Friendly Stories About John
My goal here is to come up with stories about John himself, lessons learned from John, recollections of adventures together, and so on. With a little luck, I may be able to get Mona and Craig and others to submit a few things as well.
Incredible Secret Money Machine
Many people read Don Lancaster's ISMM when it came out back in the 70's. That book, plus Small Time Operator, were the de facto handbooks for a generation of high-techer's trying to get a small business up and running. Don was good friends with John and Linda Kay, as he was with most of the kit manufacturers and magazines of the time. His independent publishings were highly dependent on sources for distributing circuit boards and parts kits for his articles. Many people aren't aware that an entire chapter of ISMM was about the Simontons and how they had leveraged an empassioned hobby to a successful worldwide mailorder business.
On Color Blindness
This is probably unknown to even many of his friends, but John was colorblind. He told me that shortly after I started working for him when we were out at his lab one day. Back in the day, even capacitors were color coded, and resistors of course. I was shocked that he could design that way, but he said he got to know the "various shades of gray" represented by the colors. And, of course, just keep a VOM on the bench. I find myself doing that more and more myself these days, but my excuse is failing eyesight. ;-)
Mona has sent some great "one-liner" remembrances. She has allowed me to share.
"I have so many memories of early Paia (mostly sitting in Jimmie Fleming's office after 5 PM and laughing our heads off!), but was remembering one of the first covers of Polyphony, where I did a dot, dot, dot drawing of two galaxies colliding. I had to hurry to finish it so that I could get to Ardmore for my Granddad Roger's funeral. We used one drawing to print in red ink and one to print in blue ink on the cover. I also remember making a typo of some guy's name in the Gnome patchbook where I turned a mans name from Brian to Brain. One of many typo's, I'm sure. Also, racing with Shirley in the printing room to collate instruction manuals. We would have a line set up on either side of the high table and rush to see who could collate each book fastest. Paia really got their money's worth with us! That was where I was when you first brought Greer through after you hired him, showing him a tour of the building. My eyes lit up, and they still are! "
And below is a great remembrance she wrote for Craig Anderton's blog on the night of John's memorial service in OkC.
"John Simonton's Memorial was held at the Omniplex Science Museum in Oklahoma City on Saturday night, December 10th at 6:00 PM. There were many people there to celebrate the life and times of John and Paia. I was wanting to get up in front of everyone and say a few words, but knew that I would collapse in a puddle of tears.
I was fortunate to be an employee of John and Linda Kay at Paia Electronics from 1975 through 1984 and from 1985 to 1998. I was a mere child of 22 when I went to work at Paia. John and Linda Kay were so young to have such a vibrant company running, in their early 30's. I originally was hired by Linda Kay to help in the art department, doing layout and paste-up for the Paia kit instruction manuals. This was entirely before the time of computer paste-up and everything was done by hand, on a huge drafting table with a Rapidiograph pen in one hand and an Exacto knife in the other. In my early days at Paia, I was impressed by John's great command of the English vocabulary. I learned many words by hearing them from John, and then running to a dictionary to figure out what he was saying (not wanting to appear as though I had NO IDEA what he was talking about). After showing him a finished drawing to be included in the first instruction manual I was assisting with, he exclaimed "Excelsior, Mona, Excelsior!!!!". At that time, the only way I had heard the word "excelsior" used was referring to some sort of packing material. Thinking to myself "packing material, Mona, packing material!!!!?????????", I hurried to the dictionary to find out that excelsior also meant "onward and upward". And indeed, Paia was onward and upward.
I really had no concept of how John influenced the electronics world. I knew that I was working for a borderline madman/genius, who was a kind man overall, and someone who believed in my capabilities even though I didn't. When I was not busy doing artwork, I would help out in customer service, stamping plain envelopes with the Paia return address stamp, or entering potential customers names on the catalog mailing list on our old Wang computer. John was a big believer in education, and paid for his employees to take any college night classes we desired if they had something to do with our work. No only did he pay for the tuition, but for all of the supplies too. Through his generosity, I learned Basic and COBOL computer
programming, and later took classes in drafting and isometric drawing. The best part for me was going to the art supply house and being funded to buy hundreds of dollars worth of drafting art supplies, which I kept after the classes were finished.
