February 7, 2023

Larry Truesdale, Scientist! And artist!

By John Guy LaPlante

with 5 photos

Morro Bay, CA — He truly deserves those two exclamation points.

In his early 70s, Larry is retired as a scientist. But not quite. He does it part-time. And as an artist, he’s also part-time.

Carole checks a paper Larry is editing that was submitted by a scientist in Vietnam.

Let me explain in a simple way. Imagine it’s a work day, any work day.

In the morning, Larry will be working at his computer as a scientist. He is an Associate Editor of ACS Combinatorial Science, a journal of the  American Chemical Society.  Its journals are top-tier, international journals. They have an international readership and papers are submitted by scientists in other countries.

Generally they are the preferred journals in  which to publish scientific discoveries.  He became an editor by invitation in 2010.

He’s also an emeritus member of the American Chemical Society after a distinguished career in chemical research and development.

In a few minutes, I will tell you about that in detail. I found it interesting.

Now imagine it’s that same day but in the afternoon. Now Larry is the artist. His medium is not paints or marble. It’s wood. This is why he calls himself an artisan rather than an artist.  He works on revealing the hidden beauty Mother Nature hides in her woods of the world.

But those who buy and even collect his exquisite creations consider him a true artist. I’ll also tell you about that in detail.

Now notice that I have not been calling him Dr. Truesdale although he did earn a doctorate  in chemistry. And he’s a scientist with a distinguished reputation nationally and even worldwide.

And he has done this concurrently at times with his work as an industrial researcher.

As you’ve noticed, I’ve been calling him Larry. That’s because just about anybody here who knows him at all calls him Larry. There’s absolutely nothing uppity or standoffish about him.

He’s a genial, friendly, sports shirt and jeans fellow who enjoys meeting people and chatting with them.

One of Larry’s early passions was scuba diving.  He began shortly after graduating from high school in Cupertino CA.  Nearly every weekend he would go diving somewhere along the California coast, initially focusing on Santa Cruz and Monterey and then expanding to all points south as he moved to San Diego and Los Angeles for his B.A. and Ph.D.

He became not only familiar with the underwater coast, but with its coastal communities. He chuckled. “Scuba diving played a major role in keeping me fed as a student.”

One of the unexpected lessons of all this was that the Central Coast became his preferred place to retire in. At first he thought it would be Pismo Beach. “With  the wisdom of years and the reality of expenses, I chose Morro Bay!”

How did I get to know him? Through his wife Carole, also very talented, but in different ways. She was a seasoned “talent” on 97.3 FM, The Rock. It’s our nonprofit, advertising-free community radio station. It’s called The Rock because of the huge, famous monolith at the entrance to our harbor .

Carole did a very popular weekly show. She called it “Let’s Talk Food and Wine.”

I was a new “talent” on The Rock. In fact, a tyro  talent. I hosted a show called “Gabbing with Old Guy John.”

The big question: what can this piece of wood become?  He’ll decide, then get to work.

Each week I’d gab with a local person who knew a lot about some subject of broad general interest. But who was also good at talking. Not  just say yes, no, or maybe.

And my show would air just before Carole’s. And because I was inept at running the “board,” you know, working the various switches and controls. Carole, bless her heart, would do that for me. That way I could concentrate on “working” my guest.

And through Carole, I got to meet Larry. I was so impressed that I soon had him on my show as a guest. We discussed health care, the pharmaceutical industry, and the Federal Drug Administration.  Listeners got a lot out of it.

A bit more now about hum. He is a native Californian, born in the Bay area (San Mateo). He did his undergrad studies at the University of California San Diego and earned his doctorate at the University of California Los Angeles. He then did a post-doctoral fellowship at MIT in Massachusetts.

He did all that heavyweight work under the direction of eminent scientists. Some world-renowned. “After 23 years of schooling and at age 28, I finally went to work at a paying job.”

He told me something I found extra interesting. ” In college I majored in chemistry and minored in economics. I enjoyed them both, John. They both dealt with big, real-world problems affecting millions of people.

“Finding real-world solutions to them is challenging. On the one hand, developing new or better projects. On the other, producing them more economically.

“So why did I choose chemistry rather than economics? Because it was an intellectual plus a hands-on activity.”

He got his first job in 1975 at Allied Chemical Central Research in Morristown, New Jersey.  The problems they faced were scientifically challenging, but the pennies per pound issues that needed to be solved were not what he calls 

Carole checks a paper Larry is editing that was submitted by a scientist in Vietnam.

