punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

I say goodbye to a good man

I was about 16 years old when a large man with a white beard came up to me and asked me, out of the blue, if I wanted to go to the moon. I told him "eventually," and he asked, "So, how are you going to make that happen?" Weird people were pretty common at science fictions conventions. In their heyday, a local con in the DC area would attract a few thousand people. So some weird guy coming up to you, telling you it was up to you to get your sorry ass to the moon was... well, not unusual. But this guy stood out from the rest.

This man's name was Dick Preston.

I can still picture Dick, white beard and hair, sitting on a hotel chair in khaki shorts and a white NASA tee-shirt, holding a cane. Years later, I would have the opportunity to moderate, host, and be on panels with this man. I also got to see his house from time to time, as he was a friend of my friends Bruce and Cheryl. His house could have easily been 90% bookshelves. Even the tables had shelves under them. Packed in the warped bookcases, stuffed to the point of bursting, were a collection of science, science fiction, and fantasy tomes that I hope get donated to a professional collection that scans them and distributes them to the public. It was like how you'd imagine a wizard's library, except dedicated to science.

Dick was the kind of guy who never sat still. He also never took excuses, and often never stopped talking passionately about science while awake. In fact, any panel with Dick Preston at it became Dick Preston's panel. Any audience with Dick Preston in it also ended up being Dick Preston's panel. And while that make make him seem like a right arrogant bore, God gave this man the ability to entertain the human race without anyone ever complaining about it. I have rarely met anyone like him. His passion for science was... intoxicating and euphoric.

But the best part was he loved kids. Kids loved him. He loved to educate kids. He founded the International Star Foundation for them, and I wish I could find his card somewhere that said that. I would like to believe that Dick inspired me to teach kids. I hope I had even half his enthusiasm.

I found out today Dick died on November 30th. I knew he was ill, and had been suffering from Alzheimer's for the last few years, but nothing more. It has been over a decade since we have spoken. Last conversation we had, he asked me if I had made my way to the moon yet, and if I was educating my son with science.

I did some research on Dick, but the best I can offer is a compilation of his life from his obituary along with my own memories. He was born in Winthrop, MA at Fort Banks. He grew up an Army Brat during WWII, was an Eagle Scout at Ft. Meade, and ended up with a Bachelor of Science at University of Maryland in 1958. He joined the Marine Corps in 1958 and became Captain before was Honorably Discharged due to knee issues, IIRC. He would get Master of Education degree in 1977, and worked for Goddard Spaceflight Center; NASA HQ, Smithsonian Air and Space Museum; and retired from HEW, Department of Education in 1979.

Dick worked on the campaign to name the first space shuttle "Enterprise." He was a Major in the Civil Air Patrol and a member of First Fandom. He worked with young people at conventions and at rocket camps at the Boy Scout Jamborees, Camp Fantastic, and Rocket Camps in France. He taught painting and drawing and led art tours through England, many of which I got to see in his hundreds of picture albums. A member of the Washington Science Fiction Association, he also ran Starcon, if I remember right, a science and science fiction convention in the early 80s.

He is survived by his wife of over 33 years, Janice; and their three children plus eight grandchildren, all of whom he loved very, very much.

Services will be held at Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday, April 8, 2010, at 1 pm. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Marine Corps League Foundation, PO Box 3070, Merrifield, VA 22116, in memory of Richard K. Preston 077209.
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