Memories of my Brother

My brother, William Randy Rainwater, died 8 Feb 2019 from complications of Parkinson’s Disease. His death resulted in a lot of reminiscing about him and I thought I’d write down a few memories while they were on my mind.

I grew up in a family with five children. Randy was the oldest and I was youngest, so there was quite an age gap between us. In my early years, I just thought he was another adult who lived in the house. And I think he, as an early teen, didn’t really want to hang out with a pre-schooler, so we barely knew each other. Randy started college in Illinois around the time my family moved to Irving, Texas. I started first grade that year. At the end of Randy’s freshman year, he also moved to Irving and lived at home again while completing his education at UTA in Arlington. My Dad converted our garage into an additional bedroom for Randy, complete with the cheesy fake wood paneling that was popular in the 1970s. In the early days in Irving, my only distinct memories of Randy are from Christmas and other holidays. But by the time I started middle school, Randy and I began to get to know each for the first time. I suppose the age difference seemed less significant as I got older.

Randy, my dad, and I at the first Christmas in the Irving, Texas house.

I remember being fascinated by, and a little envious of, Randy’s garage bedroom. It was on the other side of the house from my parents’ bedroom and had a lock on the door. The idea of locking the door and keeping the parents at bay while talking to friends on the phone or doing whatever you wanted seemed very utopian to me. Randy’s room was always a mess but it was interesting mess.

Randy goofing off in his room with a plastic bubble wrap bag on his head

One day when I visited his garage room, he had dozens of two foot long wooden dowels and was cutting plastic tubing into little 3 or 4 inch sections. He was going to build a geodesic dome, he said. He was using the plastic tubing to connect dowels together two at time. Then he took three pairs of dowels and put a bolt through the plastic tubes in the center, forming the vertices of the six triangles that make up a hexagon. His plan was to then assemble all the hexagons into a dome. I don’t think he ever got that far though. Eventually all the components vanished from his room (years later I rediscovered the partially assembled dome pieces in our attic).

Another time, there were electronics parts scattered all over the carpeted floor of his room: discrete LEDs in red, yellow, orange, and green, some 7 segment LED numeric displays, ICs, and a 45 degree angle joint of 4 inch PVC pipe. Randy said he was going to build a digital clock and use the pipe joint as the case. He was going to cut a red plastic bezel to fit one of end of the pipe. We sat around on the floor lighting up LEDs with batteries and I was thoroughly fascinated by it all. The clock never got finished and the parts remained lying in piles in his room for several years; a fate that has met many an electronic hobbyist’s project. I shared his interest in electronics; maybe even picked it up from seeing him work on projects like this.

Not all his projects were abandoned but those two stand out for me because I found both particularly fascinating. Randy was also interested in hi-fi audio equipment and built his own three way speakers in hand-made, stained wood cabinets. He used them with his tube amplifier (this was not a retro thing; at that time tube amps were actually the conventional type of high end audio amplifier). He had some sort of DIY 8-Track tape deck that looked like he’d taken a car 8-Track player and bolted it to a piece of wood with a connected 12V power supply. I enjoyed watching it because you could see all the mechanics of the tape head changing tracks as it played. He also had a reel-to-reel tape deck for recording. And he was particularly proud of a new hi-fi stereo cassette recorder deck that was the latest technology.

He had a pair of microphones for the cassette deck and we spent a lot of time playing with it, recording ourselves or other family members doing dumb things, the sort of things kids today would record as video on their phones and post to YouTube. Back then we thought it was funny to hear your own voice on a recording saying stupid things because it was so novel. He was always looking for unusual sounds to record. Once, when we were having plumbing problems and a plumber had dug up the sewer line in the back yard, he stuck the microphone through a vent hole in one of the pipes and had me flush the upstairs toilet a few times. The result sounded like a recording of a roaring tsunami and we had a lot of fun playing it for people and having them guess what it was.

I remember Randy in those years listened to an eclectic assortment of vinyl records: Al Hirt, The Doors, Henry Mancini, The Moody Blues, any record with soundtrack music from spy movies or tv shows. He was a huge fan of “I Spy” as well as the older James Bond and Matt Helm movies. He also listened to an obscure comedic radio program called Chicken Man about an unlikely super-hero. I and occasionally some other friend or family member would join Randy in his garage bedroom to hear the latest weekly adventure of Chicken Man. Many years later, I ran across someone online who had worked at the radio station where Chicken Man was recorded and I was able to buy a complete set of episodes on cassette tapes that I gave to Randy as a birthday gift.

