Yesterday was a sad day for me. I walked in the building, along with hundreds of my co-workers, former co-workers and friends. I was handed the folded piece of paper; on it was one of my photographs. It’s happened before to me. I should be used to it, but not this time.
It was the portrait I took of Lisa Hardaway (that’s DR. Lisa Hardaway). In the photo, she’s holding a scale model of the New Horizons spacecraft. The spacecraft that passed Pluto last year, capturing the first ever, high resolution, up close and personal images of the furthest thing in our solar system. I remembered taking the shot; it was for various press releases, social media, education outreach, and because she was recently named as the Engineer of the year by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Lisa was so proud, and who wouldn’t be, because that’s the Holy Grail of aerospace engineering. Lisa was the program manager for the Ball part of the mission.
Then, on the paper, were the dates. The date she was born, and the day when she left us with only her memories and legacy. On the cover were two other pictures, of her and her husband, and the shot of her kids. Lisa, mother, wife, friend, co-worker, and damned smart American, died at the young age of 50.
We filed into a beautiful light filled room, hundreds standing and sitting, hugs, tears, handshakes that turn into hugs because men have that awkward “do I hug?” thing that we do.
The Rabbi came out. Now, I’m a flunky Presby kid from Pueblo, not exposed to the Jewish religion at all. I’ve never been to a Jewish funeral, only a wedding. That dance with the bride and groom in chairs is, well, different from our fussy traditions. Looks a lot more fun.
This, hands down, was one of the most beautiful services I’ve been to. The Rabbi began with what I guess was a call to worship or mourning, I’m not sure. It was Yiddish, ( 2/4/2017, author’s update: Hebrew, not Yiddish; pardon my ignorance) and my depth of that language is about as deep as saying “Oy!” Still, it was haunting, moving, having an ancient tone of thousands of years long. The Rabbi spoke, and then gave an outline of who would be talking with us. First up was her husband, James.
I’ve known James for years as a customer and colleague. He proceeded to wrap the entire room around his little finger with stories of how they met, the food and wine they loved, their children, and the things he learned from his wife. The last thing he mentioned that he learned was “courage”. At that point, and that point alone, is when his voice broke… Along with all of the hearts in the room, for we all felt the same. Next, her daughter Jaella Hardaway came up, and captured the room with her charm and grace, her laughter, humor, and stories, some of which she’d never shared. That girl has a future, you could see why Lisa was so proud of her.
There were a couple of more speakers, family and friends. Then the Rabbi addressed the family. At this point, the tears started for me, because she was a rockstar with her words. She asked the folks in the room that would be willing to provide life guidance to the children should they ever need it to stand up.
The entire room stood.
Then there were the closing prayers, chants and other Jewish customs which were alien to me, and the service was over. Upon exiting, I walked past the two men I noticed on the way in. They had pistols on their belts…private armed guards. You see, the Jewish Community Center had a bomb threat phoned in two days prior, along with dozens others around the country.
It was not only a sad day for us, but for our country as well, when those who are grieving need to be protected.
May God bless the family of Lisa Hardaway.
Editor’s Notes: Ken Hutchison is the Senior Staff Photographer at Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation. He also gives tours, entertains high level guests (Congress persons, Generals) and is a heck of a writer. He lives in Longmont, Colorado.
I also had the honor of working with Lisa on the New Horizons mission (Ball’s instrument was called “Ralph”). Ball is a very close community.