Arthur W. Hesse

Until the mid-1980s, Maryland and DC people had to travel to Baltimore to find regular meetings. We were welcomed by the Chesapeake Chapter, but the trip deterred some. Art Hesse removed this obstacle by resurrecting the George Washington Chapter.

Everyone who knows Art sees his helpfulness: “He’s one of the good ones,” a contractor volunteered. You also see his intelligence and love of learning. He’ll share a “Ya know, Dave . . .” in the certainty that you would enjoy learning some choice fact just as much as he did. Or there’s his appreciation for the information he gets from seminars, even seminars on subjects he himself could have taught. They almost always provide something.

There’s history behind this. Arthur W. Hesse was born in a small town in Wisconsin. His father was a good-hearted carpenter who died helping a neighbor try to save his barn. His mother, grade school educated, taught her sons to value learning.

Art learned early to be hardworking—after his father died, when he was eight or nine, he and his brothers took on every odd job they could, to cope.

Art wasn’t at the University of Wisconsin a year when he volunteered for the Army Air Corps, enlisting to become—who’d have guessed?—a meteorologist.

The Air Force sent him to Reed College for meteorology, to Yale for electronic systems, then to the Air Force Institute of Technology for a BSEE equivalent. After he aced the course, they turned around and had him teach. He won his MSEE (and P.E.) at Stanford, earning top grades.

At his first station, a remote air base in Alaska with a stand-alone generation and distribution system, he developed an interest in power wiring. However, for twenty years he served as a staff engineer at various bases and the Pentagon, handling various aspects of management, from politics to logistics. He ran satellite communication research, headed the Air Force’s electronic countermeasures development program—even completed a tour at ARPA, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (a.k.a. DARPA).

The mild-spoken colonel retired on January 1, 1975, after thirty-three years of service. Prince Georges County, Maryland, was advertising for a chief electrical inspector, and he applied. The head of the building department was excited to have Art for the job. He gained his staff’s support quickly, and they gladly gave this low-voltage engineer the benefit of their experience as electricians.

Art enjoyed his twenty years with Prince Georges County, experiencing the utmost respect from the electrical contractors, with just three or four exceptions. When problems were brought to him, Art managed to sort things out equitably, whether permits needed untangling or contractors needed someone who could resolve Code issues calmly.

Then the political climate changed. Over Art’s protest, the decision-makers chose to economize, first by turning residential inspection over to multi-hats and then by closing down the commercial electrical inspection department and having third-party inspectors take over. Art decided it was time to retire.

However, the mayor of Laurel, Maryland, drafted him: “Just set up an electrical inspection program. Please, we’ll find people to do the work.” For the next decade, Art inspected Laurel’s wiring. At this point in his career, he certainly didn’t need the money. He did it because he enjoyed the people. Even though he doesn’t live in Laurel, Art felt like a member of a big family up there.

In late 2006, though, he developed cancer. They thought they nailed all the malignancy with a combination of surgery and radiation, but it was not so. Recently, Art learned that he has leukemia. His wife drives him for cell transfusions, and he persists, but he will not survive this.

Art Hesse will leave an enviable legacy, both in his son and grandchildren, and in the effects he has had on the electrical community of Maryland and the greater D.C. area. He was a likable leader who made people want to cooperate in doing things right.

David Shapiro
David Shapiro has been a licensed electrical contractor and consultant in the Washington, DC area for a bit over thirty years. He's also IAEI-certified as an inspector (both general and 1-2 family) and plan reviewer. Maryland and Washington, D.C. have authorized him to perform third-party inspections, focusing on residential work. As a member of IAEI, you probably know him best as secretary of the George Washington Chapter--that is, unless you read his long-running Residential Wiring column in Electrical Contractor. At the same time as he's worked with his tools, he's written and edited articles, columns and books. He is proudest of Old Electrical Wiring and Your Old Wiring, and of his selection by Creighton Schwan to co-author Behind the Code.