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Memphis-Fathers-Sons

A Father and Son Memphis Tradition

By Jeff Gatlin, P.E., 
Memphis Chapter president 2004 – 2005; 
Region VII director and regional chair (DRC) 2011 – 2014

MEMPHIS—The 2013 – 14 Society year marks the first time ASHRAE has had a president who is the son of a Presidential Member.
In the almost 70 years since the chartering of the Memphis Chapter, there have been five pairs of parent-child chapter presidents:

  • T.J. O’Brien, 1944 – 45, and Joe O’Brien, 1964 – 65
  • Charlie Schaffler, 1969 – 70, and Brian Schaffler, 2002 – 03
  • Kenneth Jack, 1974 – 75, and Evans Jack, 1998 – 99 and 2005 – 06
  • Jerry Gatlin, 2001 – 02, and Jeff Gatlin, 2004 – 05
  • Bob Colmer, 1971 – 72, and John Colmer, 2007 – 08

Not too surprisingly, all of these men have also been business partners. The five firms represented by these men are among the oldest continuously operating HVAC-related firms in the Memphis area. O’Brien Engineering was founded in 1925; Gorham-Schaffler in 1971; Engineered Mechanical Equipment in 1970; Thompson Engineers in 1949; and Computer Environment in 1977.

T.J. O’Brien is remembered today by only a handful of the chapter’s most senior members. In his era, O’Brien was considered the regional expert in steam applications, and was a published author on the subject. He was also a very conscientious person who took great pains to make sure every project he worked on was of the finest quality. Joe O’Brien continued his father’s tradition of excellence and service to the industry and local community even into retirement. He is best known by local members as an expert in the area of cooling tower applications.

In 1969, Brian Schaffler was a newborn, and the 1969 – 70 chapter president, Charlie Schaffler, was one of the top sales engineers in town. Shortly thereafter, Charlie would partner with Cliff Gorham and spend more than three decades selling various lines of equipment. Brian Schaffler started his career in Denver as a consulting engineer and ASHRAE member. Brian was made an offer he couldn’t refuse, and changed his career path to follow his father into the family business. Immediately upon his return to Memphis, Brian became involved in the chapter and served as chapter president in 2002 – 03.

Evans Jack still recounts stories of egg tosses and other chapter-sponsored family events from the days when he was a young child and Ken was “going through the chairs.” Kenneth Jack has served the chapter for the years since his presidential term in the unofficial position of Chapter Memorials chair.

Ken is dedicated and unfailingly conscientious about publically commemorating the life of every member who passes away and keeping the membership informed of those who are ill. He has recently assisted the Region VII historian and director and regional chair with the creation of Chapter Memorials chair positions in all 13 of Region VII’s chapters. Evans Jack is dedicated to the chapter leadership tradition that he agreed to return to serve a second presidential term and then chair the 2008 Region VII Chapters Regional Conference.

Thus far, Evans is the only two-term president in the chapter’s history. Evans continues to serve as a member of the Chapter Board of Governors, where he keeps an experienced eye on the next generation of leaders.

Unique among the group, Jerry Gatlin and Jeff Gatlin (pictured) served as chapter officers at the same time. The other four sons served 20 to 30 years after their fathers. Jeff was elected to the chapter’s Board of Governors on the same day that Jerry was elected chapter secretary. Jerry stands out among the consulting engineers in the Memphis Chapter because he has spent his entire 52-year (and counting) career with the same employer, rising from junior HVAC draftsman to president of the firm. Jeff’s ASHRAE involvement moved from the chapter level, to a term as regional vice chair, and then on to the Board of Directors as Region VII director and regional chair.

On July 1, 1953, Robert P. (Bob) Colmer, Jr. was enrolled as a Charter Member of the Mid-South Section of the American Society of Refrigeration Engineers (ASRE). A few years later, ASRE merged with the American Society of Heating and Ventilation Engineers (ASHVE) to form ASHRAE, and the Memphis Chapter was born. Bob was an active member of the chapters from its founding until just months before his passing in late 2012. He was the last member of either of the predecessor organizations to remain active in the chapter.

Like Brian Schaffler, John Colmer tried his hand at other endeavors before returning to the fold and joining his father at Computer Environment. John rose quickly in the esteem of his colleagues and in his involvement with the chapter. Though his presidential term ended in 2008, John always remains willing to give advice and assistance to the newer group of chapter leaders.

Years ago, before there was Young Engineers in ASHRAE (YEA) or a Society-wide priority to include members under the age of 35 in chapter leadership, former DRC Hal Lunsford noted during a visit to the Memphis Chapter that he thought the primary reason for the chapter’s tradition of success was the balance of senior members, mid-career members and junior members who took active leadership roles.

This is still reflected in the father-son leadership tradition. A visitor could drop in at any random Memphis Chapter event and see half of these members still in attendance, and still active in the affairs of the chapter.