Randy moved to his own home in Irving after he was out of college but I still saw him fairly regularly. He worked for a succession of computer-related companies and by the time I was a Junior in high school, he was working with a company that made custom energy management systems for large buildings. They had a contract to do an energy management system to control HVAC at the Loews Anatole Hotel that was going to be constructed near downtown Dallas. During the summer of (I think) 1978, Randy talked his company into hiring me to help with the project. It was my first real job and I spent most of that summer on the Anatole construction site wire-wrapping relay control boards (wire-wrapping was an older technology that’s an alternative to soldering). I had a growing interest in photography at that time and, thanks to Randy’s help getting that job, I saved enough money over the summer to buy my first camera; the newly released Canon A1 SLR, and a Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens.

Randy then began traveling a lot with the energy management company, to places like San Juan and Germany to work on other hotel energy systems. He stayed for months at a time living in hotels. He mentioned to me on more than one occasion that he thought living in hotels was the perfect lifestyle because his room was always clean when he got home in the evening and someone else took care of cleaning his clothes. I think he would have lived in hotels the rest of his life if that had been an option. He had to leave behind his beloved red Honda Civic CVCC during his travels and he generously allow me to drive it while he was gone. So I learned to drive a standard thanks to Randy’s red Honda. Every car Randy owned or leased after that little red car was a Honda Civic or Honda Accord. And he always loved telling people about his latest Honda and its gas mileage.

Randy’s First Honda

The other thing that came from Randy’s travels was his own interest in photography. He bought an inexpensive Fujica SLR so he could photograph his travels. That gave us a shared interest, and when he came back to Dallas periodically, we would go out on photo expeditions to take time exposures at night or find new locations from which to shoot the Dallas skyline. He also came along with me to photograph model rocket launches with my geeky high school friends. Our father had been interested in photography in his younger days and once we even talked him into coming along with us on a photo outing; one of the only times I remember any sort of outing with dad and both sons. Randy’s interest in photography waned when his next job didn’t require travel but for several years we had some good adventures.

Randy and myself, posing for a selfie before an evening photo expedition
Randy (standing) and myself (sitting) on a Trinity River levee, shooting the Dallas skyline. Photo was taken by my father
A photo I shot on one of our outings in 1982. Williams Square in Irving under construction

Another thing I remember about Randy is that he would frequently come up with strange phrases and some of them would become “Randyisms” that we heard a dozen times a day for years. For a few years he responded to just about anything you said to him with the phrase “how quaint”. Later it became “what a deal”. Every few years he seemed to replace his stock phrase with a new one.

Once I moved out on my own, I began to see him less often but we’d still get together a couple of times a month for one reason or another. Then, in 1992 when I started my company, NCC, Randy wanted to get in on it and joined the board of directors. He was between jobs, and for a few years, he officed at NCC and we were hanging out together again almost daily. Eventually he moved on to other full-time work.

At some point along the way, Randy realized he was interested in ballet and began taking dance classes, which eventually led to some local dance performances. It also led to him meeting a lot of young, upcoming dancers including, he told us, Brooke Burns. Brooke eventually dropped out of dance due to an injury and tried modeling and acting, where she made the big time as a Baywatch girl. Years later, I was working on a business project with some New York rock-and-rollers and crossed paths with Brooke. Our NY clients were using Las Vegas as a test site for a video networking project we were developing and I was onsite regularly. They had somehow convinced Michael Berk, the creator of Baywatch, to invest in their company. My monthly Vegas trips occasionally involved me hanging out on the fringes of the rich-and-famous crowd with Hollywood and music people. At one such event, where Michael was doing a Baywatch promotion, David Hasselhoff and Brooke Burns turned up. I managed to introduce myself to Brooke and said, “so my brother Randy is always claiming that he knows you from his dance school days in Dallas. Is that true?” She confirmed it, said lots of nice things about Randy, and borrowed my mobile phone to call Randy (he wasn’t home at the time but she left him a long voice mail, which I gather he was very happy about).

Sometime around 2005 or 2006, I don’t recall exactly when, Randy began to notice his hands shaking. It continued for several years and seemed to get worse. Everyone encouraged him to see a doctor but he was afraid of what he’d find out and didn’t want to go. Eventually, as the shaking began to affect his arms and his feet, a business associate insisted he see a doctor. Randy was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Because he had waited so long, it was fairly advanced and continued to progress rapidly despite treatment. We later learned he was also suffering from Lewy Body Dementia, which made things worse. He died in February of 2019 and donated his body to UT Southwestern to further research on Parkinson’s Disease and other neural degenerative conditions.