Mel, 1958-2014


Today we found out how many precious days had been allotted to Melvin John Wachowiak, Junior, as my friend and colleague of a quarter century passed away last night after a valiant struggle.  But as my pastor said a couple weeks ago, “Father Time is undefeated.”

Mel is survived by his wife and two children, his mother, four siblings, and a literal multitude of loving friends and colleagues.

He was a man of unusual gifts; brilliant, skilled, talented, knowledgeable and well-read on an amazing range of topics, inventive, and good company to boot, never more than a breath away from a hearty laugh.  Artist, wood scientist, inventor, machinist, bench craftsman, author, teacher, microscopist, problem solver par excellence.

We had a similar sense of off-beat humor, and many times we cracked each other up in staff meetings with quiet quips that we were the only ones who “got it.”  Plus, we liked the same music.  When I recruited him to join the Smithsonian in 1989 (my smartest career move ever!), I knew well his resume’, so the only really important question was, “What kind of music do you like to hear in the shop?”  I don’t know how I would have dealt with the wrong answer, but he nailed that one too.

Our relationship, professionally and personally, was not without bumps as you might expect with two strong-willed men driven by their curiosities, both of whom is convinced that they know more than anybody else what was important on the things that mattered.  But it was a rich and rewarding one, and I am a better person and professional because of my years working alongside him.  When we were on the same wavelength, which actually was most of the time, magic happened.


Don and Mel at Don's retirement party

Don and Mel at Don’s retirement party

Farewell, dear friend.  Farewell.