Some of you know that Dan, KA1BNO and I swapped out a rotator on the tower of a ham couple in Somerset, MA, this Sunday. John, WA1LPM and Laurie, KA1OCF, were having trouble with the rotator for some time, so in July I went to look at it and determined it to have gone south. They bought a replacement (actually they moved up from a G-800 to a G-1000) and yesterday Dan and I installed it, made the cable, and got it working for them.
John and Laurie are two of the nicest people you’d want to meet. They’re very warm and humble, the kind of people you can’t help but like. They were kind enough to take Dan and I to lunch, and they also donated $100 to the club, since we of course wouldn’t accept any remuneration for the work we did.
Laurie used to work in broadcast journalism, and John worked at the NUWC for many years. Laurie now works at an eldercare facility, caring for clients who have Alzheimer’s, which I must say is very important work. She loves her clients. John is enjoying his retirement and seems to stay pretty busy.
This would make for a nice story except that there’s more, and it’s the more that really counts. John has been blind since birth, and yet his life is one of amazing courage, strength, and perseverence, and I thought I would share part of his amazing story. John is one of the few truly inspiring people I have met. Over dinner yesterday, he told us some fascinating and humorous stories from his youth, which I won’t bother to recount here. More on that later.
Laurie sent me a copy of an article in the ProJo from October 18, 1998, about an award that John was receiving at the Pentagon. I am including the text of that article here, which I hope you’ll read. I think you’ll find to be as amazing as I did.
John will be traveling with Dan to Boxboro on Saturday, so if you’re there I hope you will make the time to meet him and thank him for their generous donation to our club. And maybe he’ll tell a story or two if he has the time.
And to think I would likely have never met Laurie and John if it weren’t for amateur radio.
Navy to bestow special honor on Somerset computer scientist
By JERRY O’BRIEN
Journal Staff Writer
The bundle of shingles was heavy on his shoulder. But as John Pavao slowly climbed to the roof of the house, he knew it was only a matter of being careful.
Pavao’s father, a carpenter, watched from the rooftop as his blind son made it to the last step of the ladder, unloaded the bundle and crept up beside him.
“The worst part was getting back onto the ladder,” Pavao, 43, said with a smile as he recalled that Saturday morning 25 years ago in Dighton.
Like his three brothers and three sisters, John Pavao, blind since birth, had chores to do, and there was never any reason to be let loose from responsibility.
Pavao’s character was cast in a loving family, where obligation mingled with affection, where the sting of occasional frustration was eased with continual encouragement and perseverance.
“We were a very close family, and that was a big help,” Pavao said, sitting by his computer at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, in Middletown, where he works as a senior computer scientist. “My father wasn’t afraid of letting me try things.”
Pavao is a key member in the software and algorithm design division of the engineering, test and evaluation department at NUWC. For nearly 20 years, he has been deeply involved with just about every aspect of the command and control software systems for the Navy’s underwater tactical training facilities.
Like his colleagues, Pavao has a keenly developed ability to think graphically, plotting the course of sound waves and objects as they move through water in three dimensions.
Unlike his colleagues, who rely on their monitors to see their work develop, Pavao’s vision is purely interior, an intense intellectual construction.
For the strength of his humanity and the brilliance of his research, Pavao will be honored in a ceremony at the Pentagon tomorrow.
He has been selected as the recipient of the 1998 Outstanding Department of the Navy Employee with Disabilities Award, chosen from an international field of nominees from the full ranks of the Navy and Marine Corps.
One recipient is selected annually from each military branch. This marks the third time in the past four years that a NUWC-Division Newport employee has received the Navy award.
“We’re all delighted for him and proud of him,” said Pavao’s friend and coworker Tom Riley, who 19 years ago persuaded his boss to hire Pavao, the first blind graduate of Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Riley knew Pavao through their mutual interest in ham radio. He and his friends jury-rigged some equipment so Pavao could navigate through NUWC’s early computer programs and got the boss to give him a 90-day tryout.
“My boss then was a little apprehensive,” Riley said. “In less than two weeks, he said, `Forget the 90 days. He’s hired.’
“It was a good decision to hire him, and definitely to the Navy’s benefit, no doubt about that.”
