Art Hesse
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George Washington Chapter - Art Hesse


Art Hesse was familiar to, and appreciated by, a great many members of this chapter.

Until the mid-1980s, people who are enthusiastic about consistent enforcement of the rules supporting safe wiring, and education that helps in understanding them, had to travel to Baltimore in order to attend regular meetings of the International Association of Electrical Inspectors . There we were welcomed as guests by the Chesapeake Chapter. However, the trip was too much for many who might have attended more-convenient meetings. Art Hesse changed this by resurrecting the George Washington Chapter. Throughout his life, he was a person who took on the work that needed to be done.

Arthur W. Hesse was born in a small town in Wisconsin. His father was a good-hearted carpenter, who died when Art was 9 or 10. Helping a neighbor try to save his barn in a snowstorm, the elder Mr Hesse fell to his death through the roof. He left Art and his brothers in the care of their mother. She had no easy life. As the boys were growing up, she brought in $300 a year taking care of a church, and her brother contributed some hog meat. She didn't allow her sons guns, but they had a good dog, and hunted squirrels and rabbits. Art and his brothers took on every odd job they could, to help her cope.

She had had to leave school as a young teen when her mother died, to help take care of her three younger siblings on the farm. She developed a lifelong interest in flowers, but never was able to return to school and go beyond the interrupted sixth-grade education. She did, however, instill in her sons the message, "If you go to school, that's something they can't rob you of." Art became an inveterate reader.

Everyone I've met who knew Art saw that helpfulness he inherited from his father: "He's one of the good ones," a contractor told me when I said Art was dying. A deacon at his church talked about how Art's availability could be relied on when need arose: "He was always there on standby." His pastor appreciated the standards that went with Art's work ethic: "Whenever called on to consult, if he didn't have the knowledge to perform according to his high standard, he wouldn't do it."

The intelligence and love of learning also are clear. You may have heard him share a "Ya know, . . ." in the certainty that you would enjoy learning some choice fact just as much as he did. Then there is the way he showed appreciation for the information he gets from seminars, even seminars on subjects he himself could have taught. There was almost always something. Even if you have had neither of these experiences, you'll see how proud he must have made his mother when you learn his history.

Art was not shy of making commitments and taking on responsibility even as a young man. He met his future wife, Charlotte-15 then--at a dance in his home town before he entered the University of Wisconsin at 19. She shared Art's unpretentious background. She and the older brother with whom she came to the dance were the only two in her grindingly-poor family of seven kids that found the resources to make it through high school- her wealth being two pairs of clothing that she could alternate.

Soon after the dance, she received her first of many letters from Art. Once he was in the Air Corps, he stopped by to visit her in Milwaukee every time he came home on leave.

He wasn't at the University of Wisconsin a year when he was drafted into the Army Air Corps, enlisting to become-who'd have guessed?--a meteorologist. They sent him to Reed College in Portland, Oregon to study meteorology for a year and a half. Graduating, he studied another nine months in another program. When World War II ended, he was given a choice of assignments, and chose communications. He was sent to Yale for nine months to study the electronic systems that were used in navigational aids, and left as a Second Lieutenant.

His first assignment, from July 4, 1945 to December, 1947, was Alaska. He started with a year on a remote air base in Alaska, followed by two in Anchorage. He demonstrated an interest in power wiring that first year. The base in the Aleutians relied on barrels and barrels of diesel fuel. One day they were having trouble with the generator, and Art offered to help-successfully. Recognizing his fascination with the base's stand-alone generation and distribution system, the command encouraged him to focus on that. He pointed out that he couldn't do it full-time, as he was there to work on their navigational aids. He gave the power system what time he could. Then they requisitioned another man to work on the communications system, so that he could devote all his time to their power generation and distribution.

He had a fine time weekends in Alaska. His Charlotte agreed to marry three years later, down in Texas, after he gained his commission in 1945 and she had turned 18. A loan from her brother paid her way up to Alaska, and they managed to get quarters a block from the base. When the weekend came, they often would go into the mountains, skiing, enjoying the remote environment.

