I received the news that Steve Jobs passed away today while packing my kit to fly down to LA tomorrow morning to attend the funeral of my step-grandmother (my father’s stepmother), Ruth Neward.
The reason I mention this is that Grandma Ruth is and will always be linked to the man she married, my father’s father and the man for whom I was named, Theodore Chester Neward, who died a few years ago after a short battle with cancer. Pancreatic cancer, if I’m not mistaken, the same disease that brought Steve Jobs down. Grandma Ruth lived for Grandpa Ted—she was his support structure, his moral backing, and his faithful companion all throughout the years that I knew them.
My grandfather, like Mr Jobs, was an inventor. He invented several devices that, while bringing nowhere near the kind of income or world-changing impact that Mr Jobs’ devices brought, still changed the world just a little. His principal invention was a handheld, hand-operated vacuum pump that he called the “Mityvac”, to which the Neward Enterprises, Inc marketing department added the tagline, “It’s a useful little sucker!” because of its versatility. It had uses across a broad spectrum of industries, from automobile repair and maintenance (as a one-man brake bleeding kit) to medical emergency use (as an anti-choking device, one which then-Governor Reagan carried with him during state dinners, in case Nancy started to choke, which she apparently was prone to do), to pediatric use (as a replacement for forceps to deliver a child—pop a small cap on the baby’s head, draw a small vacuum, and the doctor now has a “handle” to help pull the baby out of the birth canal). Though the Mityvac (and the anti-choking “Throat-E-Vac”) will never reach the levels of world-shattering dominance that the iOS and MacOS devices will, there is a good chance that many of the readers of this blog (if they are under the age of 25) were in fact touched by this device in the very first few minutes of their lives, and don’t have the “conehead” shape to their head (that forceps inflict on newborns) to prove it.
My grandfather, like Mr. Jobs, never stopped inventing things. To his grave, he was still “tinkering” in the shop, working on a more efficient carbeurator for gasoline engines. And his was the only indoor pool in Banks, Oregon, that not only was a full-length Olympic-size pool, but also was heated by a wood-fire steam-powered system of his own design. In a frighteningly good demonstration of the dangers of custom-built systems, the only documentation to go along with it are the strange markings on the wall and pipes that probably meant something to him, but to the rest of us, is pure gibberish. (Note to self: get a photo of that before they replace it with something boring and standard.)
Unlike Mr, Jobs, my grandfather never really understood what it is I did. When the volume on his TV was too loud on turning it on, he was told that “that’s just how TV’s work—they remember the volume from before you turned it off”, and he turned to my father and said, “You should get Teddy to work on that”.
I was always “Teddy” to him, and to Grandma Ruth, and to this day they are the only people in the world I allowed to call me that. Now they are both gone, and I will miss them terribly.
My grandfather built an amazing legacy in the plastics industry. In many ways, I hope I leave even a tenth as amazing a legacy within my own. You, readers, will have to be the judge of that.
To the family of Steve Jobs, and all of his friends and associates at Apple, I grieve with you.