Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

George M. Ewing WA8WTE 1945-2010

jeffandgeorgeinworkshop1995Cropped.jpg

Last night I got word from Florida author Elenora Sabin that George Ewing had collapsed and died of a massive heart attack on May 18. He was 64. He had been in the parking lot near where he worked, in Tampa, Florida when the collapse occurred. Death was evidently immediate; by the time bystanders saw him and called 911, he was gone. I spoke with his brother Tom a little while ago. He mentioned that George had had an organ donation agreement in place through the LifeLink Foundation, and following organ donation, his body was cremated. His ashes are being returned to George’s home state of Michigan, where they will be interred in his parents Wilkin & June Ewing’s plot at Riverside Cemetery in Sault Ste. Marie. He never married, and is survived by his brother Tom. No memorial services are planned.

Clarion73BrennertMcEvoyEwing.jpgI first ran into George at the Clarion SF Writers’ Conference in East Lansing, Michigan, in 1973. That’s him on the right margin of the photo at left, holding a camera. (The other two workshoppers shown are Alan Brennert, far left, and Seth MacEvoy, center. There’s a chap between Seth and George whom I don’t recognize.) As WN9MQY, I had thrown my novice ham station into the trunk of my Chevelle and taken it with me, imagining running a wire from a third-floor dorm room out to one of the campus’s abundant trees. No luck; we were in the basement of Mason-Abbot Hall, and the only thing outside my room window were yew bushes…and a copper downspout. Hmmm. I poked a run of coax out the window and ran around outside to see whether I could somehow match into the copper pipe…and found another piece of coax in the dirt, coming from the next window over from mine. That’s when I met George Macdonald Ewing WA8WTE. Neither of us ever got a good match into the downspout, but that was all right. He became a close friend and my staunchest ally at the conference (which was a continuous low-key war between the Techs and the Orteests) and we were never out of touch for long after that.

GeorgeEwingatJeffWedding1976.jpgLike me, he was a hands-on techie and hard SF enthusiast, and we brainstormed SF ideas and critiqued one another’s fiction frequently both at Clarion and afterward, in letters (later electronically) and in person. He was encouraging but also honest: In 1977, while visiting us in Chicago, he persuaded me to abandon a novel I was working on, and kidded me goodnaturedly about some of its more juvenile aspects for years thereafter. He sent a newsletter/fanzine to our Clarion class for the rest of the 70s, run off on the ditto machine of the rural Michigan high school where he taught. Alas, the termites made a colony out of my box of fanzines and APAs in the late 90s, and they’ve all perished, but George’s Post-Clarion Carrion was nicely done and often hilarious, especially his off-the-wall SF movie reviews. He attended our wedding in 1976 (above) and we saw him at SF cons regularly over the years. He and I were among the founders of the SF/tech fan group General Technics, a group that persists to this day.

In the early 1970s he hand-built a plywood geodesic dome on some property he’d bought near Cheboygan, Michigan, and lived in the dome while slowly hand-building an A-frame chalet beside it. By 1980 the A-frame was livable (barely) and he convened a party to celebrate and dismantle the dome. Fifteen or twenty of us showed up, and the dome came down in high style. The A-frame wasn’t quite finished (interior walls had not yet been sheetrocked, which made for problems with the bathroom) but we had campfires and outings to Whitefish Bay and slept in a huge tent made of sheet plastic weighted at the edges with old railroad ties and inflated with an ordinary window fan.

EwingLivingonaShoestringCover200Wide.jpgGeorge was a published writer in both the SF and nonfiction worlds. His first story, “Black Fly,” appeared in Analog in September 1974, followed by semiregular publication there, in Asimov’s, and other places. He sold numerous articles into the electronics/ham radio market, many focused on scrounge technology. In 1983 Wayne Green Publications published George’s book Living on a Shoestring, which was a Ewing brain dump on how to do more with less and repurpose what you and I might call junk into the raw materials of a comfortable (if eccentric) life. It’s as close to a memoir as we’ll ever have, as those who knew him will attest. He was always doing this stuff, and developed a sense for outside-the-box make-do technology that served him well both personally and in his fiction. He was Pro Guest of Honor at Nanocon 8 in Houghton, Michigan, in 1996, and the Houghton SF group published a short reprint volume of his fiction for the con. He played tuba in his high-school band, and considered tuba one of his iconic traits. I never actually saw a tuba in his hands, but he drew cartoons of himself playing one on regular occasions–often standing atop unlikely things like abandoned military radar antennas.