PAVAO’S MOST RECENT technical accomplishment is the development of the Portable Tracking System, a $30-million program that tracks objects underwater over a large area using a portable device.
The PTS analyzes the “pings” caused by moving objects, sounds that are picked up and relayed from underwater acoustic sensors anchored on the ocean floor. It tracks the location and speed of the objects by computing the differences in time that the sounds are received by the sensors.
Pavao designed and developed the test software used to validate all of the major components of the PTS.
“It uses a sound/velocity profile, which tells you the effective speed of sound in water, which varies with depth,” Pavao said, unleashing a blizzard of equations on his monitor with a few keystrokes.
“That way you can generate the time of arrival. In simulations, you use known data so you can see how the system works under certain conditions.”
Pavao’s testing program, the product of 18 months of work, has full three-dimensional visual capability.
Pavao does use a monitor with his computer, an unspectacular Gateway 2000 PS-120, loaded with Windows 95.
But what makes his system special is an extraordinary program called JAWS for Windows, developed by Henter-Joyce. The program generates voice output for what appears on the screen.
Using the arrow keys on his keyboard, Pavao simply moves the cursor up, down, left or right on his screen, and a computerized voice reads aloud what a sighted user would read silently.
A skilled and experienced JAWS user, Pavao increases the speed of the computer voice to 450 words per minute, much faster than a neophyte’s ear could negotiate.
The program can be manipulated to change the gender and character of the voice and to read or skip over punctuation marks. Pavao also has programmed his own “hot” keys to simplify complex command sequences. And he has customized a series of clicking sounds to cue him to the opening and closing of various programs.
There’s another advantage to being unsighted, Pavao explained: he can turn off the computer’s picture-making program to increase its overall speed.
IT IS WONDERFUL to watch Pavao’s hands at the keyboard. The raised dots on the F and J keys anchor his location in the center, while his little fingers run along the keyboard’s outer edges.
Another tool at Pavao’s desk is the Braille Mate, manufactured by Telesensory Systems. The device records and displays Braille characters using a compact keyboard and a display platform fit for a fingertip.
Unlike conventional six-dot Braille, the Braille Mate uses eight dots to represent the control characters common to computer keyboards.
Pavao is relaxed and soft-spoken. His neatly trimmed beard, like his hair, is streaked with gray. He wears a watch on the wrist of his left hand, whose ring finger is circled with a gold band.
His wife, Laurie Pavao, is a familiar voice to Southern New Englanders. As Laurie Johnson, her maiden name, she is a news reporter and morning-drive coanchor on WPRO-AM.
The couple, who live in Somerset, met over the airwaves as ham radio operators. Both share a keen interest and ability in Morse code.
“John has a character trait that you don’t see in many people anymore,” Laurie Pavao said. “It’s called humility. He is a sensitive, caring and quiet individual. He feels things very deeply.”
Laurie Pavao credits her husband’s parents for providing him with the right environment for his growth. He was allowed to roam their wooded property freely as a child. If he bumped into a tree, she said, his mother would console him while his father pointed out that John would no longer hit the tree now that he knew where it was.
John Pavao attended the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Watertown, Mass., from first grade through high school, coming home only on weekends and summers. Somewhere along the line, he decided that if he could do without a guide dog and a cane, he would. He does without.
“His not seeing is not an issue at home,” Laurie Pavao said. “It doesn’t come up. He has a wonderful sense of where he is at all times. His blindness is just not something we deal with at home because it’s just not important.”
John Pavao is devoted to his family and his work, but he also finds time to volunteer regularly for the To Improve Math, Engineering and Science Studies Program at Thompson Middle School in Newport, which introduces minority children to the sciences.
He also is a member of the American Radio Relay League and is a board member of the Somerset Lion’s Club.
As for the award, Laurie Pavao said, “I’m very proud of him, but I can’t say I’m surprised because I know how much love and support he received at home.”
His friend Tom Riley agrees.
“I was surprised at how little his blindness seems to handicap him,” Riley said. Then he paused, and spoke again with warmth.
“He’s not sensitive about his handicap because he has no handicap,” he said.