My dad died young - I was 6 - and we came back to Hampton, so that's where I grew up. My uncle, who was kind of a surrogate parent, was, like my father, an engineer with the forerunner of NASA.
I grew up with a lot of influence from this uncle. He was interested in boats. So at about 8 years old, I got my first rowboat, which had to be overhauled, and then we built one. I learned how to scrape barnacles and paint, replace planks, that kind of stuff.
We graduated to sailboats at about 10 years old, and I learned how to sail. That's what kids did over in Hampton - you messed with boats and you learned how to sail there on Hampton Roads.
I can remember being out sailing - I was 12 years old - and it was the day the Forrestal went on sea trials. It was August 1955. And that thing came out around Newport News Point, and it came out through Hampton Roads.
I went, "Wow - somebody built that thing. You could have a career building ships, right there in Newport News." That was what I wanted to do - to build ships.
I was an average student; I was an average anything. I never made the connection between engineering and shipbuilding. Long story short, I got married early and went into a design-training program at Newport News. I got selected to be a nuclear-power designer.
I actually went to work at Newport News Shipbuilding five days out of high school.
I was very lucky in that the first ship I worked on was the Enterprise, a nuclear aircraft carrier. When they finished the Enterprise in the fall of 1961, nobody thought nuclear power was going to amount to anything.
So when they started looking for designers to start the Nimitz program, the old guys said forget it. When they asked kids like me, I said, "Sign me up."
Talk about luck - the people I worked for were about 20 years older than I was and had worked with Admiral Rickover at Oak Ridge, Tenn., right after the war. They were the pioneers of nuclear power, and they were my mentors. I wound up being the lead designer for the primary coolant system on the Nimitz. That was just a springboard to nuclear experience that was absolutely incredible.
I held that job from 1965 to 1977, when the Nimitz went to Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, for her first extended dry-dock work.
During the decades since then, I've held a series of jobs that began with my becoming the chief scheduler of Navy maintenance at the Portsmouth yard, where I oversaw the transition to computerized scheduling. I'm in the people business, really, at this point, getting people to work together.
In 1987, I became superintendent of the sheet-metal shop in Portsmouth, overseeing about 350 people. A year later, I was bumped up to pipe fitter superintendent, where I oversaw 1,250 people.
Much of my career from 1997 to 2008, when I retired, involved increasingly higher levels of responsibility for orchestrating and coordinating the efforts of the various types of people who build ships. This included a stint about 10 years ago during which I oversaw the maintenance and repair of all carriers and surface ships at Norfolk Naval Shipyard.
Since retiring in October 2008, I've worked as a consultant with Camber Corp., where I've been working to bring a team-based, project-management model to the Navy's "SUPSHIP" command in Newport News, by which the government supervises the construction of new ships there.
It's a fun business. There are probably 20,000 guys in Tidewater just like me - that for whatever reason have done similar stuff or pieces of it.
But this is what Tidewater Virginia has got as a strength. I don't care whether you're working for a shipyard or you're in the Navy or you're working for a contractor.
If you want your ship fixed, Tidewater Virginia is the place to do it.