Another pillar of Delaware’s remarkable economic and scientific past left the grasps of this earth last month with the passing of my friend’s father, John W. Moore.
“JW,” as he was called, was a real life Horatio Alger story brought to Wilmington through the DuPont Company’s once unrivaled ability to hoover-up the country’s brightest technical minds.
At 73, JW died far too young, but his standing-room-only memorial service at the Delaware Art Museum this past weekend was anything but a somber occasion. Family and friends cheerfully recounted their deep admiration for his intellect, his integrity, his insatiable desire to learn and solve complex problems and, most importantly, his love of life.
JW joined DuPont towards the tail end of a generation-long post-war push by the industrial powerhouse to bring the smartest engineering talent to their labs and plants across the world, a recruiting drive that produced phenomenal results.
As one of JW’s former colleagues testified, their one lab produced the following game-changing products: Kevlar®, Tyvek®, Dacron®, Stainmaster®, Lycra®. One lab. Imagine.
JW and many of his colleagues spent time in DuPont outposts ranging from Martinsville, West Virginia to Geneva, Switzerland, But sooner or later, like JW, most ended up in Delaware.
As I wrote here last year (Delaware’s Ph.D. Problem?), these DuPonters and their families transformed the state – through their brains, their civic engagement and their diverse and worldly life experiences:
(They) came from all over: Maine, Milwaukee, San Diego, Germany. And thousands more like them flooded into Delaware equipped with technical degrees from the MITs and RITs, but also Ag schools in the south and land grant colleges in the Midwest. The diversity of background and experience these men and their families brought to Delaware can hardly be estimated. Their influx helped shape and support every cultural, educational and community institution from Seaford to Silverside Road.
And like so many of that amazing generation, JW was genuinely self-made. Born into humble circumstances, he finished high school at 16, worked his way through the old General Motors Institute for his bachelors and went on to receive a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering from one of the country’s top programs at the University of Michigan.
Today’s Ph.D.s and engineers – whether they be from the Big Ten, the Ivy League or the south – are unfortunately not coming to Delaware, at least not in any way like the post-war surge that brought JW. Instead, our country’s brightest technical minds are heading to Silicon Valley or similar innovation hubs where they can be part of building the future – and, importantly, own a piece of it (not a few are also going directly to Wall Street to seek their fortunes).
That’s certainly an economic loss for our state, and one our policymakers and organizations like First State Innovation and the Delaware Bioscience Association are working to address.
But more than just smart technical minds, to truly thrive, a community needs people like JW who are, in the old expression, “well-rounded.”
At JW’s service, one friend and former colleague marveled at his huge brain but also his gift for woodworking, his knowledge of wine, and his intimacy with so many far-away corners of our world. He was, in his friend‘s touching words, “a complete man.”
We certainly could use more like him.