In Anchorage, living conditions sometimes were challenging for this young wife. The wind regularly blew hard enough to fling open a door or window. One time she was frightened by a pounding on the door. It proved to be a rowdy alcoholic. Art led the man away and around the neighborhood till he found the home where the man belonged.

Following the Alaska tours, Art was sent to the Air Force Institute of Technology in Dayton, Ohio for a two-year program leading to a BSEE equivalent. He aced it. Graduating, he was assigned to inventory office furniture in Texas! Well, this didn't last long. He informed his EE prof of what he had been sent to do, and quickly was brought back to Dayton, where this recent graduate now was assigned to teach at the Air Force Institute of Technology. This lasted for the next three years. (Although he did not realize it at the time, while in Dayton he crossed paths many times with the man who would hire him decades later to work for Prince Georges County, Maryland.)

Art loved to teach, and he didn't take the work anymore lightly than his other jobs. Preparation took so much time that his wife was concerned with the lack of down time. When students went home, they were not just carrying assignments that they could handle or flub. If there was anything he could do to make sure they understood the material, and deserved to pass, he would do it. As a neighbor said, from her own context, "Art never made you feel small for asking a question." He enjoyed teaching through the Air Force, through Community Colleges, and in less formal settings. IBEW member Dick Bissell notes that Art was the first to come forward to serve on their Code panels, and he would always speak up, if only to offer quips. He also was one of the early members of the ad hoc committee that became the Maryland Uniform Electrical Examination Committee.

After Dayton, he requested and received an assignment to study at Stanford University, one of 12 Air Force officers selected-and the one who earned the highest grades. He earned his MSEE (qualifying for his PE), and continued on, taking post-master's coursework before the Air Force decided that a year and a half was enough schooling-they needed to put him back to work.

From 1954 on, he served as a Staff Engineer, managing satellite communication research, heading the Air Force's electronic countermeasures development program, completing tours of duty at various air bases and at the Pentagon. This work is where he gained his experience handling all the various aspects of management, from politics to logistics. After he left Wright-Patterson's electronic countermeasures program, he was assigned to the Advanced Research Projects Agency ARPA (a.k.a. DARPA), from about 1968-1972, before his final assignment at Andrews Air Force Base. He was at DARPA toward the very end of the Vietnam War.

One of the projects he supervised at DARPA created color photographs out of black-and-white prints sent back from Vietnam by projecting them through three gratings, corresponding to the primary colors. A second involved the creation of a stealth dirigible, with a Wankel engine driving a helicopter blade. In electronic countermeasures, the research he supervised included contracts to prevent enemy radar from locking on to our F4s.

Art invested a lot of himself in his work. Meanwhile, for 20 years he and his wife made do with a 27-foot house trailer, not leaving Wright-Patterson and the trailer till their son, Scott Andrew, was a year old. When they came to the Washington area, though, things were not immediately better. They moved into their brand-house just as soon as it would accommodate them. How well it was set up for family life was another matter. At move-in, the only water supply was the neighbor's garden hose, the only toilet a tar bucket, and the kitchen facilities a hot plate. This was not good enough for raising a one-year-old. Fortunately, a neighbor from Dayton they had come to know as "Grandma" took in mother and baby till the house was ready-meaning the utilities had been installed, and now it was ready for her to paint!

Colonel Arthur Hesse retired on January 1, 1975, after 33 years of service. One night he ran in to an old friend who worked at the Central Services Division of Prince Georges County, Maryland, the county where Art lived. After talking a while, he encouraged Art to apply for a position as a contract manager. He became the contract officer overseeing work being done at Prince Georges Hospital, including the addition of a new wing. After he was there about six months, problems with the County's electrical inspection led to the retired of the chief electrical inspector. They now advertised an opening for this position. With some uncertainty, Art applied for the position. The head of the building department had no uncertainty about Art, being anxious to hire him for the job.

