John Brisbin Rutherford
John Brisbin Rutherford died on February 3 at home surrounded by his family. He was 90. Born March 1, 1923, in Harrisburg, Pa., John grew up on his family’s dairy farm, which supplied milk to the Hershey chocolate company. Early on, at the age of 8 or 9, he decided he did not want to be a farmer and fixed on becoming an engineer. After receiving a Purple Heart for wounds from German machine-gun fire in World War II, he earned his B.S. in engineering from Lehigh in 1949 and his M.S. from Cal Tech in 1950. With the late Constantine Chekene, John co-founded the engineering firm Rutherford & Chekene in 1960. The firm’s projects include the Cannery and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, among many others. But his favorite project, to which he devoted much of the last 20 years of his career, was protection of Egypt’s ancient monuments in the Valley of the Kings and elsewhere.
That’s from last year (2014) by the way.
I worked with John two seasons in the Valley of the Kings, 1991 and 1993. He was truly a fine man. I’ve always wished I’d had a career like his. He was a good engineer, worked on many interesting projects, and had a long career followed by a productive retirement. As the obit says, he assisted in protecting the VK tombs through an analysis of the flood potential. That’s what I worked with him on, surveying the Valley from that perspective, identifying drainages, etc. We did everything by hand the old fashioned way: wrote down transit readings and then reduced them using a calculator every evening. I really learned more from that experience about surveying than just plugging junk into a total station. Although I quickly forgot it all, since that was the only time I used it.
Just a couple of stories. First, he worked on the movie The Abyss (I think it was that one, some underwater movie at any rate). They were apparently attempting to figure out some way of making the deep underwater scenes look like they were deep underwater but still provide enough light to film by. They’d tried all sorts of tricks with different lighting schemes and filters and what-not but it all looked artificial. But then they happened upon a relatively simple idea: they covered the surface of the tank they were filming in with a bunch of irregularly shaped styrofoam blocks. Turned out it made it relatively dark but let enough natural sunlight in at random trajectories so it looked natural and allowed enough light to film in.
Second, one day a bunch of British soldiers stayed at our hotel while on leave; I think they’d been part of the Iraq operation in ‘91. They were kind of being all full of themselves and started to get. . . .well, not belligerent, but maybe a little sneery at us civilian archaeologists. The three of us were sitting in the “hot tub” (a generous term, I assure you) part of the pool at the hotel with a couple of them and they were getting uppity, and John just raised his hand up and you could see where it was a little deformed and told them that was where he’d been hit by a German machine gun in WWII. That shut them up real quick and we all got along well after that.
Nothing seemed to faze him either. He just calmly carried on his work no matter how hot and uncomfortable it was or how many odd people did weird and/or irritating things. I’ve actually thought of him now and again over the years in something of a WWJD? (What Would John Do?) way, when things get a bit hectic.
You were a good man, John, a good engineer, and a fine human being.