The December 4, 2007 NY Times reports that self taught nautical archeology expert and MacArthur “Genius” Grant award recipient, J. Richard Steffy has passed away. (J. Richard Steffy Is Dead at 83; Made Shipwreck Analysis Scientific)
I knew nothing about Steffy until I read his NY Times obituary but I came away wanting to know more about this man who at 48, and with two teenage sons, left a successful 22 year old family business to pursue his passion for studying shipwrecks. Despite never having graduated college himself, his second career ultimately led him to a full professorship at Texas A&M University where he launched their highly acclaimed Maritime Archeology program.
“I like to think that shipbuilding was the most important early everyday technology,” he said in an interview with The New York Times in 1992. “The Greeks and Romans built big and beautiful temples, but I think there’s really nothing like a ship, their ships.”
Steffy’s story is inspirational and instructive about what can happen when you commit to following your passion and dreams. From middle aged electrical contractor to world renowned nautical archeologist and MacArthur “genuis” grant recipient. Hmm, may be it’s not too late for me after all!
Steffy’s son, Loren, made the following entry on the Remembering J. Richard Steffy webpage (blog):
The morning before he died, George Bass and Cemal Pulak stopped by. Dad could barely speak, but as Cemal talked of a new find in Turkey, I could see the familiar twinkle in Dad’s eye. His smile said it all. He was taking in every detail.
After they left, he said in a barely audible whisper, “that was nice.” A few minutes later, he he dozed off and never regained consciousness. I can’t imagine a more fitting ending to his life than to share a final conversation about ships with old friends.
Interesting resources: J. Richard Steffy Ship Reconstruction Laboratory – Center of Maritime Archeology & Conservation – Department of Anthropology – Texas & A.M. University
(HT – Lincoln Payne via H-Maritime LISTSERV)
Photo: Loren Steffy