Signing the memory page

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Farewells from some of the folks who brought you the Lab News print

See below: Secret super lab reveals bowling scores

What’s black and white and red all over?

After this issue, not the Lab News. Many of the ink-stained wretches who have put their hearts and souls into this unique community newspaper offered celebrations of their years holding up a printed mirror to our storied institution. We hope our loyal readers enjoy this glimpse behind the printing presses. Thanks for reading Lab News, and stay with us as we continue reporting in the digital world.

Sandia Lab News was our paper social media

By Randy Montoya, photojournalist, 1986-present

The Lab News was our social media outlet when I came to the lab in 1986. Like trying to explain the musical impact of the Beatles in the ‘60s, it’s hard to explain the communication impact of the Lab News in today’s multifaceted digital world. It helped form the community of a super-secret laboratory in the midst of the Cold War.

There, we celebrated our family’s births and mourned deaths in our colleagues’ families. We smirked at the photos of the new hires and watched each other age on the mileposts page. We saw people who look like us and, more importantly, got exposed to people who looked different than us. Diversity seemed more visual since our common work ethic and purpose made everyone seem so similar. We saw custodians and security officers playing softball with physicists and engineers.

The paper’s ink let us watch the Berlin Wall tumble and see the labs adapt to that success. Weapons scientists from the former Soviet Union visited Sandia to develop treaty verification strategies in 1988, unthinkable only a few years prior.

We looked at photos of our Senators Domenici and Bingaman collaborating across the political aisle to support and expand the Labs. The first American to orbit the Earth, then Senator John Glenn, took time to make Sandia one his destinations.

Lab News was a portal into impressive images of field tests and showed Sandia’s integrity when admitting setbacks. We watched that integrity with the USS Iowa investigation. I watched our readers carrying copies of Lab News in the hallways, talking about Chris Cherry’s and Rod Owenby’s nighttime F-16 flight to disarm the booby-trapped Unabomber’s cabin without destroying it.

Over the years, I have seen copies of the Lab News in Senate chambers in Washington, D.C., at a shoeshine stand in Los Angeles, in a bar in Tonopah, a surf shop in San Diego, and in numerous universities and airlines. The digital publication will still be viewed in all those places, but on screens. The staff of Lab News has always focused on one thing, helping others learn about your exceptional work.

Exit trees, stage left

By Neal Singer, science writer, 1995-present

For years, we writers insisted that the paper Lab News, like a small-town newspaper, helped give Sandia a feeling of community. If a digital paper were enough, why didn’t publications that lived or died by their readership — the New York Times, Harpers, the Albuquerque Journal — abandon paper and present solely through electrons?

There was even a big argument at Sandia years ago — covered in the Lab News — as to whether the Technical Library was worth keeping as a paper institution, paying to display paper editions of technical journals of limited readership and soaring costs.

The paper “side” understood the cost but, among other benefits, felt that it stimulated creativity to unavoidably brush up against articles they knew little about. Randomness stimulated investigations.

The much cheaper alternative was to receive papers electronically; search engines could easily interrogate the research universe to track down pretty much whatever subject the investigator chose.

Despite the logic of digital, I remember flying out of Albuquerque once and, finally having time to open the latest Lab News on my lap, had the strong impression that my unknown seatmate was reading over my shoulder. I tolerated that for a minute or so — after all, Lab News is a public document— but when I turned slightly to confront the word sponger, he said, “Sorry, I’m from Los Alamos. We dropped our printed paper some time ago, and I really miss it.”

I wonder how he feels now, years later.

A place of connection

By Michelle Fleming, administrator and photographer, 2001-present

I have been at Sandia for 20 years and have spent my entire career working on the Lab News. I took the Milepost photos, which allowed me to interact with employees and retirees, and handled subscriber lists and other things that help the paper get to the readers.

Having their photos in the paper, whether for an anniversary or retirement, seemed to make people happy. It was a point of pride to say, I’ve been here for 15, 30, even 50 years or more.

