remember the remark. I’ve probably said it to a few of my own guys.
I think the funniest thing I remember about Gene’s olden days was the way he got into the Army Air Force. He studied for a time at university to be a biologist, which I found hard to believe because it’s about as far from a precise science as you can get, and it didn’t seem to have much to do with construction. His senior project in 1942 had to do with bats. When he was 21, he spent a lot of time in caves in Utah and Nevada, stomping around in guano. I guess at one point they used it to make gunpowder, and in Gene’s time they used it for fertilizer. I’ll stick to Milorganite and Miracle-Gro, thank you very much.
Anyway, one day Gene was approached to help the Department of War on a clandestine project to capture two hundred thousand bats for use on a top-secret Army project. He didn’t ask why, he just said yes.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, the Department of War took the bats to Dugway Proving Ground, put them in bomber planes and dropped them out over a model Japanese town they’d constructed in the desert. Gene didn’t know it at that moment, but those men from the Department of War had fastened little incendiaries to the bats, timed to explode an hour or two later, after the bats had nestled in the eaves of the target buildings. It was a project to burn and destroy indiscriminately, and they got what they were looking for. Some of the bats even torched a hangar at the airfield the planes took off from. I’m guessing they scrapped the project, because Gene was the only person who ever told me about it.
But Gene didn’t care much for bats after that. He finally picked up on the military drift of life as a young male in the 40s and dropped out of college to enlist as bombardier, I guess with a mind to fixing what he saw as institutional problems. Of course he didn’t fix anything (how could he?) and he didn’t tell me much about his time except that he was in the “Mighty” Eighth Air Force.
He said: “I flew my 25 sorties and then the war ended. I never dropped a bomb on somebody’s house. I dropped bombs on soldiers and trains and factories. And I hit them. I could hit the inside of a barrel from 25,000 feet, twice.”
Once when my wife and I were over for dinner he showed me his Distinguished Flying Cross. He had it in a little pine box and he only showed me because I asked if he had any silverware from the war. He told me he didn’t care about it because he heard the bombardier on the Enola Gay got one too.
“Now that,” he said, “was an imprecise job!” He thumped me on the shoulder.
The rest of Gene’s life is well known. He became a contractor and built many of the houses here in our cozy corner of Utah. Some of yours, I expect. The library. The clinic on the corner of Oak and Dearborn. And he built them all well. He raised a good family too, and as far as I know he was a perfect husband to our dearly remembered Sarah.
He also went to church and he gave alms. He wasn’t all that precise about that, though. Leeway, remember? He freely gave. And if that seems like a contradiction, well, maybe it’s just there to remind us to cut the lumber of our lives on the right side of the line.
That’s all I have to say. I love you Gene, and I’m going to miss you.