Hopefully Jerry Cuthbert will not mind my telling it, but he was one of the first people I met in first grade at Anna B. Lacey Elementary School. The year? I -err- conveniently forget! Jerry got an excellent start in life by being fortunate enough to have great parents. His father was editor of The Labor World, a weekly publication of the Chattanooga Central Labor Union, then based on East Eighth Street. His mom shared an equally intense interest in that concern, taking over as editor upon her husband's death in 1950, while at the same time being a good mother to Jerry and older brother, Tom.
The strong and structured boost he got from his parents undoubtedly paved his way into an excellent grade-school experience where he seemed, to me, outstanding in every subject. In a recent brief telephone interview with Jerry it turned out that he had actually lived on my old street, South Terrace Avenue (NOT the present South Terrace!), before first grade but soon moved to a fine new home on a large lot on Belvoir Avenue. This happened before I knew him.
We both went on to Brainerd Junior HS -- and he selected Chattanooga High School for his next step on the Education ladder, while I went to Kirkman Vocational HS. I never saw Jerry again after junior high, but DID read about him at the end of his Senior year. Jerry had won a full scholarship to Webb Institute of Naval Architecture (now just Webb Institute) on Long Island, NY, to study naval architecture and marine engineering. He was one of 18 in that entering class..
Now living in a Maryland suburb of the District of Columbia, Jerry and wife, Adele, contemplate their good life together, and Jerry has graciously agreed to share -- in his modest and self-deprecating way – the highlights of his engineering career.
Until today I had never realized Jerry’s involvement with The Labor World or his general knowledge of the Labor movement in America. Jerry helped his parents with chores, errands, and (in later years) photography in the publication of the
newspaper. Save for a toy printing press I had as a child, I would never have known what a “chase” was, or understood the proficiency required to set type by hand. The smell of printer’s ink must have gotten into his clothes, and ultimately his blood! (Figuratively speaking, of course).
Definitely never labeled a “party school”, Webb Institute prepares only the fittest young minds for a highly technical and demanding professional life, and not only in maritime fields. Many graduates work in other areas, and not all technical. Webb prides itself for being the ONLY engineering college in America where 100 percent of the tuition is paid, although now each student must be able to afford food and lodging. In Jerry's time there, the scholarship included food, lodging, laundry and supplies. Webb also has a 100 percent job-placement record as well! Originally, only men were admitted; since the 1980s, about 20 percent (the national average for engineering schools) of the students have been women. Webb tops all other colleges in the percentage of alumni contributing annually to the alumni fund. Considering Jerry's gratitude for Webb's educational gifts, one is not surprised that Webb has always figured prominently in his plans and concerns. He suggests visiting webb.edu for more information about the school.
Jerry tells me that upon his 1956 graduation from Webb, he joined the Martin Company at Middle River, Maryland, developing advanced water-based aircraft. In 1957, he went to the University of California at Berkeley where he received the degrees Master of Engineering (1959) and Doctor of Engineering (1961) in Naval Architecture. For the first two years he was supported financially by the Institute of Engineering Research, designing and installing a tape-controlled (big medicine in those days!) wave generator in the towing tank. Jerry had a Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers scholarship the next year, and a university scholarship the last. In the summer of 1960, he worked at Hydronautics, Inc., (Rockville, MD) on analysis of ventilated cavity flow. The next year, 1961, he joined Lockheed Missiles & Space Company in Sunnyvale, California, in the Hydrodynamics Department, working on Polaris underwater launch. Eventually, Jerry became department manager, managing hydrodynamics work on Poseidon underwater launch, Deep Quest submersible, Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle, and various contract studies. In 1968, he joined the Navy Surface Effects Ships Program (initially with the Maritime Administration) (Carderock, Maryland), as head of the Propulsion Branch. In 1976 he moved to the Navy High Energy Laser Program (NAVSEA: Naval Sea Systems Command) as Assistant Program Manager for Engineering. From 1980 to 1985 he administered various NAVSEA programs: CADCAM, Manufacturing Technology, etc. 1985 found him Director of the NAVSEA Acquisition Support Office, helping program managers get through the hoops. Jerry Wilson Cuthbert retired on January 3, 1995.
My only note of disappointment is that at least 99 percent of his career was done entirely hidden away from public view, and in a field totally foreign to the average American. Again, I must re-iterate that he got his great start in life, (1) by being born into a great family, and (2) through the excellent scholastic programs of both City and County school systems of the mid 20th Century. Jerry was always studious, from first grade forward, and soon fell in with an equally studious young man, Lawrence Bryant, also in the same first grade class. Lawrence became a TVA engineer to the best of my knowledge, but sadly passed away several years ago.
Jerry Cuthbert, despite all the intervening years, remains one of the more memorable people in my life.
(Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org )