I’ve seen what the Lab News means to those who spent a good portion of their lives here. When they retired, they wanted to see their photo in the paper. They wanted to make sure they continued to get the paper sent to their homes. Not only to keep up with the science and the work their groups were doing to meet mission goals, but to keep up with friends and co-workers — to have a real connection with a place that still meant something to them. So, my hope is that the Lab News is remembered by those who worked here as a place of connection.

Remembrance of Lab News

By Ken Frazier, editor and science writer, 1983-2006

I was fortunate during my tenure as Lab News editor, 1995-2006. I inherited the long Lab News tradition of responsible, serious (with a dollop of humor), in-depth employee journalism from previous editors John Shunny, Bruce Hawkinson and Larry Perrine. I had experience as a Lab News science writer and Sandia communicator since 1983.

We had a full staff of absolutely superb writers — too many to name here — covering all the important news of the lab, its scientific and technological research and human-interest stories. We all took pride in doing a solid job of reporting, writing and storytelling. We had the brilliant photographer Randy Montoya. And I always felt we had full support from management. We adhered to high standards. I think we were respected by Sandians at all levels. We won external awards.

I always thought the Lab News had a human personality, almost a soul, as expressed in the personal columns Larry Perrine, then Howard Kercheval, then Bill Murphy wrote over the decades from the 1980s until quite recently. It was always a pleasure to read their observations on matters large and small, their humor, their sometimes-poignant stories. I even wrote a few of my own. I praise Sandia for allowing that practice.

Many Sandia scientists and administrators like Pace VanDevender and Sandia President Paul Robinson deserve thanks for their many kindnesses to the Lab News, our people and me personally during those years. It was a pleasure and an honor to help guide the Lab News, but it was an easy task, given our creative staff and the broad support we enjoyed.

And when it was time for me to go, I had Bill Murphy, our most prolific writer and a trusted Lab News colleague, to turn the newspaper over to as editor. He more than capably continued the Lab News legacy until he retired a couple years ago.

I think Sandia Labs has benefited in untold ways from having a first-class printed employee newspaper all these decades. I hope that is appreciated. Digital publication will be the future, but I’ll never forget the smell of fresh ink on newly printed pages and the crisp crackle when turning the pages of a real newspaper. A part of me will always be somewhere in those pages of the Sandia Lab News.

Riding the chariot of anachronism

By Bill Murphy, editor and science writer, 1995-2018

When I was named editor of the Lab News in 2006, I fully understood that it was something of an anachronism. By the first decade of this century, after all, it was clear that the era of printed newspapers was drawing to a close, and doing so with alarming speed.

During my 12-year tenure at the helm of the Lab News, there was always at the back of my mind the conviction that surely, surely, this year the powers that be would decide to pull the plug.

Indeed, at one point, it took the intervention of an executive VP to “save” the Lab News after a director had decided it had outlived its usefulness. I’m not sure my director was totally wrong on the merits, but I was grateful for the reprieve. And I can own up now to the fact that my gratitude was almost — not entirely, but almost — totally selfish in nature.

Long after most of labs in the DOE complex had moved their in-house communications to a strictly digital world, the Lab News was a biweekly affirmation that we were different, that a record of our work — at least the work we could write about — was worth presenting formally in print, as well as through the pixels on a screen. (Yes, yes, I know: Once on the web, everything lives forever, but you don’t linger over a Randy Montoya photo online the way you do when you can hold it in your hands. At least I don’t.)

I was grateful, then, that we continued to print the paper as a differentiating statement about the Labs, but grateful, too, for a baser reason: I loved the job and didn’t want to do anything else at Sandia. I loved the collaborative process of putting the paper together, loved holding the final product in my hands, loved the creative opportunities, loved the chance to “talk” directly to the community through my biweekly column.

So, yeah, I knew from the git-go the trajectory we must follow, that time must thrust us inexorably toward an end I only hoped would come after my own departure. It did. I left in 2018. And if, near the end, as Andrew Marvel wrote, I heard “time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near” I recalled, too, the lines from Dylan Thomas: “Time held me green and dying/Though I sang in my chains like the sea.”

