Sunday, November 30, 2008

Remembering Richard Erdman

At left, Scott & Kathy Erdman, myself, and Jance Erdman, circa 1964.

I moved in across the street from the Erdman family when I was just five years old. Ours was a family of three; I was an only child of a second marriage. This was Arcadia, California in 1963.

The first family to welcome us to our new neighborhood lived across the street. The Erdman family of five seemed to me large and busy, full of personality, and, for me, a somewhat shy only child, at times intimidating. The Erdman kids surrounded me in age, they were 6, 4 and 3; a boy and two girls. As I grew, they also surrounded me by example - of character, fun, adventurousness, humor, and grace.

The husband and father of this family was an unassuming aerospace engineer named H. Richard Erdman; Dick to his friends.
He was born in 1930, 10 years after my Dad. In many ways Dick was an ordinary man, and yet, to me, and to many who knew him, completely extraordinary. Dick loved his wife well for many years, was a dedicated father, and a loving grandfather. Dick was part of the Greatest Generation, having served in the Navy during the Korean War.

For the next 13 years, I grew up across the street from the home where Dick raised his family. And last Saturday, at a memorial service in Arcadia, a church packed full of friends and colleagues remembered this good man. What a fitting tribute, a congregation full of people who were blessed by his friendship and touched by his example.

Over the past two years, following the death of both of my own parents, I have thought often of what things mark a life well lived. During the past week, I have been reflecting on the life of Dick Erdman, and the difference he made in so many lives. This was a life very well lived. I hope to be something like Dick, when I grow up.

Dick was an engineer by trade, and spend many years involved in the technology behind high altitude reconnaissance photography. We found out at his service (for me, for the first time!) that Dick had been involved design and manufacturing for the cameras used on the U2 Spy plane. Very cool! But he was so much more than just an engineer. The legacy he leaves behind is remarkable, as expressed primarily in the lives of his children, who have all formed families (three marriages, all still intact - something of an anomaly today) of their own, with seven grandchildren.

At the memorial service, we learned of Dick's love for his church, his involvement with the church's lay psychological counseling center, and also of his humble love for Christ. Dick saw no need to separate science and theology. The pastor recounted how Dick loved to read and learn about physics, astronomy, and their connection with faith. Here was a man whose involvement in technology and science had a part in the ending of the Cold War, and yet who embraced his faith without embarrassment. How refreshing.

The last time I spent with Dick was brief, but memorable, about two years ago. I was checking on repairs to my parents home, and Dick hailed me from across the street. Always the engineer, he noticed that I had the same make Acura sedan that he did - except he owned the fancier model - the one with all the high-tech bells and whistles. He invited me across the street, where we sat inside of his car, while he carefully explained each and every feature to me, including the GPS system that was connected to the Internet to warn of traffic events. Classic Dick Erdman. I was late to my next destination, but it didn't matter, I loved spending time with a man who was in love with learning new things, even at age 74 or so.

When my time comes, I hope to leave a loving legacy like that of Dick Erdman. I am so much richer for having known him. An the world is richer for the example of devotion to family, love of people, and live long enthusiasm for learning.

May the God who Dick loved comfort his family and friends in this season of loss. In the constellation of roll models of my youth, Richard Erdman shines brightly as a faithful man. I look forward to the time, in Another Place someday, when I will meet Dick again, and he will explain to me the wonder of the universe from a place where we can see it in a completely different perspective.
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