Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Bob Pitera, my first friend in US

I have known a number of friends named Bob over the years. Here I wish specifically to talk about may be the first Bob I have ever know, Bob Pitera.  Bob, his full name is Charlie Robert Pitera,  is actually the first U.S. friend I met outside Chinese students circle when I was attending Virginia Tech in the early 1960's.  Now to look back he was actually the one that got me my first engineering summer job that basically got me started and unwittingly being assimilated into the regular America life.

I met Bob through God! That's not an over statement.

When in early 1960 I was starting to be settled in at Blacksburg as a new VPI graduate student, which of course is also my new life in USA.  One of the first things I was searching for and found was the local St. Mary's Catholic Church which happened to be quite close to the front of VPI's main entrance, not far from the the apartment I shared with my cousin Lee-hsing. I just started to conveniently attending the daily mass at St. Mary in those early days. As the young Father Sadie usually celebrated the daily mass in the morning by himself, I simply walked up to be the altar server.  Those were the days before the Vatican II, the Latin Mass was the same everywhere in the world, so I go into a Catholic Church and immediately feel at home.  That also served to alleviate much of my homesickness in those early days of my life in US. Anyway, I don't quite remember if there were others in the congregation, but Bob was also there daily and that's how we met and became friends especially when we found out that we were both in the Civil Engineering department, he was a sophomore at the time.

Bob was not an ordinary college sophomore per se, VPI had many ROTC Cadets, but Bob had already served his military duty. He was working as a field surveyor for a consulting engineer before deciding to come to VPI to get an engineering degree.  As summer vacation time approaches, Bob asked me one morning what was my planning for the summer. Since I did not have an active plan yet on what to do for the summer, Bob kindly offered to ask his employer the consulting engineering firm in Arlington, Va. to see if they can give me a summer job and they readily did.  So effortlessly, thanks to Bob's help, my first summer in US became a gainfully productive one in my chosen field. I went to Arlington with Bob on his 1955 green Chevy Impala and shared an apartment with him there.  I quickly adjusted into the basic working life just outside of Washington DC while many of my other Chinese friends sweat their summer in east coast resort areas doing odds and ends labor works to earn their tuitions.

The company, Lester V. Johnson's Associates, is a very small company with one Architect, one chief engineer, two engineers and a draftsman.  I worked for the Chief Engineer doing calculations on a desk calculation machine he assigned to me. Yes, that was before the computer era, but my civil engineering training was made in full use. That was a fun summer.  I started following Bob and his circle of friends, then slowly I found some of friends from Taiwan in DC area.  On the weekends one of my personal favorite place to visit is the Library of Congress, a bus ride away. Bob belonged a local club that usually having parties for the members.  I attended some of them.  My main difficulty in those days was that I was basically a foreigner, still outside of American society, when they telling and laughing at some jokes, many of them political, I was totally lost -- even when Bob tried hard to explain them to me. On some of the weekends Bob took me to visit different catholic churches in the DC area, that was heavenly!

That was how I spent my first two summers while attending V.P.I. working for my Master's degree.  Then I graduated and received a teaching assistantship to Cornell.  On my move to Cornell in Ithaca, New York, I joined Bob for a brief visit to his family in Utica, New York. I was able to meet his parents and grand parent. That was so wonderful.   Bob's dad, Tony, was such a nice father who loves his son deeply, he told me he saved up his vacation time every year only to use them when Bob comes  home. 

After that visit, he went back to Virginia and I went to Ithaca, we only maintained sparse communications and went on with our own separate lives. In the late 1960's I had a TDY trip to Washington, I looked up his number on the phone book and called. He came to picked me up and took me to his home, met his wife, and had a wonderful evening of reunion with him. Little did I know that was the last time we got together.  For all the years afterwards, I did not have another TDY to DC.  I vaguely learned that he had started his own company. Not much other details.

To my deep sadness I just learned on the internet that he passed away last year.  Bob, my life long friend even without much communication, is now happily in heaven.

Bob, thank you for your kindness and friendship, rest in peace, in heaven now pray for me!

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