Herb Wilcox '50
"I've been a strong advocate of alternative energy, particularly solar, for many years."
From Bucknell to the moon
For Herb Wilcox '50, attending Bucknell University served as a break from the military, introduced him to the love of his life and kicked off a career that would reach the moon.
"I was one of thousands of ex-GIs who descended on the University at the end of World War II," Wilcox remembers. During his junior year, having served in the Navy, he joined the Marine Corps Reserve for a two-year term that ended with graduation. "Two weeks later the Korean War broke out, and I was drafted into the Army."
But "the best thing that ever happened to me at Bucknell was meeting my wife," Wilcox says.
In 1955, with a master's degree in industrial engineering from Syracuse, Wilcox joined the Westinghouse Electric Company. It was the early days of the television industry. "Westinghouse was trying to make the first color picture tubes," he recalls. "I ended up as trouble-shooter for the equipment they were selling to TV stations around the country."
That experience served him well when, in 1964, Westinghouse won a NASA contract to develop a lightweight video camera that astronauts would use to capture their first steps on the moon. He was picked to lead the team that built the picture tube that beamed the first breathless hours of the historic Apollo 11 mission back to a rapt planet Earth.
By the time of the landing, however, Wilcox had left Westinghouse as he was disillusioned by the Vietnam War and unwilling to work on a project to adapt the new technology to weapons systems. Joining the Methodist board of missions in Elmira, N.Y., he was sent with his wife and three children to teach in the Philippines. He later took a consulting job with the Arabian American Oil Company in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
Partly as a result of his overseas experience, he says, "I've been a strong advocate of alternative energy, particularly solar, for many years." While in the Philippines, in fact, he and a partner set up a small company to bring simple solar-powered lights to homes on hundreds of small islands without electricity.
At 82, Wilcox recently returned to Bucknell to talk with students about what he calls his "current obsession." "I hope to get some of them involved in developing alternatives to fossil fuels," he says.
These students, too, might one day use what they learn at Bucknell to make history. -- David Pacchioli
Posted Fall 2009