The Best Kind of Man

JOE AND JEN on beachWhat kind of man is a genius who is never arrogant, confident but never harsh, a conservative superhero with no concept of prejudice, who moved as one of the greats in United States’ aerospace yet who was so humble, I didn’t even realize the extent of it for years?

What kind of man was he? The kind of man who married me.

Mr. Air Force One, flight test engineer in charge of the U-2 and SR-71, all Connie variants including those for SIGINT and the D.O.D., Joseph F. Ware, Jr. was a both simple and complex.

As a child he was a Dennis-the-Menace-type genius who invented gadgets, got into things out of curiosity, discovering his ability to make things. In 1926, he designed and built his own radio broadcast station in the attic of his home, 404 Clay St., Blacksburg, VA, two blocks SE of Virginia Tech, then “V.P.I.,” as he referred to it. Then he needed programming, so he bugged his mother’s parlor and broadcast the ladies’ discussions. He wired a backyard tend from the house fuse box and blew it all out. But when a new step-father built a house next door, Joe was the one who they asked to wire the whole place.

He was a simple guy, a Christian, Presbyterian, who did his home work, graduated early from VT then on to Caltech where he graduated early again with a Master’s in Engineering. He was a Wright engine test engineer at Patterson, NJ, taught math at Virginia Tech, then went off to Burbank, CA, to work at Lockheed, Skunk Works, under Kelly Johnson, becoming Department Manager of Engineering Flight Test. Tony LeVier, a good friend, and all the test pilots worked for him. See Shadow Life: Aerospace, Love, and Secrets, noted in the right column.

He had two wives before me, three children from the first marriage. Both his first wives passed away. And then he met me.

I was different: a pilot, like him, who looked at him as if he were Elvis Presley, a rock star in the aviation world I admired. We’d show aircraft at major, military air shows, walk for hours around any airport and talk. I’d ask him more questions than I knew I had, and he’d answer them, often with personal items about the designer, as he knew many of them.

And I was/am transsexual. I waited for years to see if his kindness to me was a front, a curiosity, expecting the usual bigotry with a rejection to follow, but after four years, I was surprised to learn that he was, indeed, into me and that the one who was bigoted was I, against his age. He was 40 years older, and I couldn’t allow myself to love him. Realizing that, I dropped it, and I’ve been thankful ever since. He was the best, the most intelligent, caring, conservative-yet-compassionate man I’d ever known, and he continues to inspire me today.

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