Thursday, February 18, 2010

woodie flowers

We don't know where to begin this essay. Around noon today, we heard terrible news that a plane flying Tesla engineers, including Doug Bourn, had crashed into a power line. There were no survivors. Last night, Doug was, as usual, at Castilleja with his girls. Even after his six years with the team, we never quite knew when he'd arrive; he once told us “Well, I usually stop by when I'm having a bad day. You girls can always cheer me up.” We don't want to believe that he will never again arrive bearing bags of goodies, a bright smile, and thoughtful advice. The thing about Doug is that he was never proud of himself. Last year, we had all students and mentors sign our finished robot. When asked to contribute, he simply said, “But it's your robot. You built it. You did it.” He always put others first. Just a week ago, after quietly noticing we had not yet built a tower, he turned up with all the supplies and tools needed to put together a full-scale game piece. That's just who Doug is. He doesn't expect or wish to be commended for his generosity, because he always acted with extraordinary chivalry and compassion.

Doug taught us that any job can be accomplished with the right tools. He was the resident “Santa” of the team and often participated in "retail therapy." Whenever our team needed anything, he would be the first to go out and buy it, or find some better alternative. A few of the tools he supplied us with were far more precise than we would ever need, but most ended up being valuable tools (we eventually used all of the left-handed, right-handed, and straight tin snips he brought us). More important than the physical products was the mindset he gave us of how essential tools are. Our team, in the time crunch of robotics, would often construct make-shift prototypes and tweak them as necessary. Doug taught us that spending one day just planning out what we were doing without any construction would save us three days later when our model needed to be fixed. He showed us how many problems could be avoided by thinking through hypothetical situations beforehand. Doug gave us both the physical and metaphorical tools to succeed.

We all want to grow up to be just like Doug. He was compassionate, precise, brilliant, and sweet. Doug recognizes the needs of others and acts accordingly, without being asked. He always attempts to explain even the most difficult concepts, like the nitty-gritty of how sensors work or how to build a 256 by 256 array to house every combination of joystick values. He always enjoyed teaching us and never lost patience when we didn't immediately grasp the difficult concepts he so easily understood. Doug was also the sensor whisperer. We accidentally broke many a GTS and other sensors while trying carefully to make them work, and Doug would always sit down with a magnifying glass and some solder and sort it all out. He was able to teach concepts while simultaneously executing the necessary tasks. Most importantly, he was always laughing. Doug could make anyone else smile, even if he didn't know why they were down. Through the tools in our project room and the smarts in our brains, Doug will always be with us.

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