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George D. Breck

November 10,2016

George Breck was a swing band trombone musician and a master woodworker and cabinet-maker renowned for the quality of his work in and around his home in Sebastopol, CA. Two days before his death on November 10, 2016, he had been hard at work on his final woodworking project and was happy to receive his copy of Yale ’66 at 50 in the mail. He had put a lot of time, thought and effort into writing his autobiography for our 50th. That short autobiography was read at his memorial service as a chronicle of his life. His son, Fergus, has asked that it be printed here again to memorialize his life.

“‘Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.’ In my case I hadn’t even started to plan when life took me down the next unknown path without giving me any clue as to what I’d find at the end.

“During my stay at Yale I met many classmates who were sure of their path through life. At 20 years old, they all believed that they had a firm grasp on their personal future. And, in fact, many of them succeeded in living their lives according to the plan. On graduating from Yale, all I knew about my future was that it was expected that I would go to graduate school. Having lived my twenty-two years entirely on the East Coast, I picked a school that was as far West as I could go without falling off: University of Washington in Seattle. And so, I made my way across the US in my $50 Pontiac with the grand sum of $250 in my pocket.

“Studying chemistry in grad school was great fun — work hard during the week and then go to the Cascade Mountains, where there were infinite climbing opportunities for young reckless people. Winter climbs were my favorite, as snow and ice made everything more difficult and thus more dangerous. Like every other male I worried about the impact Vietnam would have on my life, but a medical condition that I didn’t even know I had kept me from having to face that nemesis. And so, four years passed very enjoyably and very rapidly. Well, mostly enjoyably, as I also got married at 24 and divorced at 26. Enough said.

“Receiving my PhD in the Spring of 1970 left me without a clue what to do next. And so I accepted a two year postdoctoral fellowship at UC Medical Center in San Francisco. Two years passed at warp speed — during which I found the woman with whom I was to spend the next 43 years. After my post doc stint I was once again rudderless until I stumbled upon a research fellowship with the Department of Agriculture. Six months later the bureaucracy had succeeded in sucking all the drive and ambition out of me, and I resigned. And that was to be the end of my career in science.

“And then what did I do? An article in Newsweek or Time about the new generation of art furniture craftspeople intrigued me so much that I decided to try to join the movement and become an art furniture maker myself.

“Time finally convinced me that being an artist was lots of hard work for very little reward, especially financially. So I gradually developed relationships with local contractors and interior designers and my little shop now turns out a few high end kitchens, bathrooms, and entertainment centers each year. Hard work, but with enough creativity to hold my interest.

“I sometimes think about how different life would have been had I stayed in academia rather than going down the path I chose, or that chose me. But life is what happens while you are making other plans.”