“my bag of tea.”

After four years , he decided to join Hoffman LaRoche in Nutley, New Jersey. In their labs for six years he worked on vitamins and pharmaceutical drug products to improve human health.  This involved both doing and directing research.

Ultimately, over a span of 35 years he worked at four nationally known pharmaceutical companies and between those positions he helped start four new ventures.

He told me he was continually tackling bigger, forefront scientific and financial problems while taking on greater responsibilities.  Eventually he was directing a staff of 75 scientists and several multi-million-dollar projects in pharmaceutical technology.

His final 10 years were with Pfizer Pharmaceutical in their San Diego branch. There he was directing global projects with budgets in the hundreds of million of dollars. I whistled when I heard that.

By the way, during some of those years he was also an adjunct professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey and San Diego State University.

Meanwhile he was writing or co-writing dozens of learned papers, breaking new scientific ground. And giving invited lectures around the world.

”You know, John, all those papers had to be submitted to journals for publication. So now as an editor, I understand the nervousness and anxiety scientists go through to make their findings known to the world. I can feel sympathetic.””

Some of his exquisite pens. Carole checks for the most beautiful.

He’s also been a speaker at conferences for scientists. Sometimes THE speaker. He told me that one time he was invited to speak in Moscow, not just to Russian scientists, but to a gathering of European pharmaceutical scientists.

He noticed what I was thinking. He smiled.”Yes, I spoke in English. It was translated because my Russian is very poor.”

Now let me tell you about Larry, the artist.

He told me, “Back when I was in middle school I took what was called ‘shop’ classes. You know, where you get to learn the basics of carpentry, draftsmanship, wiring, auto repair, and so on.

“But sad to say, a lot of folks today don’t consider that very important classwork. I think that it is. It gives kids an idea of what they might like to do in life. Or not like to do.

“Well, I made a garbage can and carved a bowl. I was proud of them. And I did that with my hands. I liked that a lot. I thought it was a lot more important than building model planes and gliders, which was just fun. And that had much to do with my becoming a woodturner.”

But first, he became a woodworker. Still is. He took me to his home. A lovely, very modern, large two-story house. Lovely, take my word for it.

Larry did much of the work in modifying it to his and Carole’s tastes.

He moved walls. He installed doors. He built closets and shelves and cabinets. In fact, he built the fine open staircase to the second floor with wonderful cherry woodwork.

Well, now about his woodturning. He led me into his shop, a one-car garage. I looked around for a full three minutes.

Here are just a few of his creations. Notice the variety. And that  smile! A happy man!

The centerpiece was a massive lathe. The walls were lined with the largest array of woodworking tools that I have ever seen. All meticulously positioned.

On one wall, dozens of woodworker’s chisels with razor-sharp blades, narrow and broad, some flat, some curved.

In corners here and there, large stockpiles of assorted blocks of wood. Some lighter in color, some darker. Many of them exotics from many parts of the world. Many rare, many I have never heard of. All in readiness for whatever new project he might undertake.

My quick impression: Larry would need a lifetime, maybe two lifetimes, to transform all those blocks of wood into finished items.

First, he donned a woodworker’s jacket, making sure every button was fastened.

Then he said, “John, please stand back while I do this.”

Then he turned on the lathe. He already had a block of wood locked in the chuck. Now with his long woodturning tool precisely poised in both hands, he deftly positioned the blade against the block. A whirlwind of chips began to fly. Whew!

I got the idea. I saw the fine and precise way he would transform this raw block of wood into the final work of art he had in mind.

Later he showed me samples of his finished pieces. Some small, some large. Some of a uniform diameter, such as for ballpoint pens.

Some of compound diameters, such as for beautiful, one-of-a-kind salt and pepper shakers. Many embellished with exquisite inlays in various colors, some totally unique. Intended as proud possessions. Or impressive gifts. Or collector’s pieces.  He even had some beautiful Christmas ornaments made from rare woods and sea urchin shells.

It’s not surprising that an interesting assortment of his pieces are offered for sale at the Suite 1 Gallery on the Embarcadero down on our waterfront. Lots of tourists there.

Well, I believe my telling you only about Larry Truesdale, Scientist, would have been reason enough to justify this post.

And that telling you about Larry Truesdale, Woodturner / Artist,  definitely merits those two exclamation marks I added up top.







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