Chandler Holton

Joseph Mansfield


When the pump on our pressure tank starts, the lights in my apartment momentarily brighten. This is due to the way they are wired. The lights and the pump respectively are wired on opposite hot legs of a single 240v center-tapped feed. Because the neutral conductor runs a long distance from earth ground to pump and is #10 wire, the pump's starting surge pulls the neutral off zero and towards its own hot leg, which is farther from the light circuit's hot leg, making the voltage higher and the lights brighter, just for a moment.


The only other time I recall seeing lights brighten like these was some time in my mid teen years, around 1960, when I went with Llewellyn Evans and others to an Astronomical League convention in Atlanta. As was the custom in those days, many of the out of town members would bunk in the homes of the host members. Usually a number would sleep in the local observatory as well.


It was my lot to sleep on a sofa in the living room of Chandler Holton. Some of his story can be found by searching the internet for his name. He was graduated from MIT, then taught mathematics at Georgia Tech. I remember him as a shy, gentle man, so often smiling that he was often called "Smiley Holton". I remember passing the evening with him in this elegantly appointed room lighted by a small and simple but elegant chandelier. About every 20 minutes or so the lights would go bright, no doubt for the same sort of reason they do here. The brightening struck me as an elegant phenomenon for an elegant man who lived in an elegant house. I liked the man very much. He was kind to me. How elegant was he? Well, at some point in the night a noise woke me to see him passing through my darkened room with not a flashlight but a candle, the light making his tall thin frame seem gaunt, but lighting up his smile.


Not everyone liked Smiley. I recall some chap complaining that if you asked "What time is it?" and someone answered "Two-thirty", you could count on Chandler to correct him, saying "Two-twenty-nine and a half". That seemed to me a virtue, not a flaw.


On some subsequent occasion, I don't remember where or when, Chandler and I crossed ways again and this time he was not smiling. He had a somewhat taut, worried look for the duration of the event. It worried me at the time. I hope whatever was worrying him got taken care of. It would have been a tragedy for that smile to disappear forever.


Chandler retired from Georgia Tech in 1973 and passed away in the late 1980s. His widow, Geneva, passed away 26 March 2004. She would have been 100 years old on 10 May of that year. My research has not uncovered Chandler's birth year, but if it was near Geneva's then he would have died in his mid 80s. He would also have been in his mid 50s when I first met him.


I stayed with Chandler only two nights, I believe, and it was long ago. Yet I remember Chandler and his chandelier and his smile with perfect clarity. Those few days were one of the happy moments of my early life. I cherish the memory.


Now over 40 years later, when the lights in my apartment surge bright, I experience that same warm feeling inside that I once experienced when Chandler gave me the brightness of his smile.


2005 Joseph Mansfield. Written 2005.09.23. Modified and posted 2005.09.29.