Memorial for a Man of God

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
— Pslam 139:13-16
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Memorial Message in Honor of Richard C. Gerdes

Richard Conwell Gerdes, Jr. was born on February 23, 1939 in Waukegan, Illinois as an only child of Richard and Dorothy Gerdes, and was primarily raised by his beloved aunt Evie.

Rick showed exceptional skill in sciences and engineering even in elementary school, earning a HAM radio operator’s license at age 8 and listening in on global transmissions on a radio he had built from scratch. While working at an electronics supply store in junior high school he was befriended by a gentleman that would go on to found “MCI.” Rick enjoyed going to the man’s house to have dinner with he and his wife, and then getting to watch the “Red Skelton” show!

While attending Joliet Central High School, he invented a very small specialized camera that won him awards and accolades.  In 1956, it also caught the attention of a Tucson businessman named Tom Brown who had formed a company called Burr-Brown which made and sold electro-optical components. Tom offered a job to Rick (Rick was the 7th employee at the fledgling company that was later acquired by Texas Instruments for $7.6 billion!), plus he encouraged Rick to enroll at the University of Arizona to seek his engineering degree. While at the U of A, Rick developed another space-centric camera that the Kitt Peak National Observatory ended up acquiring, even as they recruited and hired Rick to work there. This further energized Rick’s life-long passion for Astronomy and Cosmology.

Following his time at Kitt Peak, Rick married Suzanne and had two daughters, Ryckie and Bobbi. Rick and Suzanne also formed a company, naming it Analog One, and both enjoyed creating, producing and selling unique components and designs.

As his marriage with Suzanne dissolved, Rick left Analog One and worked in various capacities and companies, always ahead of his time with cutting edge discoveries and inventions including magnetic wireless and ultrasound communications, circuit board and silicon wafer engineering and a myriad of waveform techniques.

Rick then met and married Kathie, moved to Phoenix, and became a stepfather to Michelle. Rick and Kathy worked together happily in their own new company and accomplished real milestone work. As they sat on the FCC standards committee together to determine what High Def TV technology should be used, they invented a method that demonstrated for the first time (in the mid-80’s) two separate data paths going over a single transmission and demonstrated at both KBAL in Baltimore, and KMSB in Tucson. This work was a pre-cursor to the Transpositional Modulation that promises to be a wonderfully disruptive technology in the communications world. Kathy and Rick divorced but remained fast friends to the end of his life.

Rick moved to Whidbey Island, Washington for a bit before returning to Tucson to work with Medusa Scientific as Chief Scientist and CTO. His most disruptive engineering work and crowning achievement was the development of Transpositional Modulation. As primary inventor, he earned more than 25 patents, and has many still pending. The near future will tell just how successful this technology will become.

For his life and work though, the common theme that runs deep in the memories and souls of those of us that knew him, is that he always, without fail, found the good in people and had no unkind thing to say to anyone. He mentored generations of budding engineers and instilled a deep learning desire in scores of children and adults alike. Rick Gerdes was brilliant, polite, humble, kind, humorous and cared deeply for people.

What Rick learned late in life however, in fact over the last two years, is what brought him ultimate peace, happiness and hope. At the end, in his final conscious conversations, this message of discovery and hope is what he wanted all of his friends and family to know. Hang onto your hat!

I was told last month by a world-renowned astrophysicist and astronomer, that the rate of scientific discovery and learning doubles every 3 years now. In effect, what most of us learned in high school and/or college has been updated and supplemented, or in some cases even refuted. Through his voracious appetite for learning and reading, Rick discovered 3 things that were new to him.

First, through evidences in science, philosophy and historical matters, Rick came to believe that God truly does exist. In science, he learned that the results from the Hubble Deep Space Probe, the COBE and the WISE satellites (all in only the last 2 decades – with some results still arriving) show that the universe, space and time all had a beginning 13.73 billion years ago as we can image radiation and the early universe up to the very event some call the “big bang.” Therefore, “what begins to exist must have a cause,” or in simpler terms – “what has a beginning must have a beginner.” This ‘Cause’ then must be outside of space and time and be space-less, time-less and personal since the Cause chose to create. He also learned that the ‘laws of nature’ and the events that have happened in our universe are so finely tuned to allow life on planet earth, that when calculated mathematically, the probability of them all occurring by chance is less than one in 1E1000…..that’s a 1 with a thousand zeros behind it. Note that mathematically, anything greater than approximately 1E150 exceeds the universal probability bound and therefore is considered to be factual.

