RIP Theodore Rockwell

In 2001 I joined Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and became a nuclear engineer in the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program (NNPP).  I specialized in working with reactor shielding.

In 2004 I found and devoured Theodore Rockwell’s book, The Rickover Effect.  Published in the early 90s, the book tells stories from the launch of the NNPP and helped put into context all that I was being asked to do at work.

Last week I finally decided that I should email Mr. Rockwell and tell him how grateful I was (and am) for his book.  I drafted my short email and hit ‘send.’

All day I watched for a reply to come in.  Would he reply? What would he say?

Later that day I decided to do more internet searching to learn more about Mr. Rockwell.  It was then that I came across his April 25, 2013 obituary in the Washington Post.  Theodore Rockwell had passed away a month earlier on March 31, 2013.

I was too late.

I thought of the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote,

We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood — it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

So, on this gloomy, late spring, Pacific Northwest morning, I rise before the dawn and type this reminder to you:

1. Honor those who’ve come before you in your organization, especially those who have changed you profoundly.

2. Don’t wait to say thank you, because some day it will be too late.

3.  Embrace the fierce urgency of now and act with all the boldness that you can muster.

“The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood–it ebbs…” and when it does, don’t be left with any regrets.

What change are you going to drive today?

Who are you going to thank today?

How are you going to confront the fierce urgency of now?

Why not try?


[p.s. Mr. Rockwell, who died at 90, was still working up until his death.   He had a website and his tagline said, “I’m an engineer and an author. I like to stir up spirited discussions on important issues. Socially, I like to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.”  When I’m surrounded by people biding their time until retirement, I think of men like Mr. Rockwell, who work up until their deaths at advanced ages not because they must, but because it is their calling and they love the work they do.  That is how I often feel about my work.  I may not be doing it for the same company or in the same way, but I will be doing this work until I leave the earth.  On that I have no doubt.  What joy there is in finding something you truly love and devoting your life to it!  Thank you Theodore Rockwell for being a great example of that joy for me, and for many others!]

1 thought on “RIP Theodore Rockwell”

  1. Angela Rockwell

    As Ted’s granddaughter, I’d like to thank you for this 🙂

    He would have been delighted to hear from you and of your experience, I am sure!

    His passing was unexpected and came quickly. Personally, I believe that until the end, he didn’t believe for a minute it was his time yet, and was raring to continue once ‘back up to par’…

    Your ‘carpe diem’ message is indeed an important one, on both a professional and personal level!

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