My first introduction to Ken was a year or so after I met and fell in love with his daughter, Gretchen. She and I had graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and decided to move to the rainy world of Seattle and the northwest.
We had resolved to live there a minimum of two years to give the area a fair shot, and we loved it. We were young, and the northwest was beautiful and different from our California environment. But being Californians by birth, the constant rain had finally convinced us it was time to move south.
So I started looking for jobs in the Southern California aerospace industry and Gretchen arranged for me to meet her dad and get a tour of the Hughes spacecraft factory in El Segundo CA. I didn’t appreciate, at the time, just how important Ken was in the organization.
Ken was a huge intellect. He held several patents related to spacecraft, and was key to the Hughes communication satellite business. He had many unique ideas. Some I could understand and agree with, some I could never agree with, and some I just plain didn’t understand. But he loved his daughter, and welcomed our children, and for that I honor him.
And I say was, because Ken died just last week.
However, I digress. The reason for this story was what happened before I met up with Ken that morning. My best friend from high school, Jim Kleinsmith lived in Manhattan Beach, close to the Hughes facility. Jim was a legendary character, loved life, and all of the people around him. He’s also gone now, but that’s not what this story is about.
Jim and I arranged to meet for drinks at a long gone waterfront restaurant in Redondo Beach named Beachbum Burt’s. The place was large and had this cool roof above the second floor bar that would roll off to one side so you could soak up the the southern California sun while inside the restaurant consuming libations.
Beachbum Burt’s signature drink was the Mai Tai, served in a glass that you got to keep and take home with you. Jim like to drink. Me not as much. Somehow, during the course of the evening, we decided that I should take a full set of glasses back to Gretchen in Seattle as a gift. A set to Jim was 8 glasses.
I think by now you can see where this is going. Jim and I did succeed in finishing off 4 Mai Tai’s apiece so that I had 8 glasses to pack in my bag for the trip back. We managed to get Jim back to his house on Peck Avenue in Manhattan Beach without incident, and I made it back to my hotel in El Segundo.
I had to get up early the next morning, make myself presentable, and meet my partner’s father for the first time. It was not pretty. I had a hangover and a migraine, but managed to shower, shave, and look presentable. I made my way to Hughes and succeeded in connecting with Ken at the right place and time. But needless to say I was not at my best.
Ken for his part never remarked on my condition during that encounter and I don’t know if he knew what condition I was in. Maybe I covered it well, I don’t know. But I didn’t get a job offer from them.
Soon after, we moved to Manhattan Beach CA, Gretchen’s home town, and we’ve been there ever since. I landed a job at TRW doing stress analysis on spacecraft and stayed there for 35 years.
Ken also lived in town there and we saw him often. Eventually, he married a wonderful woman named Joyce Ren, and they moved off to Cambria, CA. While he was there he became active in the community and found the time to write a pile of books.
But we were always welcome to come and visit. He will be missed.