John Messmer had a passion for engineering. A Cal Tech graduate and someone 13 years my senior, I looked up to John. Messmer was never interested in money or material things. His passions were books and electronic device design. His seemingly contradictory anti-establishment and conservative viewpoints definitely provided me with a more nuanced view of the world than the black and white world I often saw in high school.
John was never satisfied with his own work and always felt he could do better. This probably ate at him, as his intelligence allowed him to see imperfections that others couldn’t see. This quality helped him produce quality work, but probably made it difficult for him to be satisfied with his accomplishments.
His design accomplishments are mostly history these days, thanks to ever decreasing life cycles of electronic equipment. The memories of these devices, such as the Tomco ADS1000, Automatic Non-Duplication Switcher or the PT 3000 Programmable Event Timer, are fading even for those of us who had a small hand in their creation or production.
No, John’s real legacy was the people he touched, whether consciously or not. John could be surly and I remember being quite nervous when he gave a 16 year old Ken Pyle a lecture on producing quality work and the importance of not assuming anything, except, in his words, a 5% loan. That conversation and others we had helped me become a more conscientious worker.
John was always generous with his time and would mentor anyone. I remember him reviewing and providing a very helpful critique of my college application letter. I still try to follow his advice of setting aside a draft for 24 hours before completing the final version. His writing was quite good, which probably was a result of his book habit.
I always admired Messmer’s integrity, straightforward nature and his honesty. He judged everyone equally and had an open mind. It is somewhat ironic that this guy, who spent much of his life devoted to the design of electronic gadgets, made his biggest impact through the people he touched…..thanks John and tell Dave hello.