During his two decades at the Magnet Lab, technician John Farrell made just about every part of a working magnet system, from probes to pipes. He helped build robots, too — as a mentor for the two-year-old Robotics Club at Tallahassee’s SAIL High School.
"John was very instrumental in producing all the magnet components from the first Tallahassee-grown magnet," said engineer Scott Bole. "He’s very clever."
Unlike many of today’s younger machinists, Bole added, Farrell knows how to manually create a part as well as how to direct a machine to do it.
"I truly was amazed at the knowledge he had to offer," co-worker Andy Rubes added. "His ability to think outside the box was inspirational. He would modify any tool or machine in order to complete a job."
Teachers at SAIL said Farrell’s multilevel skills made him a natural for working with the Robotics Club kids.
"John is great," said math teacher Mike Wohlgemuth. "He motivated the kids and got stuff done. He embodies the spirit of what it’s all about: Let’s learn things. The kids love him."
"I don’t think we could have competed (in a statewide robot competition) this year without John’s help," said JaSun Burdick, the Robotics Club’s advisor and the school’s math and physics teacher. "He’s been really great. We need more John Farrells."
Farrell, 57, was diagnosed with advanced melanoma shortly after Christmas last year, which triggered his early retirement from the Magnet Lab in March.
"John has some great friends out there, and he’s really going to miss everybody," said wife Marlene Farrell. "Our daughter Melissa was just about raised at the MagLab."
Melissa, 18, is a senior at SAIL and volunteered at the Robotics Club with her dad until he became too ill to continue.
"He was going over there two and three times a week," Marlene said. "It was something that she and her father could do together, but then when he got too sick, it made her really sad to go without him."
The Robotics Club team of 16 students — who call themselves the “Octo-π-rates” — kept their mentor’s spirit close, however, by christening the robot they created and entered in state competitions "The Farrell Beast."
"John really liked that," his wife said.
Other MagLab technicians and scientists have also helped the Robotics Club, John was quick to say, including Bole, Willie Nixon, Kurt Cantrell, Jerris Hooker and Vaughan Williams.
"John will be missed for his skills and sense of humor," said Williams, a research engineer. "I wish him the best in retirement."