Last year, I posted about Alex Downie and how he invited me to dinner for my first real holiday away from home. I recall seeing him there in the Cancer ward and thinking about the friend I had lost. It still makes me sad. But today, I want to tell you about a man that was all about joy – Gene Alan.
Gene and I worked together at Racal-Milgo and later at Racal-Datacom. Gene worked in our training department and I worked in Engineering. I was part of a cool program that Milgo had that allowed fresh out Engineers to try out different departments. One of the things that we all did was go through MODEM training with Gene. He showed us the ropes on how they worked in practice. You can imagine that many Engineers are not greatly interested in these things, but Gene always had a big smile and a way of coaxing us all to enjoy ourselves strapping MODEMs. This was long enough ago that many configuration details were done by making hard wire selections on the product. They were implemented by jumpering posts together with straps, thus it was called strapping.
He and I worked together on and off as I would help bring new products to market and he would prepare our Field Sales and Support teams to handle them. He was often the face that the technical people at our customers would see and he made sure that they enjoyed being at our Headquarters learning about our products.
But I also saw Gene outside of work. We were big enough to have our in-house sports leagues. We both played in our Basketball League (those of you that know me personally can stop laughing now). He and I were always on different teams but he won with grace and lost with pride. He would rib me when I screwed up (okay it wasn’t THAT often) and praise me when I did well (which was that rare). Hey, I am not a good Basketball Player. I know my limits. I also played Flag Football with and against Gene on Saturdays. He would bring his kids and friends from the neighborhood. Those were great games. We played in torrential downpours or the beating Sun in Florida. Who won? Who cares. Just the joy of running around and competing with friends.
When it came time for me to move to California, Gene came to my office. It was my last day and I was going to miss the place. He came into my office and asked me if it was true that I was leaving. I told him that I was going to work with Vlade (a nickname for my friend Dragan). He smiled and then came over to me and hugged me. We both started crying. We stayed that way for a bit and told stories. I left that day feeling better.
The next year Gene passed away playing Basketball with his son in the driveway of his home. They named the Training Center after him. What I learned from him is that the joy and energy that he brought to his job spreads. You couldn’t help but to love him and his smile. I hope he is watching over us all.
Have a great Thanksgiving!
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