Retired: Sharon and Jim Lackey share much of Fermilab’s history

Image courtesy of Jim and Sharon Lackey.

Sharon and Jim Lackey have been part of Fermilab’s history for nearly four decades, and they also made some personal history in the laboratory’s early days. And now, after 37 years at the lab for Sharon, and 39 years for Jim, both retired on Oct. 7.

Sharon joined the lab on July 29, 1974.

“In the Operations Department, I was the first female accelerator operator,” she said.

Jim Lackey had been at the laboratory since 1972. Both Jim and Sharon worked together as accelerator operators. They also bowled together in the Fermilab league at Warrenville Bowl. They began dating and soon were married.

They’ve gone from the early days at the Switchyard, to the era of the Main Ring and then to building and operating the Tevatron – which retired right before they did.

“It’s really sad to see the Tevatron turn off,” Sharon said.

Jim remembered those earliest times as an accelerator operator when the idea of something like the Tevatron might have seemed a pipe dream.

“The Linac and Booster were struggling to run,” Jim recalled. “There was an endless list of things that needed to be done and Operators managed to get involved in many of them. Every day was a big question: What wild and crazy things were going to happen today?”

Jim spent most of his career at the Booster, where it’s not too much of a stretch to say he’s regarded as something of a legend. Bill Pellico, head of the Proton Source department for the last four years, regards Jim as virtually irreplaceable.

“The name Jim Lackey will always be synonymous with the Booster accelerator,” Pellico said. “It will be easier to replace the Booster than it will be to replace Jim. Because Jim was here, I never worried we would have a problem we could not solve.”

Roy Mraz also has a long history with Jim at the Booster.

“Jim knows how hard it is to express my appreciation of him, since I am the quiet type,” Mraz said. “Jim is an easy-going individual. It takes a lot of aggravation to get him riled, and he respects everyone. I definitely will miss my boss.”

Among the many friends that both will miss, Sharon is particularly grateful to Roger Dixon, now serving as head of the Accelerator Division.

“He was my boss when I first became a mother and I had to juggle work and motherhood,” Sharon said. “If he hadn’t been so supportive, I might have had to switch careers.”

Dixon praised Sharon’s technical skills, as well as her coping methods.

“Sharon was in my group when I first got to the laboratory,” said Dixon. “I counted on her not only for her technical skills, but to keep me sane. She and Jim became close personal friends. She has continued to be one of the stalwarts of the laboratory right through to the present day.”

Both Jim and Sharon say they won’t miss the middle-of-the-night calls endemic to accelerator personnel. Sharon is looking forward to traveling and spending more time with their grandchildren. Jim, meanwhile, has one task he wants to accomplish now that their retirement is official.

“My first order of business, was relegating the alarm clock to the trash bin,” he said

Mike Perricone