The Department of Physics & Astronomy mourn the loss of Systems Engineer John Edward O’Donnell Jr. and are grateful for the time he was with us.
O’Donnell, age 56, passed away on Feb. 9, 2014. He is survived by his mother, Ann McGinn Huddart. O’Donnell was a native of Pittsburgh, PA, and came to Athens as an Honors Tutorial College student in Physics. He was hired at Ohio University’s Computer Services Center for two years before joining Physics & Astronomy. His primary assignment was to provide software support to those doing research at the Edwards Accelerator Lab, but he far exceeded his job description.
O’Donnell became skilled at machine operation, gas cell assembly and testing, and served for a time as Radiation Safety Officer for the lab. Many graduate students came to rely of O’Donnell’s help to the extent that their faculty advisers, in meeting former students at professional meetings, would be asked to convey greetings to him when they returned to Athens.
O’Donnell also had a very substantial impact on the region, particularly in the Village of Amesville, where he resided. He was a volunteer and member of the Ames-Bern Fire Department for over a decade and also had worked part time as an Emergency Medical Technician for a few years. He served on the Amesville Village Council for over 10 years and part of that time as Vice-Mayor. He assumed a major role and responsibility for an upgrade of the Amesville Sewage Treatment Plant. O’Donnell impressed the contractor with his understanding of the details of the upgrade.
Distinguished professor emeritus Steven Grimes recalled a time some years ago when O’Donnell accompanied a group of physicists from our department on a trip to complete some nuclear physics measurements at Los Alamos National Lab. “During his week there,” Grimes said, “John found time to slip away from the lab and consult with the person in charge of the Los Alamos Sewage Treatment Plant. Of the many scientists who have visited Los Alamos for research purposes, John was surely one of a very small number who demonstrated a commitment to his community (without pay) as evidenced by his side trip to the Los Alamos Sewage Treatment Plant.”
A person with many skills, O’Donnell had an impressive focus on detail and someone who genuinely enjoyed helping others. His life enriched those of the people he came in contact with, and he is missed in many ways.
“John was a key employee within Edwards,” says Dr. David Ingram, Professor and Chair of Physics & Astronomy. “He was the gas cell guru. He was the go-to operator for the accelerator. He could run a beam when others seemed not to be able to do it. He was a computer expert but one that could help you. He would remember that ‘Dr Lane said …,’ and that is the way we did it.
“He was someone that I enjoyed talking to, and I could always get a thoughtful response from John on so many subjects,” continues Ingram. “We would talk about news items. We would talk about BBC Radio programs; he had a computer streaming radio shows, usually BBC comedy shows. He got most of the jokes, but occasionally I had to explain some quirk of the English to him.
“But John was more than just an expert in his field. He was also a person you could turn to for help, as many who knew him in Amesville found. John was a person who brought light to my life, and I am sure to many others. He has added so much to life in Southeast Ohio. I am so grateful that I knew John O’Donnell.”
Don Roth, Systems Administrator in the department, notes that “John shared his skills and knowledge without expecting anything in return.”
“His life was a collection of skills and relationships, and we have a small piece of him with us, usually a different piece. I will always remember the generous man with the boyish grin on his face when we exchanged terrible puns and jokes.”
“With an analytical mind,” Roth adds, “he often saw things in different ways than normal folks, and his way of looking at the world is a talent that I will always remember. John was willing to give help and guidance with work-related tasks, and always had a smile. I will miss him, and to quote Dr. Ingram, ‘My life is better having known him.’”