Additionally, he saw that recent discoveries in genetics & DNA show that random selection and variation cannot account for emergence of new species, even if given the age of the universe (much less the age of the habitable earth) so classical evolution is falling on its face and we must look elsewhere for explanations of life and emergence of species. Conclusion, it is much more reasonable to believe that God created the heavens and the earth.

In Philosophy, we know through innate knowledge what moral laws are and that they are just. If not, and morality is relative, then there can ultimately be no distinction between the morals of Hitler and those of Mother Theresa. Rick and I discussed this and he admitted that just as Plato determined over 2,000 years ago, there are moral laws that are supreme and exist outside of human concoction, therefore if there are moral laws that exist regardless of human arguments or existence, there is a moral lawgiver. Lawgivers mandate there be justice. In violation of those “laws,” there must then be a punishment, just like we experience on a smaller scale in societies. If murder or rape – then a conviction and sentence for such affront against the laws.

Second, Rick came to understand that humans are created in the image of God and meant to live in a loving relationship with Him. Simply, human life is of incalculable worth and Rick lived this fully – showing respect and love to anyone that was fortunate enough to interact with him. However, on March 31st, Rick admitted openly to me that he nor anyone else lived all the time in obedience to God’s standards, and all of us rebel against the idea that we don’t control our own lives, and hence we do what we want in open rebellion against Him. Conclusion we have all turned away from our Creator to go our own ways, even when warned what will occur, and we fall short of the standard required to be with God going forward.

Third, with fact one and two established in Rick’s mind, he wanted to know how then anyone could attain to that required standard. The truth is that no one can of themselves. When an offense is made against a timeless (infinite) Being, then an infinite sentence is imposed. Since there is only one infinite Being, (in the Christian worldview existing as a trinity of Father, Son and Spirit) God Himself would have to endure the sentence. He did just that by humiliating Himself to enter the finite world of men, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth over 2000 years ago. After intense discussions, investigation and deep thought, Rick came to realize that there is more ancient historical evidence for the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, than for any other ancient historical event….in fact more than any 10 other ancient events combined! If one would accept the historicity of Alexander the Great, Homer, Socrates, Plato, Caesars, Pharoahs or any others, you must accept the historical accounts of Jesus. No other human life ever lived carried the impact on this planet for more than 2,000 years like Jesus did. Western civilization wouldn’t exist without His influence. Hospitals, universities, seminaries, schools – all originated with the early Christian faith. Sure, some atrocities were also committed in His name, yet when we look at His teachings, His belief structure is crystal clear. Love is supreme and those committing atrocities in such manner carried His name illegitimately.

At 6:30 pm PDT on March 31st, just as dawn was preparing to break on the other side of the world, Rick prayed. He acknowledged that his whole life he hoped there were multiple ways to God, and he would eventually discover and become sure of one, since the soft, liturgical and weak ‘church people’ that he had met only lived on ‘blind faith.’ Then he admitted that after seeing evidences, he became fully aware that he was running and just kidding himself. The stark reality and truth is that there is only one way to be reunited with our Creator as intended, and that is through Him in the form of accepting the free gift that Jesus offered by absorbing Rick’s ‘verdict and sentencing.’ This was the penultimate decision of Rick’s life, and in conversation with Ginger the next morning, he admitted how peaceful his night was, even in the face of a terminal disease. Ironically, this decision of his happened as dawn was breaking Easter morning, the time when the Christian world celebrates the resurrection of Christ. One week later, Rick learned what the face of the Creator looks like, when in the hands of friends who loved him deeply, he crossed over from this imperfect life via physical death into an eternal, perfect life with the time-less, space-less, personal, loving, just Being we call God.

So we grieve the loss of a man that affected everyone he had contact with. This is a normal reaction and even a healthy emotion for us who remain a little longer here and who have hope, based on what we can know from nature and Scriptures. As Paul the Apostle told the Christians in Thessaloniki Greece about 1960 years ago, “ Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep (have died), so that you will not grieve like the rest who have no hope…”  Ricks wonder became knowledge and then became hope, and finally became realized experience.

See you soon brother!