Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Meet the inspiration for building R2-D2

Over the years of building R2-D2, I've explained what motivated me to take on such a big project but really never gone into great detail.  Usually when people ask what prompted such a great project, some of the details gets lost...or so much information overwhelms people.

I've given this some deep thought over the past few months.  

R2 and I pop onto the radar every now and then with local media and beyond.  From local appearances at charity events, pediatric visits with the kids to really need things, like a mention in Sarah Smiley's wonderful book, "Dinner With The Smileys".  

Let's start with introducing you to my God Son, Jake Libby.  

Jake's Mom, D'Arcy (Davis) Libby used to babysit my brother and I as kids.  We grew up knowing D'Arcy and her big family, from going to the same Catholic School, attending the same church and watching her grow up, get married and start a family.  I had just graduated high school (1988) when Jake was born.  

As with all family stories with relatives, time flew by.  We all get wrapped up in our own lives yet manage to cross paths at various events, holidays, church and so on.  Then my parents shared with me that Jake was sick, he has a brain tumor.  Over the weeks and months, he had surgery, cancer treatment and seemed to be bouncing back.  Then he started to get sick again and we heard the news you never want to hear...another brain tumor.  A more aggressive one.  

Over the weeks and months, Jake fought it.  His family, friends and countless medical staff, charity groups and volunteers did all they could to keep his spirits up.  Children's Miracle Network, Make A Wish, the Maine Air National Guard among the ones I can recount at this writing, did so much for our Jake.

On October 1st, 1995, Jake died.  He was 6.

What made a huge impression on me was the love so many showed to Jake and other children in the hospital facing a terminal illness.

Fast forward to 2003.  I'm recovering from hand surgery and watching the new STAR WARS prequels with friends.  We start talking about R2-D2 and wonder if its remote controlled or is there a midget inside.  I do some Google searches with my friend Jim and among the results are people who have built their own R2-D2s.

Looking at the various pages, I see some of the fun these guys are having with their droids.  The pictures they post show the places they have taken their R2s and the kids and adults love it!

More searches bring me to the R2 Builders Group on Yahoo.  Here is their central message board (now largely moved along to their website).  After a lot of reading and research, a few weeks later, I have my first R2-D2 part....R2's "radar eye".  The build has begun.

After seeing the amazing smiles from the photos I have seen from other builders, I know exactly where an R2-D2 will be welcome.  

As R2 slowly comes together over the next few years, I work with the Child Life Specialists at Eastern Maine Medical Center, letting them know what I am building and my hopes to become a frequent visitor to the Pediatric Floor.  

R2's first major part-fit test in 2008

We worked together to address the obvious concerns of safety.  I also test the paint and finish on the disinfectant wipes we will use on the floor.  The last thing we want to do is loose paint after devoting all that time to a good paint job.  We also make sure there are no sharp edges for kids to be hurt touching R2. Working with Child Life Specialists, we sort out a process for doing pediatric visits and 4 years later, it still works great.

Visiting the Barbara Bush Children's Hospital in Portland, Maine in 2011

The end result is a fantastic R2-D2 replica that is well known in this community for spreading cheer and good will to sick children.  We also participate in countless other charity work, fundraising, school visits and more.  The amazing looks on kids' faces when R2 enters the room never gets tiring to me.  R2-D2 is a very popular little robot and seldom do people notice the guy holding two remotes to control it!

But its a wonderful thing to be able to give back.  And seeing that first hand with my God Son Jake is what makes this R2-D2 so special.  And that's the mission R2 and I have, paying it forward, one smile at a time.

Here's some pictures of Jake I'd like to share with you.

At Jake's First Communion (scanned from his Mom's scrapbook)

The 101st (Maine Air Guard) did so much for Jake, here he is at the controls of the KC-135