In memoriam: Gerry Tool

Gerry Tool

Fermilab pioneer, engineer, mentor, and friend, Gerry Tool, died on Thursday, March 5, in Delavan, Wisconsin, after a long struggle with pulmonary fibrosis.

Gerry was born on Nov. 21, 1935, in Brainerd, Minnesota, and raised in Billings, Montana. He served as a nuclear power electronics technician, ETN3, in the U.S. Navy from December 1953 to December 1956. After two years of study at Eastern Montana College, Gerry moved to California for a position at the University of California, Berkeley, Lawrence Radiation Laboratory where he worked under Quentin Kerns and earned his B.S. in electrical engineering in 1964.

Gerry joined the National Accelerator Laboratory (now Fermilab) in October 1967, receiving employee ID badge #0034. Gerry and family were among the small, esteemed U.C. Berkeley cadre that relocated to build the NAL. Together they formed the “California Group,” an informal social alliance to help one another establish their new lives in Illinois. The group included longtime NAL/Fermilab employees: Stan Tawzer, H. W. (Bill) Miller and Gus Rehbein.

Gerry led early design and development efforts for the Main Ring radio-frequency and magnet power systems and associated controls. During the Energy Doubler Project (the Tevatron), Gerry played a key role in the magnet “string tests.” These tests provided the necessary knowledge base for safely controlling the potentially destructive magnetic energy stored in a series of superconducting accelerator magnets. He then designed and oversaw construction, installation, and commissioning of the magnet power and quench protection systems for this world-first, four-mile, superconducting accelerator.

In parallel with his technical responsibilities, Gerry served as long-time head of the Accelerator Division Electrical Engineering Support Department. In this position, Gerry hired, supervised, mentored, and inspired many young engineers, technicians, and programmers who went on to become leaders and key contributors themselves.

Technical specialist Bob Hively recalls, “I was in Gerry’s group from November 1968 until he went to the SSC. The thing I remember is his knowledge of computers. When we got the first Macs and IBM ATs, I had to learn to use them and help others in the group. When I ran into a problem, Gerry would know what I did wrong or a step that I had forgotten. If you had something on your mind, you could always go to him for advice.”

Engineering physicist Bob Flora contributes, “I first met Gerry in 1972 and worked under his excellent leadership during the Energy Doubler (Tevatron) development. Gerry was always a joy to work with, giving us plenty of freedom, but just not quite enough rope to hang ourselves. I recall one instance in particular: A critical real-time communication link that I had designed and implemented needed to work in order to bring the Tevatron online for the first time, but it kept failing. I had lost faith and felt helpless, but Gerry just smiled, helped hand-carry heavy diagnostic equipment around the ring, and we got it working! He was really great at taking the blame when things didn’t quite go right, and giving praise when things went well. I will always hold Gerry in high esteem and remember him as a bright and inspiring element in my life.”

Engineer Ralph Pasquinelli writes, “I interviewed with Fermilab in the spring of 1978 in four different areas. Gerry exuded enthusiasm for working on particle accelerators and great passion for his department’s team. It was an easy choice to join Gerry’s group. Very early in my career, Gerry was willing to entrust me with important projects for the Main Ring super damper and bunch-by-bunch beam monitor system and the nascent Tevatron quench protection system. Gerry was kind, open-minded, fair, and determined — a true asset to Fermilab. He will be remembered and missed by all those he touched.”

Gerry was an avid bicyclist, regularly pedaling the 12 miles between his home in Boulder Hill and the lab.

Always eager for new challenges, Gerry left Fermilab in September 1989 to join the Superconducting Super Collider Project, known as the SSC, as senior engineer and Accelerator Division Electrical Engineering Department head. Gerry and his group designed and executed the successful first (and only) series of SSC magnet string tests.

Following this accomplishment, Gerry retired from the SSC in September 1992. He and his wife Betty relocated to Wisconsin, where she continues to live. Gerry is survived by his loving wife of 63 years, two daughters and five grandchildren.

Robert Webber is a Fermilab guest scientist, retired.