1933 - 2023
IN LOVING MEMORY
Charles Dean Hendrix, Jr.
Power in Numbers
Charles Dean Hendrix, Jr., or “Charlie” as he was known throughout his life, went to be with his Lord in Heaven on Friday, January 6, 2023. Charlie was 89 years old and maintained his sharp mind, his general good health, and his sense of humor until the day he passed at New Life Hospice Center of St. Joseph in Amherst, Ohio.
Charlie spent only one day in hospice care, having been blessed to live for the last seven years in the Amherst home of his daughter and son-in-law, Laura and Terry Kemp. Charlie and his wife, Ruth, had moved to Amherst after 54 years in Charleston, West Virginia, to be with family in their autumn years. Ruth passed ten months ago on March 13, 2022, and Charlie now joins her in eternal joy. The couple is undoubtedly delighting in Heaven’s gardens, which family and friends would avow they nearly replicated during their time on earth. Gardening was a favorite among their many pursuits.
Beyond being a devoted husband to Ruth for nearly 60 years, Charlie was a father, grandfather, and great-grandfather with a steadfast commitment to remaining vibrant for his family. He had an unmatched work ethic and a love of learning. Even as an octogenarian he was always studying to improve himself in some discipline or task, creating something from what he learned, and immersing himself in new information. He modeled the importance of being a lifelong student for everyone he knew.
Charlie was born on July 4, 1933, in Greenville, South Carolina, and grew up just a few miles south in the mill town of Pelzer. From the time an uncle in construction gave him some leftover bathroom tiles to play with as a small boy, Charlie was always putting things together and figuring out how they work. He got a Gilbert chemistry set on the Christmas he was eight years old and used his modest wartime allowance to keep buying more chemicals for it. He placed regular mail orders with the A. C. Gilbert Company and even with the local pharmacist — something he acknowledged could never happen today — and spent countless hours concocting, as he phrased it, things that smelled bad and went “bang!”
Chemistry wasn’t Charlie’s only hobby. Electronics and mechanics fascinated him too. As a kid he shadowed the town electrician and plumber, crawling under houses as their gofer and collecting their discarded tools, wires, pipes, and valves. By seventh grade, he had built a single-tube radio and a telephone system that featured a microphone he crafted from two razor blades and some pencil lead. Charlie’s skills as a tinkerer, inventor, and handyman served his family and friends all his life. He was always thrilled with a project and could fix anything from hair dryers to dishwashers to the cars he rescued and kept running for years.
When Charlie was 16, his father suffered an unexpected heart attack and died very suddenly. This event, and the aftermath of helping his mother make ends meet, shaped Charlie into the dedicated provider and professional that he became. He graduated from Parker High School in Greenville in 1951 and entered Clemson Agricultural College, which was then an all-male military school and is now Clemson University. He graduated in 1955, the year Clemson became co-ed and civilian, with a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering and an ROTC Commission as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army.
After a year as an entry-level engineer at Union Carbide Corporation in Charleston, West Virginia, Charlie embarked on his military duties at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, where he graduated from the Army Signal Corps. While he was there, the Army offered an intriguing deal to officers with an engineering degree: if they worked at a new government organization called the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) for 18 months, they could fulfill their entire Army Reserve obligation. The location choices were Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) in California, Langley AFB in Virginia, or Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratories in Cleveland, Ohio.
When Charlie learned that the work in Cleveland was hands-on with rocket engines, he instantly knew two things: he was taking the deal and going to Ohio. As a NACA research scientist and now a First Lieutenant, he tested rocket performance using various propellants and published findings that you can still read in NASA’s archives today at ntrs.nasa.gov. In 1958, NACA became the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA. At about the same time, Charlie’s 18 months were up, and he decided to leave NASA for the University of Tennessee, where he earned a Master of Science in Chemical Engineering in 1960.
By this time, Charlie had realized something that changed the course of his career and life: engineers might know their materials, but they didn’t know enough about designing experiments and analyzing data, which meant that they couldn’t produce much value from their material knowledge. Wanting to help solve this problem, Charlie applied and was accepted to the School of Experimental Statistics at North Carolina State University. As a postgrad, he also taught classes there. One of his students was Ruth Borders, who held a Master of Science in Clothing and Textiles and was learning stats as part of her job in NC State’s textiles lab.
The minute Charlie saw Ruth, he devised a plan to learn more: he would ask the class to submit their names and birthdates on a sheet of paper as part of “statistics research” that the university was doing. But really, the research was only Charlie’s, and his goal was to make sure Ruth was his age. Indeed she was, and when Charlie asked her out for coffee, she accepted. Less than two years later, in 1962, Charlie and Ruth were married.
Soon after, Charlie made his way back to West Virginia and Union Carbide with Ruth by his side. At Carbide’s South Charleston Technical Center, Charlie combined his engineering degrees and statistics expertise into a career that would span 35 years. He started as a Staff Consultant in Statistics, advanced to Senior Research Scientist, and then managed a research and development group that encompassed the fields of applied mathematics, computer science, operations, and reaction engineering. Charlie was key in establishing state-of-the-art models for running experiments, performing data analysis, and ensuring quality control, and Union Carbide used these models to strengthen R&D programs and minimize costs. For decades, Charlie’s work helped the company improve its fibers, coatings, films, alloys, foams, carbon products, and consumer products.
Eventually Charlie founded the company’s Applied Math and Statistics Skill Center, which benefitted the scientists and engineers who came to Union Carbide from all over the world. He also taught statistics courses at many Carbide locations and local colleges; authored countless papers for science and engineering journals; and presented topics for technical and professional societies nationwide. Union Carbide formally recognized his contributions by making him a Corporate Fellow, and in 1990, granting him a Chairman’s Award. After Charlie retired, he continued teaching applied statistics through his own consulting practice. He traveled all over the country, often with Ruth, helping companies bring measurable quality to their operations.
As much as Charlie loved his work, he always made time for his interests in electronics, reading, and gardening; for service to his church, Highland Avenue Baptist and later Cross Lanes Baptist in Charleston; and for time with his family every day. He kept a spacious basement workshop chock full of tools, gadgets, potions, computers, magic trick gear, and a pinball machine. All of it enthralled his children, their friends, and in time his grandchildren too. He adored a good joke, especially the practical ones, and is famous in his family for the time he wanted to burn an old wooden toilet seat, and managed to convince the Japanese exchange student who lived with them at the time that burning toilet seats is what Americans did at Thanksgiving. He had a great laugh, and would clap his hands when he was amused and when he had finally worked out a solution to a problem he’d been mulling over.
Charlie’s survivors include his children, Susan Wood of Greenville, South Carolina; Laura (Terry) Kemp of Amherst, Ohio; Charles Dean “Charlie” (Melanie) Hendrix III of Jacksonville, Florida; and Bill Truman of Simpsonville, South Carolina; his grandchildren, Sera, Seth, Michael, Cassie, Charles Dean IV “Chad,” and Caroline; and five great-grandchildren.
Charlie was preceded in death by his wife, Ruth, and his parents, Charles Dean Hendrix, Sr., and Sara Hale Hendrix.
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In lieu of flowers the family suggests that memorial contributions be made to Good Shepherd Baptist Church, 1100 Cleveland Ave, Amherst, OH 44001; or Cross Lanes Baptist Church, 102 Knollwood Dr, Cross Lanes, WV 25313.