I eventually moved into the Customer Service part of Paia, and when an opening came for supervisor of that division, John suggested I might want to fill that position. I declined, thinking it was too much for me to handle. Several years later, when our customer service head moved on to a different job, John offered me the position again, all the while telling me that he had vision and faith in me to be able to do what it took. And so, I became the head of customer service.
Paia was a very special place to work with lots of intense projects going on, and in the background a good ambiance, lots of smiles, lots of laughing, lots of truly good people. It was through Paia that I met my life-mate, Greer Holland, who worked in the Tech Services department. In my case, not being a morning person, John put up with me coming it at 10 AM, and didn't even insist that I be awake when I came into the building in the morning. He believed in "mental health" days long before other employers, allowing me to take off time "just because it's such a pretty day", or take 2 hours lunches so that I could pursue my iris hybridizing/pollen-daubing hobby during spring. He put up with me needing to leave early if the sky started spitting any frozen precipitation (realizing that we wouldn't get any work out of me anyway, as I would spend my time at the front door fretting about driving home on slippery roads).
During it's hey-day, when we had 30+ employees, John and Linda Kay would fund ski trips to Taos or Monarch, renting a sleeper coach bus, and paying for half of any employees trip. This allowed many of us to take vacations who would normally not be going anywhere. Our Thanksgiving and Christmas parties were a blast, taking place in the kit packing room. Once we received a "missing parts" card from a customer, who let us know that he had found an extra part in his kit - a champagne cork.
On a personal level, John was a good friend, and helped me to believe in my own capabilities. He often leaned in from office just to tell me that I was
doing a good job after listening to my side of a phone conversation with a customer. John was a quietly charitable person. One winter Greer and I had a young boy visiting a neighbor next door. This boy was from a very poor family, and didn't have any winter clothes, wearing summer shorts with no shoes or socks even though the temperatures were dipping low. I mentioned to John that I was going to take half of my Christmas bonus money to buy this little boy some good clothes, a coat and shoes, as a present from Santa. John asked if I would be kind enough to allow him to go in with me. John did not get to see the joy on that little boy's face as he opened present after present, thinking Santa had mistakenly left a package for him at our house, but I did, and I thanked John for letting me put even more joy on that little boy's face.
All in all, Paia, John and Linda Kay have influenced my life profoundly and I am grateful for the path my life took while being with them. I was not in touch with John very much at the end of his life here on earth, but his smile and spirit will always be with me. I can feel him smiling at me right now. The earth is a better place because he was here. The universe is a better place because he is still here.
Excelsior, John! "
Thanks for sharing this Mona!
Brian Folkes says
Brian Folkes was a long time Paia customer who also frequently contributed to Polyphony. Brian has been in touch with me for years now, after "discovering" me somewhere around the 'net. I've run into a lot of people that way! Brian has allowed me to quote from a recent email
"I am just glad to have those special memories of those that have had a special impact on my life. John certainly had a direct impact on me in more ways than I can count, yet I only met him once when I was over in OkC on business about 7 years ago. Mona was still there then and I sold her & John semiconductors and other electronic components from my previous company, Ramco. When I told John that he had a direct impact in my being in my current position, owning an electronic components distributorship, he apologized with his characteristic air. "
I had heard John use that line myself. He may have said it to me in later years when I was thanking him for my opportunities. And Brian recalls seeing something similar in the Paia chapter of Mark Vail's Vintage Synthesizers book. Nevertheless, the statement was "pure John". He knew of the trials and tribulations which befall anyone who is passionately following their dream. It can be an all-encompassing drain on one's life. He had definitely "been there, done that" over the course of MANY business startups and product launches.