At 71, Jack Lamons is still in the game

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Like many young men who play sports in high school, Jack Lamons had a coach who inspired his students to consider going into coaching as a profession. Lamons decided against going that route, but he acknowledged learning an important lesson from his parents and coach, Turney Ford.

They had successfully instilled a solid work ethic in him, a willingness to tackle a challenge and to learn new things.

At 71, he is still surprised at how those basic values have paved the way to a good career, the opportunity to travel the world, fulfill his love of sports and meet many interesting people who have become life-long friends.

Lamons, a technician at Arnold Engineering Development Center's Metallurgical/Chemistry Laboratory, has worked at Arnold for more than 41 years, retired from the Air National Guard after more than 32 years and refereed for basketball, football and softball for 36 years.

Looking back, Lamons reflected on some of the many people who helped to shape his life. After high school, he attended Tennessee Tech University for two years.

Upon learning that his brother had decided to pursue lab and X-ray certification from Southern Academy in Nashville, Lamons decided to do the same. During his summer breaks from high school and later, college, he would travel to California and New Mexico to work with his uncle, helping as a warehouseman and later, as an oiler/fueler on some large dam construction projects.

The knowledge he gained from those jobs would serve him well during his career at Arnold.

In 1961 he enlisted in the Tennessee Air National Guard where he was a medical laboratory technician which provided the skills to find work at a hospital in Shelbyville. That is where Lamons met his wife, Nancy, who was a medical librarian there. He re-enlisted in the Air National Guard in 1971 and trained as a bioenvironmental engineer technician.

Lamons joined Arnold's work force in July 1964 as a laboratory and X-ray technician at the medical dispensary, and, in September, Nancy got a job as a keypunch operator in AEDC's computer section.

Lamons didn't realize that his career would soon change directions. In 1966 he transferred to the Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) Lab where he was able to apply his technical skills. Behind the scenes, George Pope, who was the director over support services which included AEDC's chemical, metallurgical, NDT and X-ray labs, was scouting for someone to help in the NDT X-ray lab in support of the test facilities.

"They [human resources] offered me a transfer to the industrial X-ray department, but George Pope was the one who had me transferred there," Lamons recalled. "He said the NDT Lab was going to be snowed under with J-4 trying to get ready to fire liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen motors, and he said, 'With your background and where you've worked in construction all those years, I'll put you in the NDT Lab.' That was a good break for me."

Lamons remained there until 1980 while working on an as-needed basis in the X-ray lab. For most of his career, he worked at the chemistry lab.

"I was just lucky I had some good people to help me," he said. "The more you learn the better off you are." Lamons said Curtis Baker, who retired at 82 last year, was one of those who helped him learn the ropes. "Curtis taught me a lot," he said. "I loved to work with him. He could learn anything. He could take a new instrument and a book and make it work better than anybody I ever saw. He had the patience and the background as a chemical engineering major at Tennessee Tech back in the 1940s. It was a hard degree. He saw this place when they did things the old way. He went right with the flow when the new ways [new equipment and techniques] came along. He was the real deal, so was Jim Thomas, who trained me in particle count using a microscope and how to handle toxic chemical liquid rocket propellants. Thomas had a master's degree in chemistry from the University of Tennessee."

Lamons said joining the Air National Guard and taking an active role as a referee calling games over the years had other benefits.

"You meet some people you wouldn't meet any other way," he said. "Just like being in the Air [National] Guard in the medical unit, I met some of the finest people, doctors and nurses and a lot of them are still close friends."

One of those friends, Dr. William Frye, an ophthalmologist in Tullahoma, is also a lieutenant colonel with the 118th Medical Group Air National Guard unit at Berry Field in Nashville.

"I served with Jack for three years before he retired," Dr. Frye said. "Jack's retirement was a great loss to me individually and collectively to the medical squadron. Jack was well respected by both the enlisted and the officers. He was a mentor for all the bioenvironmental engineering techs and made sure they were proficient."

While in the Air National Guard, Lamons deployed all over the country. He also traveled to Germany, England and Honduras. After Honduras, he was activated with his unit for Desert Storm and was stationed at Andrews AFB in Washington. Later, he was transferred to McDill AFB in Florida.

Lamons stayed busy when he wasn't at AEDC or deployed with the Air National Guard by officiating high school and college sports, starting in 1969.

"I've stayed in shape and I love football, basketball and softball," he said. "The young officials think they're out there to throw a flag or call a foul, but you're out there to control the game and move it along."

He no longer referees but has found another way to stay involved with sports.

"I still go to the games and watch the officials work and make a report for the TSSAA [Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association]," he said. "I'm a supervisor for our area."