I’m an American by birth but I’d have to say that I primarily consider myself a citizen of the planet. I’m also a generalist and a futurist by inclination and I’m deeply grounded in systems thinking – having been a computer programmer and systems analyst for 25 years.
I’ve always been omnivorous in my reading and my interests. Indeed, in college it was hard for me to decide to quit sampling the classes and to settle down and take a major and graduate.
I took a BS with honors in Microbiology in 1976 from California State University at Long Beach.
But, I’m getting ahead of my story. Let’s go back and cover the basics and then come forward.
My name is Dennis and I was born in New York in 1947. That makes me, now, at the time I am writing this, 64 years old. I’m 75% Irish and 25% German by blood. My mother, Anna Gertrude McGee, was raised in a Catholic orphanage. My father, Joseph Francis Gallagher was 31 when he met and married my mother. He was a drill instructor in the US Marine Corp. My mother was 21, fresh from the orphanage and working as a department store clerk in New York City when they met.
It was a rocky marriage and it only lasted until I was about kindergarten age. My mother and father separated and then divorced and we moved to California where I grew up from the age of 5 on.
I grew up as an only-child and I’d say my childhood was difficult but, unlike many, I came out of it without any unrepairable scars. It seemed traumatic at the time, however.
I was a high school drop-out who went back later and finished. At lot of the problems in those years were because of my mother’s alcoholism. Indeed, my maternal grandfather, my mother and my father were all alcoholics. I count myself lucky that I’ve escaped this scourge.
After graduating High School, I worked building airplanes and shooting rivets in Long Beach for McDonnell-Douglas which, at that time, was making DC8′s. I tried junior college but I was too distracted by girls and partying and, since it was 1966 and the Vietnam war was raging, that put me on the short-list for being drafted into the military. Soon the US Army was on my trail and I joined the US Air Force to avoid being drafted into the Army.
When I joined, I was Pro Vietnam war. Like most young men, I was thoughtless and full of too much testosterone, I felt we should go over there and kick their ass. The USAF trained me to be an automatic tracking radar operator and repairman. These particular radar sets were the one used throughout Vietnam to guide the many B52 strikes into their targets under ground control.
I had signed up for four years but after the first two years, I developed serious doubts about my country’s involvement in the Vietnam War. The anti-war movement was strong in the US and what they were saying resonated with me. When it came time for me to rotate to Vietnam to run the radars, I announced that I was going to refuse to go. This created quite a stir, as you can imagine. Apparently, I was the first in the US Strategic Air Command to do this and they determined, then and there, to make an example of me to cow any others who might be thinking the same thing.
But luck was with me. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but I am, and have been, a very lucky person in this life. They couldn’t court martial me unless I actually refused my orders and they couldn’t give me my orders to refuse until my group was ready to go. By luck (or perhaps because I was an excellent electronics repairman) they had assigned me to a new radar set – the first one of its kind to be deployed to Vietnam. Each time they thought it was ready to go, it would have another technical issue arise and they would delay shipping it. This kept me on pins and needles for many months but, in the end, the delay was so long that they had to take me off the assignment because I was about to get out of the service because my four years were up. So, in the end, I was discharged with an honorable discharge and I did not have to go to Vietnam or face prison. I am a lucky fellow.
About two years after I joined the Air Force I was married to Rosemarie Diane Foss and before I mustered out in October of 1970, we had a son, Daniel Martin Gallagher born September 19th, 1969.
We returned to California and I took a job again at McDonnell-Douglas. This time I was installing heating and cooling ducts in the wings of DC10′s. After doing this for about a year on night-shift, I realized that if I didn’t quit and go to college now- I probably never would – so I did.
Those were idyllic times – I loved college. I had been an indifferent student in high school but now I was on fire with excitement to learn everything. There were lots of new friends – some of whom became lifetime friends – lots of new ideas and books. I think I leaned as much from my own explorations as I did from what the university wanted me to absorb.
I graduated in 1976 and went to work for The Nichols Institute for Endocrinology. Working with radioactive antibody assays and doing research was interesting but, ultimately, it didn’t light my fire as I thought it was going to.
Towards the end of my time in college, I’d ‘discovered’ computers and I was never the same. After a year and a half at the Institute, I talked my way into a lateral transfer and after that, I was in charge of the laboratory’s data reduction computer. I knew how to program it and how to do the data reduction curve fitting math but I was completely green about what an operating system was and how one took care of a physical computer. I don’t think the laboratory realized what thin ice we were all on during the month or two it took me to assimilate these things – but, luck was with me again.
That began a computer career that lasted from 1978 until late 2001 when I was finally laid off at Motorola and I decided that our nursery business (which we bought in early 2000) was strong enough economically to support both of us.
But, let’s go backwards again. Rose and I were divorced in 1978. But, we weren’t really done with each other and on March 21, 1980, we had a second son; Christopher Brian Gallagher. We continued our relationship on and off until 1985 when we finally decide to let each other go and get on with our lives. I don’t think Rose and I were ever a good match. But, having said that, I still think she is and was an earth-mother and a wonderful and sincere person and I am still fond of her. We had our problems but we managed to remain friends and that’s more than many ex’s can say.
In about 1987, I took an unusual vacation for three weeks with a group involved in Citizen Diplomacy between the US and the USSR. For three weeks we traveled in the USSR and visited Moscow, Leningrad and several places in Central Asia. We stayed where the Russians stayed and met with party functionaries, dissidents and ordinary people of all kinds. These were the years when Gorbachev was in power and the Soviet Union was just starting to open up.
When I came home, I began to give speeches and slide shows all around in Southern California about my experiences. I’d discovered a passion for activism. This led to my being involved, not long afterwards, with another group, “Soviets Meet Middle America”, which sponsored Soviet citizens to come to America and tour here much as we’d done when we went there. For a week, we hosted four Soviets and showed them around Irvine, Laguna Beach and Disneyland.
My activism was making connections for me. In those years, Irvine, California had a progressive Democratic Mayor, Larry Agran, who was a bit of an anomaly “Behind the orange curtain”, as we used to say. Soon I was off for two weeks with the Witness For Peace group to Nicaragua to see for myself first hand what the truth was in the struggle there between the Sandinistas and the US backed Contras. Again, we met with both sides and with a lot of the common people caught in the middle of the war. It was two weeks riding around in the back of pickup trucks, sleeping on dirt floors, dodging summer rain showers, boiling our water, being careful with our food and hearing stories of killings and mutilations. When I went, I was undecided about who was right but by the time I returned, I was firmly convinced that the US was using some very dirty tricks via the Contras to oppose what was a popularly supported revolution.
Again, when I returned, there were more speeches and slide shows.
But, when I returned from Nicaragua, I also became involved with Sharon Ann Ronsse who was to become my second wife.
To be continued…