Editors note: Dr. Howard Attebery was a scientist, engineer, dentist, photographer who died on Feb. 1 at 94. He wrote his own obituary, which follows.
My journey started at Napa California on April 9, 1922, the only child of Howard George Attebery, a merchant, and Bernice Behrens Attebery, a clerk. I spent my formative years in Napa close to my Irish (County Cork) grandmother Kathryn who cared for me while my parents worked, and showered me with abundant love and care. She emigrated during the potato famine in Ireland and walked across The Isthmus of Panama to save passage fare to San Francisco.
I was happily raised at my grandparents’ ranch/farm in Napa and attended St John’s Parochial School. I have fond memories not of the school, but of the horses that Grandpa owned and rented out and managed for plowing and wagon pulling. He also supplied horses for the fire department.
My dad lost his job when the grocery store he managed that was a part of a high-end department store closed, so we moved to Vallejo, an exciting town with a naval base nearby. He had a Wonder Bread bakery route and I had a paper route delivering downtown including the rooms of prostitution. High school was fun. I excelled in the discus and when Jim Thorpe visited the school I shook his hand when he awarded me a miniature gold track shoe for winning at the divisional meet.
High school being over I had these avenues to choose from: work in a relative’s funeral home; work at Imola, a state institution for the criminally insane; enter the priesthood as wished for by my family; or to use a college scholarship I had achieved. That was an easy choice. Off to college I went and I worked at the Sonoma County Hospital in the kitchen and also as a lab assistant to make ends meet for the two years at Santa Rosa City College.
I obtained an athletic scholarship to Stanford but did not use it for I decided to go to UC Berkeley and study microbiology. Then World War II began and I enlisted because of a secured placement in the Ninth Corps Area Laboratory where I was responsible for testing potable water of the troop ships sailing from Fort Mason and doing other testing principally for tropical diseases on returning soldiers.
While in the Army I became part of the Specialized Training Program and was sent to Sacramento City College for orientation and engineering courses. Then the Army decided to send me to the University of Chicago Medical School for the next class. In the interim I went to Hope College and then the University of Chicago campus to study protozoology and then to The College of Pacific Dental School. On my own, I went to San Diego State University and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. I was a National Institute of Health Post-Doctoral Scholar at UCLA.
In summary, eight colleges/universities and four degrees. I still like learning and have enrolled in numerous classes at The Great Courses.
Over the years I had many different jobs. I started selling Liberty Magazines at five cents a copy, then had paper route, did garden work, was a lab assistant, kitchen helper, dishwasher, attendant in the county hospital, supervisor at a gym, public health dentist, school dentist, dental research for the VA and UCLA dental school, pedodontist, medical photographer. The three jobs I enjoyed the most were working for the Fish and Wildlife service at the plankton lab which included surveying the grey whale population and doing government work in Mexico. The second was as a bacteriologist for the Eleventh Naval District which included most Southern California stations. This involved a lot of traveling and included interesting problems to solve. The third was being in the Army service for two years. That was a wonderful learning experience and pivotal in my microbiological direction. Thank you Sgt. Day and Major Williams.
I married Jan Stocker and had two great wonderful sons, Paul, a blues band percussionist and Mark, a dedicated music teacher and composer who now does intriguing metal sculpture. Mark married Jennifer Kent and I have a grandson Luke and a granddaughter Sophia. Jan and I divorced after 24 years of marriage and separation in 1964. I married Sheri Brubaker eight years later and we raised Susan her daughter who is now a social worker. Sheri died in 1993.
I liked to spend time with my 8”x10” camera and enlarger and being in my glass lab etching and slumping.
I saved the best part for last to tell about my recent life. I met Cynthia Riggs in 1950 when we both were at the same laboratory in San Diego. She was 18 and I was 28 and we knew each other for four months. She was a geology major on a work program and I had a Jeep and a rock hammer so we enjoyed time together and wrote notes to each other on the labs paper towels. We each went our way, but after 62 years I mailed her those notes which were in code with a coded note translated saying “I never stopped loving you.”
We had a Buddhist ceremony and a church marriage in 2013 on Martha’s Vineyard and lived happily ever after. Google: Cynthia Riggs Howard Attebery for details of this wonderful romance. I love my Cynner.