Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A tribute to Charlie Chappell

Charlie Chappell when he was a lead forecaster in SELS.  He taught me his methods of surface analysis in my years there as a student trainee.  This was shot in the mid-1960s, when Don House was the Director of SELS.

This is not the first time I've posted about the incredible gift of friendship. It likely won't be the last. Last Tuesday evening, my friend Charles (Charlie) F. Chappell died. Unfortunately, it's an example of an opportunity I missed - to thank Charlie for the inspiration he provided me during the occasions we spent time together. Fortunately, my friend Mike Fritsch expressed his gratitude to Charlie for all that he gave to Mike in a very eloquent way in a letter before Charlie died. Mike has been an inspiration to me, in no small measure because he has done so much with the opportunities he was given. Mike is a brilliant meteorologist and was no doubt a source of great pride for Charlie. Charlie managed to inspire (directly or indirectly) five people who have received the Clarence Leroy Meisinger Award from the American Meteorological Society: Mike Fritsch, Bob Maddox, Da Lin Zhang, Dave Stensrud, and George Bryan. This is an amazing achievement for an amazing man. If you know these people, you must realize how important Charlie's legacy is! These people represent what Charlie was about - dedication to advancing our understanding of the science - and who have used what they were given to advance everyone's understanding. I'm proud to say I'm friends with all of them!

Mike Fritsch is an amazing man in his own rights, as is another "hero" of mine, Bob Maddox. Charlie inspired many of us, indirectly or directly, to achievements of substance. And it's been my privilege to know and admire many such people in my profession. I've known some amazing colleagues (living and dead) who have influenced me to achieve well beyond my own meager capabilities: Bob Maddox, Mike Fritsh, Fernando Caracena, Charlie Chappell, Fernando Caracena, Stan Barnes, Harold Brooks, Chad Shafer, Alan Moller, Ronnie Alberty, Yoshi Sasaki, Walt Saucier, Dave Barber, Barry Schwartz, Werner Schwerdtfeger ... the list is long and I have left out some here who certainly deserve recognition.

I often have said that the biggest regrets in my life are sins of omission: not having expressed my thanks to those who have helped me become what I wanted to be. Charlie Chappell's recent passing is one that bothers me because I never took the time to tell him how much he meant to me. For your own sake, please take that time to say "Thank You!" to those who played a positive role in your life. It probably means more to you than it does to them - they have been rewarded with seeing your success, whether you said anything or not. But to have expressed your gratitude helps a great deal when they've passed beyond your gratitude. Take the time now, while the opportunity still exists! Friendship with inspirational friends is important. Be grateful for it, as friendships inevitably end even as we live on.

1 comment:

Norval said...

February 15th 2012


It was with great saddness today that I came across your post regarding Charlie. I had just found an obituary published in the Daily Camera, Boulder, CO.

Like you, I have waited too long. I had just this day decided to "find" Charlie and ring him up. I found his address and phone number but for some reason decided to Google him and the first entry was his obiturary.

I met Charlie as a work study student for the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University. I worked there as a budding computer scientist, my primary assignment was programming for Charlie on his thesis project for Lewis Grant's weather modification studies.

He had parametric and nonparametric studies, the software comprising over 4,000 punched cards that I watched over for Charlie. One or two times a week I would drive a surplus Air Force pickup from Ft. Collins, Colorado to Boulder, Colorado destination the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). There they had a Control Data 6600 computer system, a product of Seymour Cray's imagination and the fastest computer of its time. I dropped off programs for the Atomospheric Science Department, for its professors and graduate students, putting Charlies at the head of the thousands upon thousands of cards run through the card reader at 500 cards per second. I waited until the printed results were done and available and drove home, often as the sun was coming up. Charlies card decks and print out were in the cab of the pickup with me. The others were in the covered back of the pickup.

There is a credit line in his thesis which I have a copy of, a now even more cherished possession.

Many, many, many hours were spent not doing work study stuff, just talking about life. At one time when my wife Sandi was distraught and talking with Charlie, he told her "don't worry" was the most worthless piece of advice anyone could offer no matter how well intentioned. She still remembers that as being strangly comforting.

We lost contact as Christmas cards became less and less frequently exchanged. My last conversation with hime was the night after his Cardinals won the world series in I believe 2006. I called him and we talked. How he loved to talk of the early days of the Cardinals, the days of the Gas House Gang.

Mike Fritch might remember me. I did a bit of programming for him also. He had just arrived the year I was drafted into Nixon's army, I received my undergraduate degree in one hand and my draft notice with its infamous oft quoted "greetings" in the other hand.

The last time I saw Charlie was on March 2nd 1970 at a preinduction party hosted by the director of information technology at the Atmospheric Science Department, Bill Kamm.

My eyes are teared up as I write this, knowing I waited too long. Thank you seventy time seven for writing this tribute blog.

I shall use the address I found this morning and write Doris a note.

Norval E. McMillin
!969 Colorado State University