dan totheroh

Dan Totheroh


Center for Diverse Leadership in Science

Support from family and community, a love of the out-of-doors,
inquisitiveness and constant tinkering, a learning disability and athletics
were significant influences on Dan’s life.

As a youngster, Dan spent most of his time roaming the hills behind his
home in a small town north of Los Angeles, observing nature and the
critters in it. When he wasn’t in the hills, he was tinkering with motors,
plumbing fixtures and old clocks, trying to figure out how things worked. If it
moved, he took it apart and usually was able to put it together again.

In school, he thrived in classes with problem solving and logic and failed
miserably at anything that required reading, spelling and memorization.
In high school he got awards as the top science and math student in his
class of 300 plus students despite having a third grade reading ability. As a
senior, based on recommendations from his teachers, he got an unsolicited
request to work after school as an engineering aid at a local mechanical
engineering company. That work and the realization that he would
probably not survive college as a biology student, started Dan on a long
road to a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering.

It took Dan seven years to get that degree. In addition to his engineering
studies, significant amounts of time were spent as a track and field athlete,
distance running and race walking. He also worked while in school as a
hydrographer, a breakfast cook for 1,200 dorm students and a carpenter.
Despite these distractions and his reading problems, with the support from
many plus lots of hard work, he got that degree. To the displeasure of his
family, he skipped his college graduation to compete in an invitational track
meet in the LA coliseum.

After graduation, Dan was able to combine his love of the outdoors with his
new degree and went to work for the for the U.S. Forest Service as an
engineer. During his 30 years with the F.S. he worked on 6 forests in
California where he specialized in small water systems and designed and
built horizontal well drilling equipment. He managed organizations of over 400 employees. And somehow, Dan found a way to be successful despite his inabilities.

Once “retired”, he got requests from local small water companies to
operate their system. When someone asks for help, Dan has a hard time
saying no and he took on the operation of eleven systems, including those
of three schools. During those years, he also volunteered hundreds of
hours a year at the local High School, leading an effort to upgrade their
auditorium and training and mentoring students in the art of theater lighting
and sound operation.

One evening, 6 years ago, during the installation of a new-state-of-art
sound system at the school, Dan fell ill and was taken to the hospital. That
next morning, an MRI revealed a small walnut size tumor in the center of
his brain. Two weeks later, after a successful 5 1/2 hour operation, the
surgeon told Dan that he had likely had that mass in his head most, if not
all, of his life and it was in the area where memories are channeled.

During the long months of recovery and now maybe having the new tool of
memory at his disposal, Dan noticed that he could do things that he had not
been able to do before. He could remember in ways that he couldn’t and
he was starting to be able to read. Recognizing that a period of re-training
lay ahead, Dan began reading actively.

With his new found skills, Dan now works part time for the New Jersey
Institute of Technology at a local radio observatory where he does a variety
of technician/engineering tasks for scientists and students doing solar
research. Additionally three years ago, he was convinced by his neighbors
to run for a local political office. After exceeding 50% of the votes by 1 1/2
votes (yes every vote counts!) in a primary election with 3 candidates, Dan
is now a member of the Board of Supervisors setting policy for Inyo County.

A quotation from UCLA basketball coach John Wooden says it all: “Do not
let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”