All his years of management experience stood him in good stead, and he found a ready welcome from his staff. Inspector Larry Randall, area supervisor Walter Smith, and David Weiner all shared backgrounds as hands-on electricians, and all were there for Art to call on. After his first day, his secretary, Lorraine Clun, who had been with the county for 15 or 20 years, told Art, "Mr. Hesse, you're not going to have a problem if I have anything to say about it."

This proved to be the case. Art told me he experienced the utmost respect from the electrical contractors in Prince Georges County, with three or four exceptions, and he enjoyed his 20 years there. He did not find scofflaws, installers who only cared about getting the job done and were not interested in what the Code says about doing the work safely. Only one contractor lost his license in all those years, for consistently showing such a cold-blooded attitude.

I grilled Art about this, because in my very limited experience as an inspector, as well-meaning as I believe myself, and as helpful as I try to be, my experience has been less positive. True, this may be affected by the fact that I'm a third-party inspector. This means that I serve at the pleasure of the contractor, and may sometimes be called upon by installers who are less patient, perhaps also some who are less confident of their ability to pass inspection. Nonetheless, I have encountered discouragingly many contractors (and landlords) who don't seem to care about safety nearly as much as they focus on doing the least they can get away with. In our talks, Art kept getting back to his belief, and his experience, that if you treat the person being inspected the way you would want to be treated, it works out okay.

For many years, I relied on Art as one of two local inspectors I could call on for help interpreting the Code, whatever the jurisdiction in which I was working. (Arlington's Ron Kotula was the other.) It is not that I liked his answers 100% of the time, but I respected him, and he always was willing to help me clear up my understanding.

Frank Casula was another person who learned to rely on Art. As a county councilman, he would come to Art when a constituent was having trouble. This was not about trying to bend the rules for fat cat campaign contributors, or he wouldn't have earned Art's respect, which he did. Frank had a much better reason for relying on Art. When called on, Art managed to sort things out peacefully, whether there was some misunderstanding with permits or poor communication between contractor and inspector.

After 20 years, though, the climate changed. Over Art's protest, the decision-makers chose to economize by closing down the commercial electrical inspection department and having third-party inspectors take over. Art decided that it was time for him to retire.

He wasn't going to settle back into any kind of retirement, though. At this point, Frank Casula had become mayor of Laurel, and he asked Art to help them set up an electrical inspection program. Art replied that he really wasn't interested in more full-time work, after retiring from two careers. "Just set it up, please, we'll find people to do the work." After a year of part-time work, Art had things pretty well set up. The new Code had been adopted, forms and a permit process were in place. However, Frank had not managed to find someone to take over. Art was not prepared to push hard, at that point. People were too kind. Then after a couple more years, Frank developed liver cancer, which killed him. So for ten years after his second retirement, Art served as the Town of Laurel's consultant. Consultant? He was not even merely supervising but actually performing their electrical inspections. At this age, and this point in his career, he certainly did not need to do it for the money. He did it because he enjoyed the people. He figured he knew almost all of the contractors by their first names. Even though he didn't live in Laurel, Art felt like a member of a big family up there.

He wasn't shy of physical labor either. He was past 80 when a shed roof on his church's property needed repair, and he climbed up there to hammer shingles.

Despite his zest for contributing, Art had not intended to continue inspecting there just as long as he possibly could. He found Jim Wooten as a candidate for his replacement. However, while Jim was interested in the job, he wanted to perform it as an employee, not a consultant. Still, when Art wanted a break, he was able to call on Jim, once an inspector under Art and now performing part-time inspections for the City of Annapolis. Art talked to me about the possibility of my gradually taking over his work in Laurel. Then suddenly the choice was taken from him. (Laurel inspections passed temporarily into the capable hands of Pete Bowers.)

