REMEMBERING JAKE H. ALFORD JR
by J. Vazquez
February 13th, 2019
My former Bennett colleague and friend Jake Alford passed away this past January, at the age of 71 CLICK HERE for a link to his obituary. Unfortunately, due to travel I couldn’t attend the funeral (see article below.
The following remembrances are presented with the utmost respect and admiration of him. They include what I consider “peculiar” differences in our personalities that I found funny and interesting. I believe that those of you who knew Jake will agree with my assessments and may even get a chuckle.
I met Jake about 18 years ago, when he reunited with Mr. Bennett and other former F&G engineers/designers at Bennett & Associates (BASS) after a short stint at MS Benbow. At that time, I had been with BASS for less than 2 years and had started to pick up the nuances of jackup design/behavior.
He quickly became one of my go-to people at BASS when I wanted perspective and real-life experience, as he was part of the F&G team that at one point had 10+ rigs being built around the world in the mid-80’s.
From the beginning, it was clear that though Jake’s undergraduate education was in electrical engineering and his graduate degree was in business, his specialty was jackups and jacking systems – not just the electrical components, but the overall behavior.
I had many a conversation with Jake – all of them valuable. He used to tell me that one of his former bosses “had a ton of ideas” he’d pause for a few seconds and then would add “some of them were actually good ones!” To me, that meant that we should not be discouraged when trying to solve novel problems. If an idea didn’t work, try another one!
I also had the opportunity to attend many celebratory dinners (Christmas or anniversary dinners) with Jake and, of course all our coworkers. Jake made it a point to introduce me to clients he interacted with.
Jake with Engineers from WS Nelson at BASS’s 10th Anniversary Lunch at Delmonico’s
BASS family, celebrating the company’s 10th anniversary in 2007
I had the privilege of co-authoring a number of technical papers with Jake, including one of the first papers on RPD (Rack Phase Differential), which we presented together at City University, in London in 2003. By that time, Jake had been to London a number of times, but it was only my second time there. So, I wanted to go out and explore, far beyond the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge, which were less than a 5-min walk from our Hotel. Jake, on the other hand, was happy having dinner at the hotel and was not into checking out things that would require us to go far out. He was never forceful on what we could or could not do, but since he was only 3 years younger than my father, and I had been learning so much from him, I didn’t even make alternative suggestions. Instead, I only kept hoping that he would want to explore, but it didn’t happen.
A few years later, we spent a lot of time together working on the “Jackup Primer” (together with Richard Michel, Matthew Quah and Dr. Foo). If you can believe it, my writing skills weren’t as good as they are now, and Jake dutifully edited all my writing and helped me greatly with the simplification sketches we ended up including in the pamphlet, which I am told is still widely read to this date.
I also traveled with Jake to Singapore and of course to Houston for OTC and meetings with ABS and the IADC jackup committee meetings. For those 1-day trips to Houston, we’d leave New Orleans around 6am to make it on time for a 9am meeting, and return to NOLA in the late afternoon. Jake wasn’t always keen on attending those meetings in Houston, because due to the late return, it would mean that he would miss his practice time with his band – Yes, I too was quite surprised when I found out that Jake played in a band! Playing both the harmonica and the accordion, Jake was quite good. I got to see him perform live in a local establishment in New Orleans and at the French Quarter Festival. I still have a couple of his CDs.
When in Houston, Jake had an affinity for eating at NINFA’s.
One time, Jake told me that he never wore a shirt that didn’t have a front pocket (I presume that meant during the workdays, but I didn’t ask).
To date, Jake is one of the most diligent time-keepers I’ve ever met. I still don’t see how he managed to put up with a number of us who constantly needed reminders about completing our timesheets.
I don’t know if this is an exaggeration or not, but it seemed to me that whenever I was in Jake’s office and his phone rang, before he answered he’d look at his watch – so that he could write in his log the precise time of the call and could reference it in the future.
I wish I had had a chance to meet his family, but I only got to interact briefly with his companion, Debbie at one or two of the company Christmas parties. Jake was proud of his family and on occasion would mention to me their most recent accomplishments: his son getting his Forestry degree and living in Wala Wala, WA (which always sounded to me like an idyllic place to live), or how much his daughter had enjoyed working for the American Embassy in Poland (or was it the Check Republic?) before she and her husband moved to New Orleans and had their son.
Though Jake and I haven’t worked for the same company for almost 6 years now, we stayed in touch and I even consulted with him (and referenced his work) on a recent paper I wrote on jacking simulations. The last time I interacted with him was when I sent him a Happy Birthday wish last September via email. I asked him how he was doing and in typical Jake form, he responded matter-of-factly with “Unfortunately, this birthday finds me very sick. Hope to be better soon.”
Jake – I wish, indeed, that you had got better soon. We’ll miss and remember you fondly, with great appreciation for the kind of person you were and the way you treated us.
Jake at one of the company dinners (Circa 2002)
PS - Jake is now the 2nd person in my life that has passed on without me telling them personally how much they meant to me and how thankful I am for the privilege of having worked with them and learn from them. The 1st one was Don Spradling, without whom I would have never become the person I am today. So, I am taking this opportunity to publicly thank a couple of others, which I happen to have mentioned in a speech I gave at Toastmasters about 10 years ago. They are, in no particular order: Mr. Bennett, Dr. Williams and my father. To this short list (not originally mentioned in the Toastmasters speech), I’d also add Gene Begnaud. Of course, there are many others (mentors, peers, former students, partners, etc.) from whom I’ve learned much (and I ask that you don’t fault me for not making a 100+ list here), but these few stand out significantly.