Goodbye, Papi

Papi (aka Don Hanson) died in Connecticut on Friday May 24th.  He was 80 years old.

As I have watched my parents age, we anticipated the day we might lose my father.  Thus, in the past few years (in spite of our own serious health issues), we made every effort to see my parents a few times a year; it was a priority to have as much time together as distance and schedules permitted.  His 80th birthday (last July) and my parents’ 50th anniversary were joyous milestones we celebrated together, all the while wondering which visit might be our last.  In spite of all that, nothing truly prepared me for the profound sense of loss I’m feeling at the moment.

Papi died at Hartford Hospital on Friday morning.  On Saturday, we went to the funeral home to bring clothes for him, and to pick out the containers for his cremation and ashes.  I had a chance to see him one last time, dressed in his favorite polo and cargo pants.  He seemed to be at peace.  Monday we couldn’t do much because of the Memorial Day holiday.  But as we announced his passing and the celebration we had planned, the email started pouring in.

Here is a little passage he wrote about his work experiences:

My UTC history, briefly:

I joined the Hamilton Standard Division of United Aircraft in 1964 with a MS in physics to work in an instrument group.  Some of this work involved evaluation of space suits for the Apollo mission.    Because I had a physics degree and was working in an engineering group, I didn’t fit very well but did several odd, but interesting, jobs.  I filled in some gaps in my education by taking a MS in mechanical engineering at UConn.  One of the odd jobs was working on supercavitating propellers for captured air bubble ships.

Then, the company started development of a supersonic propeller as a replacement for conventional jet engines on commercial transport planes.  There was an obvious problem with noise – basically, each blade tip created a supersonic boom.  These radiated to the ground at about 1000 booms/second.  The field of Aeroacoustics was just opening up (because of the Concord aircraft) at the time and I was lucky to get in on the ground floor.  I went back to UConn for a PhD specializing in aeroacoustics and stayed in that field as a theoretician.  I transferred to Pratt & Whitney and continued to develop theoretical analyses that the engineers use for engine design. Because I didn’t want to manage, the company made me a “Technical Fellow”; this gave me a lot of freedom on research projects and freedom to publish.  I got some satisfying recognition for my work including the top engineering award at UTC (the Mead Award) and the top award in my field from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.  Over the years I interacted as much with university and NASA scientists as I did with UTC personnel.

After retirement from UTC in 2000, I continued for about 7 years doing contract research from my home office on acoustic projects for Pratt, Boeing, and NASA.  Now, I am really retired.

From his longtime work colleague Bruce, a few words about my father’s work:

I am very sorry to hear of Don’s passing. We were close colleagues from the time he began his career at Hamilton Standard. He and I were there in the Instrumentation group at the beginning ,and when we were moved to the Aerodynamics group because propeller noise became important, we began to concentrate on Aeroacoustic noise. Because of Don’s talent, Hamilton Standard sponsored his Masters degree at UCONN and allowed him to spend several days a week on campus. Don’s analytic capabilities became well known at Hamilton Standard, at NASA and throughout the world. I believe he was one of the top 5 Aeroacoustics experts in the world.

Here are some photos from his time with NASA:

My name is Ed and together with Dennis we were friends and colleagues of Don from the NASA Glenn Research Center. Please accept our heartfelt condolences on Don’s passing. He was a scholar and a gentleman. He will be missed.

Dennis and I had the pleasure of working with Don over the years and always found his company enjoyable and enlightening. After retirement from P&W, Don worked as a researcher for the AeroAcoustics Research Consortium (AARC). As part of the requirements of funding from the AARC, each researcher has to participate in a year-end-review (YER) and give a summary of his/her accomplishments for that year. It is a tradition of the YER that a group picture of the researchers is taken for the AARC archives. Attached are three such pictures from 2001, 2003 and 2004 covering the period when Don was active with AARC.

AARC 01 YER Researchers.jpg

AARC 2003 researcher photo.jpg


One of his windsurfing ‘girlfriends’ Patty sent us photos and some video from one of his trips to North Carolina with them:

Dinner Time in Hatteras.JPG

And a video of my dad doing a two-footed water start in Cape Hatteras, before the neuropathy is his legs forced him to stop windsurfing altogether:

[coming soon!]

There were too many wonderful calls, emails, and cards to mention them all here, but in those first few days, the outpouring of grief and support was almost overwhelming.

On Tuesday we followed a hearse to Waterford, and waited while his body was loaded into the crematory.  My mother wanted to be there for the last leg of his journey, and, as painful as it was, my sister and I did too.

We then had a few days to begin getting my mother’s financial and legal affairs in order, and to prepare for a celebration of my father’s life.  In instructions he sent to my sister and me years ago, my father was clear he didn’t want a church service of any kind – just a simple gathering at my parents’ home or in the Chester Meeting House.  At that gathering, we heard lot of wonderful tributes to his kindness, his intellectual curiosity, his love of music, and above all, to his friendship.  You can watch videos below if you’d like:

Here is my mother, welcoming everyone and thanking them for coming:

Here is our family friend Polly, sharing an interaction she had with my father while my mother was in the ICU following a stroke:

Here is a long-time family friend Alan, whose wife came to the U.S. with my mother over fifty years ago:

Here is my father’s friend Gordon, who was with my mother both at their home and in the hospital the night my father died:

Here is Tom, who went to middle school in Delaware with my father:

Here is his friend Mark from Florida.  They met only recently but really hit it off:

Here is Barbara from the Chester Kayak and Hiking Club, which my father co-founded and managed for over 20 years:

Here is Garrett, a long-time family friend:

And his wife Francoise, who is a long-time friend of my mother’s:

Here is Sheila (wife of Tom, above):

Martin worked my father for nearly 20 years on the Collemore Music series, which brought live classical, jazz, and folk music to the local community:

Tom is a friend of my sister’s whose whole family we enjoy and have spent time with:

Here are my thoughts:

Here is a local friend Katrina, reading a somber poem:

A number of people mentioned his birdbath project, so I’ve included his birdbath final paper and his calculations here for those that are interested in all the details.

Afterwards people stayed to share some snacks, chat with one another and with us:



I am sure he would have loved to see so many of his favorite people in one place, and to join us for cookies.

If we do write an obituary, I will share it here – though at this point that feels less important than remembering the outpouring of affection we heard at the meeting house. And, even with all the kind words that have been shared – by phone, by email, by sympathy card, and at the meeting house,  it would be hard to do his life justice.

My father was clear that he wanted his ashes spread in the field in front of their house in Connecticut:

morning fog.jpeg

The house is off the market for now; I’m glad Mimi has decided not to make any big changes at the moment.  There is so much to process and grieve in the months to come …

If you do have a few words, a story, or a photo to share, please do send them to me and I’ll post them here.

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