Machine Design

So long, Ron

Having worked with Ron Khol for the better part of 28 years, I was not at all surprised that he wanted to write his own obituary.

Ron was like that. Well organized and meticulous about how details should be handled.

That obit, which we ran in our Jan. 12 issue, can still be viewed online. But there are a few items in Ron's background that he chose not to mention. He won a Crain Award in 1994. This is a high honor. There is only one given out annually. It recognizes outstanding contributions to the development of editorial excellence in the business press. Crain winners have to demonstrate a capacity for maintaining the highest editorial standards, as well as editorial initiative, leadership and integrity.

The irony was, Ron always looked at editorial awards with disdain, though he himself had received one of the highest accolades the business press can bestow on an individual editor. Ron always felt there was a key flaw with most editorial contests: Journalists pick the winners and tend to laud topics that journalists, rather than the magazine's readers, find interesting. Recognition in a contest doesn't say a thing about whether the magazine's audience gives a hoot about what its editors are doing. His advice to us never varied: Focus on delivering useful information, not on getting editorial awards.

Readers of Ron's autobiographical obit also would not know that he was a Carnegie Tech-educated civil engineer whose first engineering job was at Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. Ron's experiences at Sikorsky clearly made an impact. It was at Sikorsky where he saw firsthand the contentious relationship that could develop between design and manufacturing departments, and how mistakes could lead to catastrophes.

As a young engineer, Ron also bumped into Igor Sikorsky himself. Ron occasionally spoke of the photos he saw of the legendary designer at the controls of his prototype helicopter, dressed in a coat, tie, and fedora. Perhaps that's why Ron was such a stickler for how people dressed in public. In his mind, professionals wore coats and ties to work. So did civilized people who flew on commercial aircraft.

You always knew where Ron stood on issues. Regular readers of his editorials could appreciate his keen insights into the ironic aspects of life. He had an uncommon ability to point these things out in ways that were funny and serious at the same time. Those of us who worked for him saw the same combination in his management style. Ron worked hard and thought people who worked for him should too. But we quickly learned not to take ourselves, or him, too seriously.

Ron didn't stand on ceremony. He kept meetings short and to the point and was a real get-to-work kind of guy. So he wouldn't have wanted us to spend much time eulogizing him.

OK, Ron. We're all back at our desks.

- Leland Teschler, Editor

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