Dr. Joseph L.N. Violette
August 24, 1932 – January 2, 2008
Norm Violette was a man of exceptional talents, humor, faith and humility. From his modest origins in Winslow, Maine
He attended a Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute as scholarship student —where he met the love of his life, Elizabeth DeLee Heffron.
With a Bachelor’s in Electrical Engineering and after a post-grad stint at RPI, he continued onto a successful career in the Air Force and as an independent consultant; his achievements were singular and far-reaching.
His favorite things were learning, flying and the people whom he knew and loved. Even to the end of his life, he continued to push himself to learn something each day, whether it was a refresher of his childhood catechism (in French) to reading tales of Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth or plunging into the complexities of Quantum Mechanics. Sports and the thrill of competition were innate. Mostly he competed with himself, pushing harder and constantly for self-improvement.
He flew high and fast in F-102s in the late 1950s and flew perilously close to danger during the Vietnam War in 1968, providing supplies and ferrying soldiers in C-123s about the country during the Tet Offensive.
Stationed in Da Nang for that year, he garnered two Distinguished Flying Crosses and nearly 1000 takeoffs and landings during his tour. He told me about the miles of white sandy beautiful beaches and, looking forward to the day when peace would return, remarked: “One day, this place will be lined with luxury hotels.”
He loved flying everything from jets to prop-driven aircraft and logged as many hours as he could, including the perimeter navigation of the United States on a long weekend, taking off in Florida, traveling clockwise around the border of the lower 48 states, shooting stars, using LORAN and employing his mathematical acuity to keep his craft on course. He ferried a C-47 across the Pacific and another excursion that he relished in retelling was the lobster run from Florida to Maine, where he picked up the crated crustaceans and hauled them south for a next-day Nor’east-inspired feast. The plan was to put them in the refrigerators of the Officer’s Club, but they got back too late and the club was closed. The only alternative was to drive around town in the middle of the night and spread the critters around to a half-dozen friends’ houses.
In addition to flying the “Delta Dagger,” He was checked out in C-47 “Gooney Birds,” taught pilots in T-33 and T-38 high altitude supersonic trainers and towed targets. So he didn’t mind getting shot at: good training for raising seven children and welcoming nine grandchildren into the world.
Finally, as if he didn’t think he would have enough to do, he took a stab at joining the Apollo astronaut program.
After his return from SE Asia, he achieved his goal of gaining a PhD in Electromagnetics. His thesis was to solve the complex equations of the field distribution around a “bump” on the center conductor of a coaxial cable. Mastering Green’s Functions, he successfully gained his doctorate from NC State in 1971(check out my groovy pants).
This deep appreciation of the hidden meaning in the mathematics and physics of electromagnetism which formed the basis for his exceptional and influential career in Electromagnetic Compatibility. Eschewing the notion that EMC is some kind of “Magic,” he neatly laid out the mechanisms that formed the basis for a rational engineering approach to understanding and applying the physics to solve real-life problems.
My dad was a storyteller, a raconteur in the finest sense of the word. I have no doubt that, given any topic, from Baseball to Airplanes—two of his favorite subjects—to people he knew in his life: which were his real interest, he could relate that topic to a particular thing that he experienced, or read about or studied or explored. And always in a way that was like he was telling it or living it or realizing it for the first time, although, I must say that there were several re-runs of the same story. That never dampened his enthusiasm for the story.
Because he was a storyteller, he was a great instructor. Over the course of his career, he taught upwards of 200 seminars, reaching out to a few thousand individuals, many of whom would tell me that his EMC engineering seminar was the best or the first or the one they most remembered, and to be honest with you, this caused a lot of problems for my mom. There was never a conference that he didn’t get waylaid by many of the engineers in our particular field while trying to exit the conference hall, go to lunch, leaving for the day, etc. And each one of those conversations was special to him and more often than not, he remembered the person’s name, for his recall was phenomenal. This blessing of intellect was what made him the best instructor; his passion for what he was teaching was unmatched and it was his greatest joy to discuss the importance of understanding something called Common Mode Voltage.
His style of teaching was to use flipcharts and he painstakingly assembled each course, like a composer checking over an important score: sorting, re-sorting, making changes, all up into the wee hours of the night, with my mom inking changes and copying viewgraphs and punching holes and painting whiteout…always just in time to make the plane the next morning. Well, my dad was fond of his methods, because they worked for him and he never got into the PowerPoint craze, preferring good old-fashioned plastic.
I remember another time during a fairly routine session at George Washington, where he held a number of seminars on his favorite technical subject: EMC. There was a senior professional in the front row whom I had a short conversation with during a break. It was evident that this gentleman was well-experienced as an engineer and I wondered a little how he might be gaining from this lecture. My questions were put aside as I noticed him during the discussion of the next subject, when my dad had a full head of steam; the man had put down his pen and leaned comfortably back in his chair, watching my dad as one would enjoy a fine opera. At that moment, I understood a little more about our obligations to give all we have; much more returning to us. Of course, he doesn’t like to hear these kinds of things. Although his marks were always high, he was humble and always questioning how he could do it better next time.
He was also a pioneer in many ways. Long before it became de rigeur to “start your own business” my dad was determined to start his own. From his principles come lasting foundations: give the customer everything you have; and he did, and it worked. About the same time, long before there were additions whole-house remodeling was in vogue here, my dad built an addition to the back of his house, doing the wiring and drywall and trim and finishes—a great undertaking that, at the time (some thirty years ago), was an audacious undertaking. But he did it, because deep down, beneath a sometimes skeptical front, he believed that he could figure out anything.
He was a lifelong member of the IEEE and Winner of the Stoddardt Award from the EMC Society.
His camaraderie and friendships — professional and personal — made him a beloved member of that group.
I am fortunate to have worked with him, knowing him as a father and a practitioner of his faith, engineer and quintessential humorist with quips that were never barbed. His love of God never interfered with his love of learning and he never doubted those things that were natural or supernatural, but always was on a quest to understand more about both. In that way, he taught me to reason critically about the world and origins of things, but to hold onto the higher reasons and motives that are unseen.
Seek Truth and Answers in Reality. This defined his professional life, his faith and his nature.
He leaves behind his beloved wife and mother of his seven children, Bette and nine grandchildren, his younger brother, Jerome Carlton and wife Peggy and their family. But more than that, he leaves a trail of inspiration to contemplate, explore and follow.
We will love him and miss him forever.