Remember When: Remembering Bill Weller

Published 8:00 am Friday, April 6, 2018

No, you don’t know Bill Weller.

I just want to tell you about him, a colleague who I came to love as a brother. Bill was about the smartest engineer I ever worked with; he finished a five-year course of study at Georgia Tech in three and a half years — but said he’d never try that again!

He designed improvements to helicopter rotor systems, first for NASA, then Bell and finally Sikorsky. I did the mechanical design work for him, and we pushed the materials to their limits.

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I once told him that by my calculations, our rotor blades would last from one to 10 hours in the wind tunnel. He said he didn’t care, as long as he got his data.

Our work together continued by telephone when Bill went to Sikorsky. I was working nights at home, and Fran heard only my side of our phone conversations. She suggested that I should not yell at Bill like that — but our good designs came out of our yelling contests.

Bill was a master tennis player with few peers who would (or could) play him.

He was born with a heart valve defect, and the day finally came when he had to have surgery. He asked me who did mine, and I told him about Dr. Stephen Ely in Asheville.

Dr. Ely told him about mechanical valves and pig valves, and after much detailed discussion, Bill chose the pig. He then told me he got an “oinker.”

I told Dr. Ely on a later visit that I had sent Bill to him. Dr. Ely said he knew without being told that he was dealing with another engineer, referred by me.    

Originally from Atlanta, Bill checked with me about retiring “around here.” He said he wanted to be on a large lake or a mountain. I told him about Lake Norman, but drove him all around Lake Bowen.

Next thing we knew, he was showing us his lot pretty well up on a mountain near Etowah. He commented that he could only see three ridge lines; five were visible from the top.

He called me recently to invite us to lunch at his home, saying that it was one of the most difficult calls he’d ever made. He had to tell me that his days were numbered due to his aggressive cancer. He did not pick up on my lame attempt at humor to cheer him up when I commented that he “brought his own chair” (wheelchair) to the dining table.

Just as with engineering, he had called it correctly: Mary notified us that he had died a few days later. They scattered his ashes on Mt. Pisgah; a LOT of ridge lines must be visible from there . . .

Dr. Ely did two open-heart quadruple by-pass surgeries for me, never asking any questions that would indicate whether I might be worthy of his efforts on my behalf. One of the bypasses of the second one later blocked, and I got a stent.

Now I have atrial-fibrillation, and one of the booklets they sent home with me from the hospital was entitled “Living with Heart Failure.” That got my attention!

My cardiologist, Dr. James Usedom, is taking good care of me — he insists that I walk 30 minutes a day. So I saunter on their treadmills at PRO and even pump a little iron, as I socialize with my fellow laborers in the fitness game.

I will be 88 years old on Saturday, and I think that is a pretty good number for a piano person, don’t you?

And no, I don’t expect that to be my final number of years, because, at eight octaves, the Bösendorfer Imperial Grand piano has 97 keys!