Let Me Tell You About A Friend Of Mine

I am sure that all of us have memories of people, who have crossed our paths, during this life journey we have. Many of them leave their mark on us and our lives will never be the same because of it. Some affect us negatively. Others are pure positive inspiration.

Sometimes it is just a smile you remember, but the memory of that smile still sends chills down your spine. Some times it is the strength that you witness during times of stress. Sometimes it is seeing how they treat all people with kindness, no matter how difficult some people can be.

Sometimes it is because you meet a person that the the word “can’t” just does not apply. It may be because they are an artist and can paint. It may be because they have the ability to listen to another person’s problems and after listening, that person walks away feeling better.

Joe Rowe is one of those people in my life. I don’t remember when I first met him. I went to work for EDS in 1970 and worked there until I retired in 1999. I must have met Joe around 1971 or 1972. My whole career with EDS was affected by knowing this individual.

Joe was not an average person. I doubt that anyone ever met him that did not walk away without saying, “WOW”. No telling how many people Joe has inspired.

I read a Yahoo group that is made up of EDS retirees and it was a message on that board that brought Joe back into my mind. Here is the message.

To Greyeagles

Joe Rowe is in intensive care at St. Paul’s Hospital in Dallas.

He was taken to the hospital due to an upper GI obstruction.

The hospital has no iron long which he needs and they want to intubate him
which he has refused. They think he needs surgery.

That is all I know.

Let me tell you a few things I remember about Joe. I never saw Joe, that he wasn’t in this motorized wheelchair of his. You see Joe was one of those children that got Polio before the Polio vaccine was successful. This might have been the reason that a lessor person would have given up and died. At a minimum, they might have spent their entire life feeling sorry for them selves and saying, “Why me?” That was not Joe.

EDS was known for its dress code. When I joined EDS, everyone had to wear dark conservative suits with wing tipped shoes and white shirts. Here Joe was a little of an exception. Since he couldn’t use his hands, he did everything with his feet. Therefore, he was allowed to go without the wingtips.

He could do anything with his feet. I mean everything. He could do things with his feet that I could not do with my hands. His special wheelchair had a joystick that allowed him to maneuver it. It contained an apparatus that forced air into his lungs. It also contained the necessary capability to handle some the bodies elimination needs.

In the 70’s, all computer programs were loaded into computers by way of punched cards. These cards were punched on IBM 029 keypunches. Like all large computer systems companies, we had keypunch operators that punched the deck from programming sheets that the programs were written on.

The sheets had multiple lines on them and 80 columns. You had to print each character into its position on the line. If the operator couldn’t read it or you put it in the wrong column, then the program would not work.

When your program was ready, you could have a deck of cards several inches thick. If there was a mistake in a card, the programmer would usually correct that card and put it back in his deck and turn the program back int for compilation.

I think this was where I first saw Joe. He was at a 029 keypunch, shuffling his cards, with his feet, and inserting the card, he had just typed, back into his deck or cards. I am sure you can’t picture this. You would have to have seen it to believe it. No telling how many mistakes I made that day after seeing Joe correct his deck.

From that day forward, I realized that anything is possible. I never saw Joe that he didn’t have a smile on his face. He usually had the breathing apparatus in his mouth, but it would come out when he saw you and say, “Hi Don. How you doing today?”

We all had cubicles we worked in. Joe’s was the same. He might have had a little extra space to accommodate the wheelchair, but other than that Joe had no privileges nor did he ask for any. He had a painting hanging in his cubical that he had painted. He also was a photographer. If I remember right, he had a photo of a college cheerleader that was in the air doing a leg split. He would smile and tell you that was a photograph to remember. At least that is what I remember.

The 60’s and 70’s were the age of Heathkits and Knight kits. Those were kit amplifiers that you could build to make stereos. These kits were reasonably complex. You had to follow the instructions, step by step, soldering each connection. Joe had built several of them. He always hoped that some day he could build a robot to assist him into and out of his iron lung which is spent the night in. At that time his mother helped him into the lung at night and he knew that she would not always be able to do that.

I remember hearing that one time Joe had gone to a party and was dancing. He would do this by maneuvering the joystick on his wheelchair. Apparently the music was too fast and he burned out the joystick controller. I tell you there was nothing he couldn’t do or at least try.

Joe had a good career at EDS. He worked himself up into the management ranks and had several people working for him. He had a motorized van that he drove to work (again, using only his feet). I am sure that many people went on to do great things, just because they had the opportunity to observe a person such as Joe.

All of us have periods when we are down and want to say. “Why is this happening to me?” Everything that has happened to me, I think of Joe. As quick as that, I recover and start looking for a solution and try to stop complaining.

I think I have had one email from Joe since I have been in Panama. I regret that we have lost touch. When I saw the Yahoo post above, I wrote a friend of mine to get more information on how Joe was doing. I got the following reply.

12:30pm Central time: I just spoke with Jim Rowe (Joe’s brother) and they (family and friends) brought Joe’s iron lung to the hospital. Joe was sleeping and the doctors are trying to decide how to avoid surgery but have not reached a decision as yet.

Joe attended the Democratic National Convention in Denver as a delegate …
he still amazes me.

As you go out today and smell the fresh air and see the bright sun, take a few moments and gaze skyward and put in a couple of good words with the Man upstairs to help Joe thorough this current situation. I would appreciate it.

UPDATE October 2: I received word that Joe Rowe went home from the Hospital yesterday.

The doctors were able to relieve the gastric obstruction without surgery.

I am sure all of your thoughts and prayers assisted the doctors.

7 thoughts on “Let Me Tell You About A Friend Of Mine

  1. Hi Don,

    Thanks for sharing your feelings for your friend/colleague, Joe. I will certainly say a little prayer for him.

    I couldn’t agree with you more about seeing so-called handicapped individuals accomplish so much. They truly provide inspiration to the rest of us. I worked as an RN at a place called Rancho Los Amigos Hospital back in the 80s. Because it was a rehab hospital we saw many many physicall challenged folks. We had rooms of folks on ventilators. Occasionally we would get post polio patients who were most comfortable sleeping in their “old fashioned” iron lungs that they were accustomed to using at home. We’d have to go hunting around for one of the “antiques” to bring back to the unit for them to use.

    Cheryl Ibarra

  2. dear don ray,
    i will meditate & pray for joe. i was a nurse at a rehab hospital 12 or 14 years ago in the greater boston area. although nurses never have “favorites” this young man had me as his favorite! i was always called when “danny” was upset. he was very bright but could not speak but he had very expressive eyes & loved music & he was/is a techie by blinking his eyes to use a computer. here in ga. my daughter was driving with npr on & a story about a young man composing music with his eyes came on needless to say i became teary. here this young man was composing music & doing computer work by blinking (at the time i did not use the computer) & he went out to work every day! he had/has such a great sense of humor just the thought of danny brings a smile to my face such an inspiration.

    thank you for reminding not to complain & reminding me of danny!


  3. Dear Don,
    That was such a heart felt article about a dear friend. He surely is a special angel among us, our prayers are with him and his family and you, as we all hope for a speedy recovery and that the doctors and nurses and staff find the best way to help your friend.
    Take care,
    Clyde and Linda

  4. Joe is a remarkable person! And you are a great friend! We’ll be praying for Joe’s soon recovery to good health, for his family and friends. Thnaks for reminding us what is really important in life and to always count all the many blessings we have.

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