Words Spoken about Theodore Specht at his Visitation and Funeral Mass - Jan. 1 and 2, 2008
I have only known my father-in-law for the last 35 years of his life. I remember how anxious I was when we first met. His 6-ft. stature and important career as an Engineer at Westinghouse were a little intimidating to me. As I talked with him, I quickly perceived his gentle nature and intelligence. My anxiety gave way to a sense of respect that deepened throughout the years. To me, he embodied the definition of an Engineer. Here was a man so full of intelligence that if he’d been born in a different place and time, history might have recorded his name next to the likes of Thomas Alva Edison, Albert Einstein or Nicola Tesla. His expertise at Westinghouse was transformer design – from the cylindrical objects you see high up on the telephone pole to the massive steel and iron objects at power stations. His expertise was sought worldwide whenever there was some transformer or power design issue. I remember many times he would explain a certain theory to me until my mind went numb after only 5 minutes of discussion. Although I was a mechanical designer and well versed in engineering theory, he was clearly operating well above my understanding. I do recall an incident which caught his attention back in the late 80’s. Joe Neuman had made the scientific claim to have perfected the “perpetual motion” machine. This prompted Ted Specht to write a letter to the magazine that published this work. You see, all engineers (myself included) know that energy cannot be created nor destroyed. It transfers between potential and kinetic energy. Simply said, it changes state. In any machine or physical system, the sum of all energy in that system cannot exceed the individual energy components contained within. Since heat, sound and friction are also forms of energy, there is no scientific possibility of a perpetual motion machine because as the system runs, some energy will be inevitably be lost to friction. Energy and power transmission were Ted’s expertise, and he just couldn’t stand by and see the laws of physics ignored. I always enjoyed conversations with my father in-law. I liked to interject a humorous quip whenever possible, and he’d always laugh at my jokes. I will always remember my father in-law as a gentle and quiet man who enjoyed all forms of technology. He enjoyed developing his own theories on how things worked, and to my knowledge, he was always right. I am confident that, if I’d had an opportunity to ask him about his theories on life and death, he might have assured me that once God creates a person, “energy is neither created nor destroyed – it simply changes state!” We don’t vanish into oblivion – we simply change state and continue in different place we know as Heaven.
As a son of Ted Specht, I am obviously indebted to him for my being born into this world, but this only made him my father. What he did afterwards made him my dad....
As a dad he provided for the financial well being of his children, from the simple creature comforts of a roof over our heads and food on the table to paying for his children's education through college.
He was there to teach us the simple things of life, from how to swim and ride a bike to the more complex aspects of math and science and how things work. He passionately shared his knowledge and skills with those around him in hopes they too could understand and appreciate these things.
We will all miss him greatly.
I'd like to say a few words about my dad....
As you know, he was an electrical engineer. He designed and installed transformers as part of the Westinghouse Transformer division here in Sharon. Transformers permit higher voltages/higher capacities to be used in transporting electricity across the country. Transformers were an essential part of the electrical power network which started from nothing in 1880 and by 1970 was providing electricity to almost every house and business in the United States. My dad's career, from 1941-1982, was during the peak of this huge effort. He was proud -- and rightly so -- of what he and his collegues achieved.
My dad was one of the smartest people I've ever known. He was not an "intellectual". He did not believe in the value of a life of the mind for its own sake. He believed that intelligence is something which needs to be put to practical use. He liked doing crossword puzzles. His favorite section of the newspaper was the comics; we would often hear him laughing uninhibitedly at something which struck him as particularly funny. His favorite novelist was Dickens, whose works he had read as a youth....
He had a formidable understanding of how things worked -- radios, bicycles, automobiles, fans. This understanding came not from books but from actual experience in taking things apart and studying them and putting them back together. He was super-organized. Even the briefest examination of his work area in the basement of our family's house showed that this was someone who took the time to do things right. He had a metal lathe. A metal lathe is used to cut and shape pieces of metal, which he used as hardware in various home projects. I would venture to guess that fewer than 1 in 1,000 men in this country have the interest and skill required to own and operate a metal lathe.
When my mom and dad came to visit my wife Roxann and myself in the early 1990's in the new house which we had bought -- the first of many such visits. The house did not yet have air-conditioning. It had an old exhaust fan which blew the hot air out of the house (and caused cool air to be sucked in). The fan was effective but terribly noisy -- to the point of being quite bothersome. I assumed the fan's motor was on its last legs and was planning to get a new fan. My dad looked at the fan and it took him about 30 seconds to determine that the cause of the noise was not the motor, but the metal housing of the fan's power cable which was vibrating against the metal outside of the fan. Putting some tape around the housing at the point where it was in contact fixed the problem in one minute. The fan lasted for another ten years. That was Dad....
Dad was not one to easily or frequently express tender sentiments, but he loved his wife and kids very much. He expressed this love not in words but action: by conscientiously providing for his family and by being there -- ready to listen to what we had to say. Other guys might be off to Las Vegas, playing the slot machines. Dad was here in Sharon, taking care of his house and his family.
In more recent years, when my dad was often ill and in need of extra care, I know that he very much appreciated the unwavering support which my mom gave to him, doing an amazing job on various occasions of nursing him back to health and getting him back on the right track.