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Inventor’s concept for a roadside guardrail became essential component of Canadarm’s positioning system. (Karen Bell)
Inventor’s concept for a roadside guardrail became essential component of Canadarm’s positioning system. (Karen Bell)


Lloyd Pinkney was a brilliant thinker who was ‘never wrong’ Add to ...

Mr. Pinkney studied engineering physics at the University of Alberta (he was pals with future premier Peter Lougheed, who was president of the students’ union). Always well rounded, he gained a spot on the school’s ski team and its orchestra. The NRC hired him right out of school in 1954 and he moved to Ottawa. He soon landed scholarships to complete his master’s degree and PhD in engineering physics at Stanford University, with the NRC granting him leaves to do so.

In 1961, he went on a double date with a friend from the NRC. Right away, he hit it off with his buddy’s date, Mary Gayle Anderson, an elementary school teacher. “He was a very bright man. But he needed someone who was social and organized. And of course being a teacher, I was both,” she recalls.

Seeing their obvious compatibility, the friend graciously bowed out and the couple married in August, 1962.

The Pinkneys started a family in 1966 and had three kids: Chris, Mary Ellen and Laurie. With his career in full swing, Mr. Pinkney began devoting less time to his hobbies, which included playing violin in various groups and singing with the Ottawa Choral Society and a group called the Gleeman Four. He even cut back on his golf games. “I’d rather be with the kids,” he told his wife. He remained involved with City View United Church and sometimes attended meet-ups with a small Mensa group in Ottawa.

In 1996, Mr. Pinkney retired from the NRC and then worked for six years with Neptec Design Group in Kanata, just outside Ottawa, the manufacturer of SVS.

He fully retired at age 71 and he and his wife travelled and enjoyed their grandchildren (there are now nine). By his late 70s, there were obvious signs of cognitive decline and Mr. Pinkney was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He died on May 3 at the age of 83, a few months shy of his 52nd wedding anniversary.

‘Earth to Dad, Earth to Dad’

From the early days of his career, Mr. Pinkney was known for a devotion to work and science, but not a conventional sense of time. In his bachelor days, he was often found by security guards early in the morning asleep at his desk. Secretaries kept a sign-in sheet and staff members who were late by 15 minutes got a red line through their names. “Lloyd collected a fair number of red lines,” Mr. Lindberg recalls.

Work deadlines were also somewhat elastic for Mr. Pinkney, who reportedly took quite some time to calibrate the wind tunnel. In the deadline-driven aerospace industry, this was a challenge, Mr. MacLean recalls, as he’d often complete projects late. “But there was usually a reason.”

Once he had a family, Mr. Pinkney made an effort to return home early to spend time with the kids and, once they were in bed, with his wife. But once Ms. Pinkney went to sleep, he’d often stay up with a notepad, thinking. During a project to test the safety of new car headlights from Europe, which had to be run in the dark, he would be arriving home to sleep when she and the children were getting up.

When the children were infants, he took charge of the middle-of-the-night feeding. Ms. Pinkney would often hear him talking aloud to the baby about the latest physics, mathematical or engineering problem he was working through.

He still rarely arrived at work for the required 8:30 a.m. start and had to be prodded by his wife to remember social functions – but he always made it, although he was often lost in thought. “Earth to Dad, Earth to Dad,” the kids would frequently say.

Chris Pinkney recalls that being the son of a brilliant engineer had its perks. While his friends weren’t quite sure what to make of a father who talked about math and science and claimed the schools were teaching calculus all wrong, young Chris thought it was pretty cool to have a dad who crashed cars for a living– he got to watch the videos of the guardrail tests as a youngster.

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