In late Fall of 2006, he developed a lump on his ear, near where doctors had removed a benign lump over a decade earlier. By the time the doctors sorted things out enough to take a biopsy, it was quite swollen, and there were a number of other suspicious growths. This called for surgery. It was major surgery particularly because of all the nerves passing through the area being dissected. A six-hour operation on his ear and neck at the beginning of January necessary got rid of all visible tumor. The tube down his esophagus during the operation did leave him with an extremely sore throat for 10 days, and as of the end of February he continued to have some trouble with his shoulder. This was not the most troubling part. The cancer specialist was clear that such surgery would not remove all the tumor cells, and the only reliable answer was to burn out any that remained. He prescribed seven weeks of radiation therapy. The very ugly potential side-effects were extremely threatening. Art was quite troubled at the prospect. The chance of these was smaller than had faced people undergoing radiation therapy in the past, but the possibility was still there. Fortunately, subsequent meetings with the doctors were reassuring; there are plenty of things to do to minimize pain and there are good reasons for some disturbing aspects of the procedure. When something bothered him, Art kept asking. The Johns Hopkins's Lombardi Cancer Center in southern Maryland is a short distance from Art's home. Art received a brief dose to his neck there five days a week from early March into mid-April. They fired a linear accelerator at his tumor location from a dozen different angles.

When this course of treatment was completed, they thought they had gotten all the cancer, but it was not so. Very soon a lump reappeared on his neck, and he had a great deal of difficulty getting them to treat it. First they thought that his EKG indicated a history of cardiac trouble. He knew better, and he jumped through the hoops necessary to document the healthy condition of his heart. Then they found his blood counts too low for him to withstand an operation, and gave him transfusions. The restored levels did not last; and he learned that he had leukemia. Art faced this squarely, and while the shock was hard for his immediate family, they too showed strength: his wife of 62 years, with whom he still drove around on errands so long as he was getting transfusions, and his son, a computer scientist, who lives in Fairfax with his wife and their two children. He continued for quite a while to receive transfusions and carry on, but he could not survive this. As of early August, he was on home hospice care. This meant no more transfusions to prop up his blood's ability to carry oxygen. He became lethargic, spending most of his time lying down. This lifelong reader no longer could find enough interest in a book to keep him reading more than a few minutes. He faced the horrific knowledge of imminent death with the hope that he would die peacefully, painlessly, after simply losing consciousness. By the second week, he lay back and relied on his mild prescription opiate to wipe away the remaining pain. This kept him dozing most of the time, as he awaited the end. When he was awake, though, and his wife had a question for him, he was still sharp! Still, his wife was agonizingly aware that he would go very soon. He cancelled the hospice arrangement in order to be eligible for transfusions once again, but in short order gave them up so as to avoid prolonging the end. He died on the morning of August 10, 2007. Until the day before, there was very little pain, and he was able to swallow the opioid pills that were the only recourse permitted. After two viewings and a private funeral the following week, Colonel Hesse was slated for full military honors and burial in Arlington National Cemetery on October 24. An appreciation of Art appears in the September issue of IAEI News, the magazine of the association he served so well for 29 years. As Art had attained Life Member status with the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, having belonged to that organization a good deal longer than even to IAEI, Robert Colburn, IEEE's Research Coordinator, also requested this fuller story for the archives in IEEE's History Center at Rutgers, New Jersey. Obituaries also will appear in the Washington Post and the newsletter of the Electric League of Maryland, ~~~~

Edward J. Holt, the electrical inspector in the Office Of The Architect Of The Capitol, says, "I've dealt with Art for probably 20 years or better, and he was always helpful and loaded with knowledge. His common sense in situations made life a lot easier at times." JD Grewell, Standards Chair and ex-president of the American Society of Home Inspectors, said, "He was an asset to everyone. He cared not only about his profession, but about the impact it has on everyone, every day. Very few individuals serving as the Authority Having Jurisdiction demonstrate such caring and concern. This rare attitude contrasts sharply with the alternative, which is so disheartening to those of us who see the negative consequences on a daily basis."

Kim Lambert, the Hesses' former daughter-in-law, says, "I will always remember his warm smile, gentle hugs, his generous laughter." She talks about how this hard-working gentleman always was coming around to help out in all sorts of ways, whether around the house, with yard work, with the dogs-even after her divorce from their son. Only once Art had sat down to dinner would Kim see him not busy at getting something accomplished.