Memories are made of this

By Iris Aboytes, feature writer, 1998-2011

Many have accused me of being Sandia’s cheerleader. Each of my stories celebrated Sandians, their accomplishments, generosity and determination.

Shoes for Kids, United Way and Christmas Giving gave me a sense of pride as Sandia attempted to be an equalizer in our community. We provided Cinderella slippers, became Santa’s secret elf and had an open-door policy for our community. What is needed? Call Sandia.

One of my first stories was about a Sandian whose weight loss was not a result of diet. His hard-fought battle proved no match for his powerful adversary: cancer. Remember the fit Sandian who lost his leg to the same powerful enemy? With his loving heart and steadfast determination, he was able to walk his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day.

I remember one VP relating how he taught his daughter how to drive a stick shift going downhill. It was love and laughter at its finest.

“Buy me a rose,” . . . call me from work, sang Kenny Rogers. Another VP and his wife enjoyed dancing to its melody.

And then there was the awe of a Sandia soldier, returned home, who could not sleep because the ground beneath him was not shaking. His tattered diaries described the chilling reality of war. Thank you for your service, my friend.

Remember how Betty Boop encouraged you to exercise your gunga dins (triceps). Gone are the days when chasing the last hen into the chicken coop gave you the desired cardio, even if the party girl outran you.

I remember the director who did not speak a word of English on his first day of kindergarten. He closes his eyes and can see his mother’s mournful look as she silently walks away.

There was the Sandian who was paralyzed as a result of a ranch accident. He credits his faith in God and the love of his family as he runs again.

My friend, a Sandia engineer, was born with only one hand. Imagine tying your shoes as a kid. He is a champion golfer. Yes, I can. Yes, I can. And Yes, I can.

My passion for writing about Sandians came to me as a gift in a small imaginary Christmas box. It was wrapped in burlap with a wire bow. It wasn’t shiny or especially beautiful. Once opened, it spewed the heart and soul of Sandians. Inside the splintered box was stamped: “only for Iris Aboytes.”

What happens to the hole?

By Howard Kercheval, reporter and columnist, 1992-2009

There’s a guy who frequently offers information and opinions on an RV website whose sign-off is “What happens to the hole when the cheese is gone?” Searching my 78-year-old memory for fun, funny or other interesting reminiscences from my Lab News days, I think I stumbled across the answer to that: The hole showed up in my memory bank!

But among the memories rattling around that hole is a story I did about Creve Maples’ virtual computing work. I called him one day for some bit of information and asked off-handedly what he’d been up to. He answered wryly that he’d been out flying around Jupiter or some other planets. In most of the journalism world, that answer would likely prompt a narrowing of eyes and skeptical head tilt. But at Sandia, it merely prompted me to lede the story with Frank Sinatra’s, “Fly me to the moon, and let me play among the stars.”

There were lots of other stories over the years, but that one sticks in my mind — in the part surrounding the hole.

When I landed at the Lab News, we were in an old World War II building and the whole staff went to the printer just before the presses ran so we could read, re-read and re-re-read page proofs. In our new home, Bldg. 811, that proofreading function moved to page proofs on the wall lining the hallway outside our offices. Standing there reading page after page, it was always great fun to joust with editor Ken Frazier about serial commas, proper use of conjunctions, verb tenses and other writing trivia.

Sad to contemplate the demise of the paper copy, but printed media are shrinking or disappearing everywhere. We all know, of course, that if we’re interested in an almost running account of what’s going on in the wider world, we have only to check our phones — or tablets, or computers. Not as satisfying to some of us as rustling the paper, turning the pages or actually clipping out something to file and save. But it’s reality.

Fare thee well, Kids’ Bingo and ‘Take a Memo’

By Julie Hall, reporter, 2005-present

Farewell, printed Lab News! This was not unexpected. For a dozen or so years, the printed edition has frequently been on the chopping block for budgetary reasons. But each time, it miraculously survived to live another fiscal year, and the writers breathed a sigh of relief.

