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A Beautiful Mind

Richard Connor, 1:10 pm ET

I STARTED MY CAREER with a little-known engineering company called SAI. It’s now called SAIC, short for Science Applications International Corp., a publicly traded and internationally renowned technology firm. But when I started in 1980, there were only a few thousand employees and several small, independently run offices scattered across the country.

SAI was started in 1969 by Dr. J. Robert Beyster, a nationally recognized expert in nuclear physics and national security. He started the company with the dual tenets of technical excellence and employee ownership. The firm attracted exceptional people who wanted not only to do great technical work, but also to benefit financially.

I worked for SAI from 1980 to 1986. The five engineers on staff at my office all had PhDs in engineering from leading schools. They were experts in the complex physics governing space vehicles reentering the earth’s atmosphere.

The smartest of them was also the youngest. Darryl had an undergraduate degree from Purdue and graduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania. He had an exceptional grasp not only of physics, but also the complex mathematics needed to analyze challenging space systems.

Darryl was a true polymath. He was interested in music, sports, politics and literature. He bought a Toyota, espousing the financial benefits of low-priced, high-reliability cars. He was the person who introduced me to personal financial planning. He explained what an IRA was and the benefits of tax deferral.

He loved to discuss the seeming insanity of market volatility. Darryl also encouraged me to participate in the employee stock plan, explaining that the stock was valued on the company’s financial performance. Those stock purchases provided my wife and me with the down payment for our first home.

After six years, I moved to another company. Darryl and I kept in touch for a while, but eventually drifted apart. Each year, however, we exchanged Christmas cards, including a personal note explaining what each of our families was doing.

Thirty years later, we still exchange Christmas cards and notes. The last decade or so included the sad news that Darryl was showing signs of cognitive decline. Each year, it got worse. We just received this year’s card. Darryl has been placed in a residential facility.

It makes me sad to think that such a wonderful mind—and such a nice person—is suffering the ravages of dementia. I’ll always be grateful for the role he played in my career and my financial education.

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Andrew Forsythe
Andrew Forsythe
5 months ago

Rick, thank you for this heartfelt piece about Darryl. The same decline happened with a friend of mine who was one of the most brilliant lawyers, and later brilliant judges, I had ever known. Fair or not, it does seem to hit harder when the person afflicted has a superior mind.

Catherine
Catherine
5 months ago

A moving tribute to your friend and colleague’s wayward body and wonderful mind.

A reminder to all of us at
this time of year to be grateful for such acquaintances and to remember why we continue to stay in touch long beyond our days working together.

My fifteen-year-old lost his best friend to cancer this year. That young man did not have a chance to become his grownup self. But he has left an indelible mark on our family. It is important that he was here and his life was one of purpose and importance, even if he was little known outside our circle. The sting of our mortality is bitter, and yet the brevity of life is part of what makes each of us special.

”What you leave behind us not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
5 months ago
Reply to  Catherine

Catherine – I’m very sorry for you and your son. That’s a hard experience to go through at that young age.

Jack Hannam
Jack Hannam
5 months ago

I have had similar experiences with a couple invaluable senior colleagues. We are all familiar with “denial”. I think a corollary might be my (our?) irrational hope that pre-existing uncommonly high intelligence on the part of special mentors might somehow protect them from eventual development of cognitive decline and dementia.

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
5 months ago
Reply to  Jack Hannam

Thanks Jack. I’m not sure why, but reading that XMAS letter really hit me. Maybe just holiday melancholy during a pandemic. I know it is irrational, but it feels sadder somehow that such a unique mind is no longer with us, even though the person still is.

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