He spent a week with us in Rochester in the summer of 1982, and housebroke our new puppy Chewy while we were both away at work. Greater love hath no man…

GeorgeJuneTazzy350Wide.jpgI don’t have many good pictures of George. What’s here is all there is. The photo at the top of this entry was taken in 1995, in my then-new Scottsdale workshop. Sure, he’s peeking out from behind other people in various convention group shots, but mostly we see half of his head and one arm. The photo at left is the most recent I have, from 2004, with his mother June and his dog Tazzy. He didn’t think people were that interested in seeing his image; he sent me this photo only because he thought Tazzy looked like my old dog Smoker. (She does.) That was a key George Ewing characteristic: He was not full of himself. He was courteous, jovial, a good listener, generous with his time and ideas, and extraordinarily social. He was always willing to assume the best about other people, and never engaged in the sorts of poisonous arguments and personal attacks that have made so many others (including far too many in my acquaintence) look like brain-damaged twelve-year-olds. He scolded me only a couple of times, but always in private, and in every case for abundant good reason.

We don’t get to keep our friends forever, and 37 years is a pretty good run. Only a handful of people go back with me farther than that. I will always celebrate his friendship, especially his can-do outlook, which might be summarized in these two points:

  1. Think outside the box;
  2. Then turn around and make something out of the box!

WA8WTE DE K7JPD 73 ES GUD LK SK

15 Comments

  1. My condolences, Jeff. And a pity I never got to meet the guy.

    JRS

  2. Bob Halloran says:

    Jeff, my condolences; George will be missed by all us old-guard GT’ers.

  3. Bruce C. Baker says:

    What Jim and Bob said. Sounds like a great guy.

  4. David Stafford says:

    I’m sorry for your loss, Jeff. The loss of a good friend is a permanent loss. Good friends are so few in life.

    The loss of a good man and an original thinker is a loss to the entire world. The world desperately needs its George Ewings and now there is one less. We pray another has been born, somewhere, to carry on.

  5. Judy Shapiro says:

    Jeff, thank you very much for this moving piece about George. I’m not sure we’ve met, but I’m Tom Snoblen’s wife and Tom has mentioned you to me many times. (Always good things, to be sure!)

    I don’t have many stories about George, but here is one from just a few years ago. Tom and I were driving up to Houghton for the annual Berzerker and we stopped at one of the rest areas on the highway. Tom noticed a beat-up car full of stuff, with a really beat-up canoe perched on top. Tom said, “That has GOT to be George Ewing’s car, and I bet he’s making coffee over a campfire.” Sure enough, it was George’s car, and we found George by one of the barbecue grills, brewing coffee in an old-fashioned metal peculator!

    Tom & I were both very sad to hear of George’s passing. He will be missed.

  6. Bob Calverley says:

    Thanks for a very nice portrait of our mutual good friend George. I actually go back a little further with George than you. He was one of my best friends at Soo High, for another two years at Soo Tech and then a couple of years at Michigan State University. Back then, we wasted many an evening in the legendary Harvey’s basement discussing the state of science fiction and ham radio and tossing charged capacitors at each other. We went our separate ways after graduation, but never really lost touch for the rest of our lives. We hunted ducks together at his mother’s cabin on Sugar Island (Upper Peninsula of Michigan) when I lived in Detroit. When my parents, who were retired in Florida, decided to give my oldest daughter their old Mercury, George drove it out to California providing me with a complete diagnosis of its myriad mechanical problems and pitiful gas mileage. George had the most unfettered imagination of anyone I ever knew and that coupled with an off-center sense of humor and an encyclopedic stash of arcane scientific and technical facts, made for a completely unique personality. He was always respectful, kind, cheerful and positive. If life handed George lemons, he immediately made lemonade, but using his own unique formula. I’ll miss him a great deal, but as George would say: Live long and publish, and Woof Woof!

  7. Rich, N8UX says:

    I know several Radio Amateurs – have known some for decades – and they have many of the same qualities as your good friend. We meet them under sometimes curious circumstances, they share with us what they know, always without belittling us, never quick to criticize. They’re patient. Unique exhibits of intelligence and frugality that inspire awe. And don’t they seem to go quickly…

    They are nearing extinction, I think. That, or they have become too modest to be detected in the wild. A few can be found at Dayton, in those small esoteric “societies” that meet once a year at their favorite Inn. They know who they are, but they never acknowledge it. They build HV power supplies from pole pigs, they are just as happy playing with a 555 as with a PIC processor. They’ll buy reels of 1% resistors. Watch out, they’ll test your setups. And they never need a manual.

    They are the champs, in my opinion.

  8. Lee Hart says:

    I’m another old friend of George’s. Jeff, thank you for your moving tribute to him. He is one of those amazing and unforgettable people that make life so interesting.

