My older brother, Paul, died on Friday, October 28, 2022. My entire family rushed out to see him in Seattle in September, when we understood he was bedridden and not eating. Both my sons, Evan and Sam, as well as my husband Bill, were at his bedside. He was lucid and talkative, but barely able to move. His loving wife, Yu San, made certain he was comfortable.
I’m dedicating this blog post to Paul, hoping to share some of my memories and insights into this extraordinary person.
Trying to keep up with Paul
Paul has been my big brother from the day I was born, and at an early age, I tried to keep up with him. He and his buddies, three years older than I, repeatedly were jumping off the wall surrounding the first floor apartment at the corner apartment building, about four feet off the ground. I was no older than four and tried to copy them, hauling myself up on wall and leaping off. In one jump, I landed with my tongue between my teeth as my knees hit my chin! Ouch! Lots of blood. He grabbed my hand and walked me home to get help. He was there for me.
Paul a young, creative “engineer”
That kind of active play was typical of our “free range” childhood, and we ran through the neighborhood, riding bikes, playing pick-up baseball, or inventing our own fun. One of Paul’s most memorable endeavors, when he was about twelve, was to use everyday items to create at least five exciting “rides,” his own version of an amusement park for neighborhood kids. He rocked them in a washtub, unbalanced on two-by-fours, or dragged them in a wagon at top speed around the yard.
Paul’s emotional side
Paul was often rather taciturn and withdrawn as a child, but always had an emotional side, which my dad recognized early on. When Dad’s new job whisked him suddenly away from this sensitive three-year-old, Paul started acting out. My mom wrote to Dad, expressing exasperation with Paul’s behavior. “Paul is an emotional child,” he wrote back, “and he will be reached only through emotion.”
I read this in my father’s letter decades later, but his perceptive view of Paul rang true. As a little boy, Paul had a favorite doll, a Bozo-like clown he called “Baby Gonk.” As all children do, Paul outgrew his doll, and Baby Gonk was relegated to the closet.
Years later, when Paul was about sixteen, both our dogs, Buttons and Bows were sick with distemper. Buttons recovered, but his son, Bows aka Bozo, was left with debilitating paralysis in his limbs and had to be euthanized.
Dad and Paul made a fully-realized, wooden tombstone, painted white, and carved with Bozo’s dates of birth and death, painted in black. We dug a hole at the edge of a cemetery to bury Bozo, who was always considered closest to Paul in the family.
As we lowered Bows into the earth, Paul pulled out his Baby Gonk doll and added it to the grave. We were speechless. Paul’s emotional side emerged in symbolic ways.
Paul’s laughter was infectious
Though Paul often hid his emotions, his humorous side could feel like a fresh breeze. When the film, The Party, came out in 1968, our family went to our local theater to see it. Watching this slapstick, hilarious story of a bumbling Indian movie actor mistakenly invited to an exclusive Hollywood party, Paul laughed so hard, he literally fell into the aisle! It was as much fun watching Paul as the movie!
Paul had an almost super-human ability to work. Besides his stellar grades in school, Paul put in hours of labor in our homes. After we bought our first single-family home on North Keeler Ave., Paul spent forty-eight hours straight painting the basement! He came home looking like a mime, covered in white, his eyelashes so thick with the paint, he could barely blink. He continued this work ethic in his illustrious career, always pushing himself to the brink of exhaustion.
Paul and Travel
Dad always made sure we had plenty of travel experiences, from our yearly camping trips to Devil’s Lake State Park in Wisconsin, to a five-week journey across America’s West and Southwest. But it was Paul who introduced me to more exotic travel. We joined him and his then-girlfriend over Christmas break in 1973 to bareboat charter a sailboat in the British Virgin Islands. What a lucky invitation to a beautiful, still unspoiled place before it became over-run with tourism!
Paul was generous with those he loved. He cared deeply for Michael and Vanessa, his two stepchildren, from his first marriage, paying out-of-pocket for them to get the help they needed in school as well as with physical ailments.
He also shared his scientific and engineering ideas and innovations generously with co-workers around the world (more below).
Brilliant scientist, engineer, and more
I can’t possibly write about all of Paul’s career accomplishments, but I’ll share a few. Bell Labs, the premier tech company of its era, recognized Paul’s potential when he was a junior at IIT. Bell Labs paid for Paul to complete his Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering at Stanford University and then hired him to work in defense. After a few years he left for Seattle and spent four decades working for Boeing Aircraft in civil and defense products, aerospace, Systems-of-Systems (SoSs)
He was president of the Aerospace and Electronic Systems Society and presidency of two business units of IEEE, the largest technical professional organization in the world.
Marriage to Yu San
Paul had the great good fortune to meet Yu San, after divorcing his first wife. I first met Yu San in 2009, when I visited Seattle. She is smart, fun, interesting, good-humored, and kind. They were married in 2013. It is her patience and care that have kept Paul safe and comfortable these past several years.
Paul led an extraordinary life and made countless technological contributions that have created a better life for so many of us, even as we’re unaware of whom to thank, so I’ll do so now. Thank you Paul, for being my big brother, helping me in so many ways, and doing so much good for the world.
We’ll meet again in the stars, from whence we came.
Your loving sister,
Redlined tells a first-hand story about a West Side Chicago family’s personal struggles and dreams intersecting with the racial upheavals of the 1960s.