Surrounded by Greatness

Do you ever have one of those moments when you look up and realize you’re right in the middle of something that you swear snuck up on you?  Kind of like looking up in mid-April and realizing that it’s 75 degrees with low humidity out when you were sure yesterday it was 35 and snowy?  [granted in Kansas that’s an entirely plausible scenario for weather; just bear with me]

I had one of those moments last fall (recall this post) when it kind of struck me out of the blue that I happen to have a father who’s world renowned (LaRoux Gillespie).  I knew he traveled to other countries and was asked to speak in all manner of places, but it never really sunk in with me until then that he was nearly as awesome as he is.  And to think it took me 36 years to figure that one out – maybe I’m not quite as quick as I like to think I am…

I got to have that realization again while I was sitting in the audience for the KU Distinguished Engineering Service Award (DESA) presentation last night, although in a slightly different form.  I had the honor of hanging out there with my dad (a recipient) and several of my family.  Seated next to me was my father.  Seated at the table to the left was Bernadette Gray-Little (Chancellor of KU).  Seated at the table to the right was James Andrews (founder of Picosecond Pulse Labs).  Two tables over to the left was Kyle Vann (instrumental in Koch Industries’ success in energy trading), and three tables over was Stuart Bell (Dean of the KU School of Engineering).

This isn’t really a post about engineers – as my dad noted he carries around two business cards (“LaRoux Gillespie, Engineer” and “LaRoux Gillespie, Writer”) but people only want to talk about one (guess which) – it’s a post about being surrounded by great people.  It just so happened that last night the spotlight was on the folks we stereotypically imagine have pocket protectors and spout mathematical equations, but there are great people in every other field and place imaginable.

[side note: if you were expecting that stereotype last night you would be sorely disappointed; several of the folks speaking had some of the greatest stories and were some of the more dynamic speakers you’ll ever hear.]

But there was some serious brainpower amongst those people.  Some incredible awesome.  And some tremendous talent.  And that was just five of the people in that room of hundreds (the four award recipients plus the Chancellor).  That is called being physically surrounded by awesome.  And it’s a great feeling to walk up to these four gentleman and one lady and shake their hand, knowing that each of them has made a  measurable and positive change in the world, knowing that as prestigious as the DESA is it’s only a small token of appreciation for the incredibly contributions they’ve made.

If you’ve got any interest in engineering I’d suggest Googling them, but if you’d rather take the summarized version here you go:

  • Jim Andrews is a significant reason that telecommunications (the industry I’m in) is as advanced as it is today.  Without his accomplishments and love of HAM radios we likely wouldn’t be talking about terabit backbones right now.
  • Kyle Vann is one of the reasons Koch Industries is one of the United States’ largest and most profitable privately-held company.  He combined chemical engineering and economics with his fascination with energy trading to create some of the early models for price-setting in the industry.
  • Stuart Bell – who’s headed to become provost at LSU – was instrumental in ensuring the University of Kansas continues to foster the academic environment that’s made it so great.  His leadership was paramount in convincing the State of Kansas to invest $105m in Kansas engineering education last year – money which will continue to strengthen the Kansas economy for years to come.
  • My dad is known as “the burr guy” for a reason – before he decided to figure out how to more effectively and efficiently deal with burrs nobody had documented anything on it.  He took a problem that plagued manufacturing (how to deal with the raised edges or small pieces of material remaining attached to a workpiece after a modification process in a cost effective and efficient manner) and documented it, studied it and found ways to fix them and prevent them.  [note: that may not sound like much – I just assumed you filed them off or something – but when you’re dealing with pieces that are so small they fit under your fingernail with perfect mirror finishes and tolerances down to ten thousands of an inch that ol’ file I used in woodshop doesn’t seem like it’s the right answer after all.]

Personally, I don’t have desire to be an engineer.  I greatly respect them, but it’s not my cup of tea as they say.  But sitting there in the front of the room while these guys spoke about how they came to where they are was one of those experiences that makes you realize that even ordinary people (my Dad was a farmboy from Kansas; Kyle from Kansas & Oklahoma; Jim from Colorado) can make a tremendous and lasting impression on the world.

Take a look around – what greatness are you not seeing?  Because I’m willing to bet that – whether you know it or not – you’re surrounded by greatness, too.

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2 thoughts on “Surrounded by Greatness”

    1. Thanks, sis! It was a great time – not just seeing Dad get a distinguished award like that but realizing even more how much he’s done. Sometimes when you’re as close to it as I am (or as dense as I am – or some combination thereof) I think it slips right through my consciousness and doesn’t click. It’s definitely starting to click.

      Side note – I actually have less hair now than in that pic. 🙂

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