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The Engineer: A Portrait of Fred Thompson

—for Fred Thompson

A full life can seem too easy to describe, 
and Fred would tell you the parts that went 
into his, though dear to him, were hardly unique: 
dedicated parents, a loving wife to share his days, 
family ties, business success, personal outlets 
like the Nittany Knights Barbershop Chorus 
and community service, but there’s something
else we need to pin down—the magic that wound 
up his inner spring, how he got the clock ticking 
each morning over sixty years of professional life, 
what made up a man who could enjoy a Tuesday 
as if it were Christmas, a fellow who could dream 
up a project anytime he wanted his mind to get busy.  
Engineers know a lot, but this one knows himself, 
and discovered early in life on the mountain tops 
in Snowshoe, PA, that what really stirred him was 
curiosity, that how stuff worked was his passion, 
and that few experiences brought the exhilaration 
that erupts when a problem is turned into a solution. 
In time, Fred found that he liked designing businesses 
as much as circuits: he loved the happy chaos of visions 
and ideas waiting to be shaped into an operation,  
just as a sketch evolves into a part number. Some plans 
took flight and others crashed, but Fred talks of wins 
and losses in the same way, all part of the same game, 
and he is certain that a career without setbacks would 
be a failure—a failure to try something interesting.
His story is one told without bravado—one of persistence 
as well as talent, of enjoyment not triumphs, of gratitude 
instead of laurels, and the right ending for this tale is clear: 
a man who’s not afraid of modesty has likely done a lot 
he doesn’t need to be modest about, and this man who hides 
behind that ordinary smile is no ordinary fellow. 

©2020 by Michael Bourgo