Now in his 90s, this lifelong engineer continues to learn, teach, and inspire
Victor Ham will turn 93 in August, yet he still possesses the burning curiosity he had as a boy. Curiosity, he states, is a major component to becoming a great engineer, and Victor should know. Like his father before him, Victor had a long and successful career as a sales engineer and management executive with the global industrial manufacturer Ingersoll Rand.
In 1946, after a stint in the Navy as an electronics technician on a ship in the Pacific, Victor was accepted to Cornell University, one of the country’s top-ranked universities for engineering, where he graduated with honors in 1952. He briefly considered a job as an analyst with the CIA, but looking back, Victor is happy he chose another path. He would never have had the opportunity to travel the world as he did with Ingersoll Rand. More importantly, if he’d taken the CIA job at Langley, Victor would not have met and married a southern beauty named Mary Ellen while working in Mobile, Alabama.
“I tell my children they’re lucky to be here,” laughs Victor. “Had I accepted the CIA offer instead, I would never have met their mother.”
Victor retired from Ingersoll Rand in 1983 after 31 years at a career he describes as fascinating. By 2000, he and Mary Ellen moved from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, into a home they had built in Heathrow to be closer to their children and grandchildren. They soon became active in their new community and church. When six Heathrow couples learned of Victor’s advanced expertise at the card game bridge, they requested lessons, which he and Mary Ellen were happy to host in their home. The couples dubbed themselves the Ham Group.
Another passion occupied Victor’s time. Though retired, his curious engineer’s mind was still at work. He took some courses at local colleges, but one particular topic grabbed Victor’s interest: the evolution of how the world and life began.
“Around 2002, I got serious in my readings and studies,” he says.
As Victor immersed himself into his self-directed studies, the more curious he got, and the more curious he got, the more fascinated he was by what he learned.
“I thought I could give talks on the topic if people were interested,” says Victor. “The first time I gave a talk was at my church.”
Encouraged by the reception the presentation received, he gave similar talks to senior residents at Village on the Green. That led to a talk at a company in Palm Beach and an invitation to speak in St. Louis, Missouri, to Monsanto plant scientists.
“I went to Monsanto and talked about plants and the evolution of our species from hunter-gatherers to farmers,” says Victor. “With farmland diminishing and the world population rapidly expanding, they’re doing thousands of experiments to make sure there will be enough plant food for an exploding population.”
This past April, Victor brought his enthusiasm and extensive knowledge of the origins of life to lifelong-learning classes for senior citizens at Rollins College. In a four-part series of classes, Victor gave an overview of family trees, migration, stone tools, and genetics, including the history of bipedal apes and the migration of homo sapiens out of Africa and into the world. He also covered the catastrophic flood of 5,600 BC that was likely the basis of the Genesis Bible story. To explain the origins of man in four short sessions would be daunting for some, but not for Victor, who loves learning and sharing what he knows with others.
Even today, Victor remains a prodigious learner who attributes his longevity to staying mentally and physically active.
“I still take long walks, love bird watching, and enjoy an occasional scotch,” he smiles.
Victor still lives in the Heathrow home he built and shared with his adored wife, Mary Ellen, who passed away seven years ago. It’s filled with artifacts and artwork from a lifetime of travels for work and pleasure. His home office contains a well-stocked library and scores of notes from his studies, evidence of an open and curious mind that is forever evolving.
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