    I met George while attending Lake Superior State College in Sault Ste. Marie MI. I was a ham, and that meant the legendary Harvey’s Basement was the place to hang out. George was an alumnus, and dropped in now and then. We were always fiddling with electronics, doing some crazy mad science experiment, or just telling stories until dawn.

    The stories; oh gawd, the stories! Every story about George sounds like incredible bullshit — except that they’re true. He was made of pure narrativium. Stories spontaneously burst into life when George was around.

    Jeff, remember the night we slept over at your place in Rochester, when George fixed the leaky roof with a pot from the kitchen — that turned out to be a colander? Or when your La-Z-Boy recliner threw George on the floor and then jumped on top of him?

    I remember calling George one night when I was bored. While on the phone he said, “Oops; hold on a minute, a sheet of drywall fell off the ceiling.” Loud peculiar noises came from my phone for a few minutes. Then George was back. “Sorry about that. The drywall knocked the garden hose off the car radiator, and I had to stop the water before it got to the ham gear.” Of course, I then got the whole story of how he had wrapped copper tubing around his wood stove, and was circulating the hot water with a washing machine pump through an old car radiator hanging from the ceiling to heat the next room.

    When his ideas were too big or impractical to actually build, they went into his stories. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of scientific and technological gadgetry, both real and from the world of SF. If you’d complain about some improbable gadget he’d put in a story, he’d come up with a reference to the Nazis having actually built one in 1941, or a description of it in a Tesla patent or NASA tech note.

    Characters like George are treasures; very hard to find. He will be deeply missed by all who knew him.

  9. Jim Ransom says:

    Jeff, thank you for the kind words about George and the history of your friendship. I especially appreciate your efforts last summer to put me back in contact with George. My meeting with him was typical George, full of updates on his latest story ideas, shared stories from our friendship over the years, and a contagious enthusiasm about technology and clever hacks and speculations about how to combine obsolete devices with cutting edge engineering to make head-scratching “Gee, that might work, George” concepts.

    I first met George as he was walking out of the high school library where I was the new physics and math teacher. I saw the latest issue of Analog magazine in his hand and said “Oh, you read Analog too.”

    George replied, “Not only do I read it, I have my latest story in this issue.” His story was “Blackfly,” and we became fast friends.

    George encouraged me to consider writing science fiction and to attend the Clarion workshop in the summer of 1976. We kept in touch over the years, although the intervals between physical meetings grew exponentially over the years.

    When I have a tough problem to solve, I can still tap into his perpetual optimism by asking myself “What crazy solution would George Wing come up with?” LOX and jelly beans, making diamonds with shaped charges, target practice at the gravel pit after the last day of school…. Rest in peace, old friend.

  10. David Lubkin says:

    After my Clarion year (’78), I stuck around for grad school. I ran a monthly workshop. We’d critique each other, then go out for Chinese. It was a schlep for George to come down to East Lansing, so he couldn’t always. We noticed the contrast when we met without his optimism and encouragement there.

    (BTW, Jeff, you might want to adjust the order of names in your description of the Clarion ’73 picture since Seth is second from the left.)

    1. Adjusted, as suggested. There’s somebody else in the photo a little behind George whom I don’t recognize, but I’ve called that out as well.

  11. This is a wonderful story Jeff. Something more has to be done with it, but I don’t know what. A bigger scale. Think about it. Your words about George will stay with me for a long while. Some people are simply unforgettable. I was booted out of SFWA because they asked me to host a television program they sponsored and I did it my way. It was a great show and their biggest money-maker when it came to tape sales, but they didn’t like my way of doing things. That said, your memories of George sure make people who didn’t know him, wish that they had. He’s on to the next great adventure. Be well.

  12. Jeff Tolliver says:

    I’ve been out of GT too damned long but I remember George and a lot of the other usual suspects quite fondly. I haven’t been to a
    Berserker but I have been to number of cons where he showed up.

    H’mm. Just WHERE does a tuba sit in a Celestial orchestra?

    Jeff AKA the Phantom Techie

  13. His Grace, The Most Reverend Archbishop Patrick D.J.C. Cronk, OSB, STL, DD says:

    I have been trying to get in touch with George Ewing again for several years. I was one of George’s High School students when he taught English if Cheboygan, Michigan. George is the first one to ever get me to read a book. He gave me a reading list over the summer of 1971. I read them all and did book reports. I was never able to tell him how much he meant to me. Now that I am retired and 100% disabled I read a novel every two days. How boring my life would have been, with depression, if George had not got me reading. He also introduced me to Science Fiction :-). He will always be my hero!!!

    1. Mine too. I met him in 1973 at the Clarion Sf workshop, and he was a close friend until his death.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>