But we knew the reprieve was temporary. Sandia and the Lab News are not immune to changes in how people consume information. And no one, of course, anticipated a pandemic that would lead to only a fraction of the workforce regularly coming on-site.

When I came to Sandia in 1990, the Laboratory was smaller but the newspaper was often bigger, sometimes swelling to 24 pages. Lab News published the names of new employees, birth and marriage announcements, and a “sympathy” section listing deaths of family members. I have a digital version (captured from a PDF years after actual publication) of my printed welcome. Even then, at two-thirds the size it is today, Sandia seemed like a huge place, yet this small gesture made it a tad less intimidating, more welcoming and homey.

If you go back further, the Lab News once published a sports page with softball, golf and bowling tournament outcomes. Together with stories on Sandia research and United Way drives were calendar listings for activities at the beloved Coronado Club: Kids’ Bingo, Italian Night, the Sweetheart Dance.

The photos are precious, capturing the hairstyles, fashion and what was acceptable at the time. The ashtrays on desks, cheesecake photos of women in bathing suits lounging at the pool, and those “Take a Memo, Please” photos featuring secretaries posing for the camera with steno pad and pen in hand — all remind us how far we’ve come.

I’m glad I was there during the print-only days. Some of my best memories at Sandia revolve around the Lab News production process. Galleys were placed on a table in the hallway of Bldg. 811. It was all hands on deck as everyone who could spare a moment made their proofreading marks and signed their initials in different ink colors. After the first round of corrections, the pages were reprinted and posted in the hallway. The every-other-Wednesday morning ritual involved staff members doing the final proof while drinking coffee and shooting the breeze.

The Lab News will continue to capture Sandia life and news just as it always has. But like the Laboratory it represents, it, too, is evolving.

Related content:

Lab News: A history in print

Sandia’s half-life: A photo retrospective

Secret super lab reveals bowling scores

bunch of people on stage at Coronado Club in 1950
CORONADO CLUB KICKOFF — Sandia Corp. President George Landry and the Coronado Club Board of Directors attended the grand opening on June 9, 1950. Pictured, from left, are Pat O’Hara, Harold Sharp, Ted Sherwin, George Landry, Harold Gunn, Geneva Bishop (Atomic Energy Commission), Bob Roy and Bob Henderson. (Photo courtesy of Lab News archives)

(Labs Director George) Landry formed a public relations department under Ted Sherwin. To better inform employees, Sherwin began publication of a newsletter, replacing a mimeographed bulletin distributed in Larsen’s days. It disconcerted Sherwin when Landry personally reviewed and revised each issue.…

Circulated in-house since 1951, the Lab News has gained a niche in employees’ affections. As a company newspaper, it deals with a unique challenge: how do you talk about the company product when that product is a highly classified nuclear weapon.

Early editors — Bob Gillespie, Bob Colgan, Tom Heaphy — avoided the issue. By fiat. So sensitive was the subject in the 1950s that each issue was read aloud by Superintendent Harold Sharp to President Landry, cover to cover, bowling scores and all. “Strike that!” Landry would exclaim, and the reading continued. Under this regimen, the Lab News was long on news of employees’ activities in the community, hobby stories and Coronado Club activities, but short on “hard” news of weapon programs.

— From Sandia National Laboratories: A History of Exceptional Service in the National Interest, by Leland Johnson (SAND97-1029)

Landry subscribed to the philosophy that the best public relations year is one in which the firm is not mentioned in the newspapers. If so, 1950 was a very good year. Although the New York Times briefly referred to Sandia in 1948 and 1949, it did not mention the Lab at all in 1950. This anonymity was reflected in the title of a Popular Mechanics article of 1969, which referred to Sandia as “The Super Lab That Nobody Knows”…

— From Bridging the Cold War and the 21st Century: Chronicling the History of Sandia National Laboratories, by Carl J. Mora (SAND97-0747C)