“As I look back over 70+ years of life, there were a few rare and unforgettable moments.”* written by Ed around 2011, while chronicling “Ed’s experiences.”
Edward Johnson Stevens was born to Roy Brooks and Helen Mauldin Stevens on February 2nd, 1938 in the small town of McCormick in upstate South Carolina. As the oldest of six children (Ed, Allen, Bobby, Judy, Linda, Nancy), Ed spent his childhood fishing and hunting around Lake Hartwell on his family’s land. In his early years he was always tinkering with something, taking more than one radio apart. His habit of taking things apart to figure out how they worked would last for more than a few years into the future.
Ed graduated from Daniel High School in 1956 before pursuing a Bachelor’s of Science in Electrical Engineering at Clemson University. Ed briefly moved up north to Long Island, NY for his first job out of college at Hazeltine Electronics. But bigger things were calling as America plunged headfirst into the Space Race. In 1961, Ed headed down to Cape Canaveral, Florida to work for RCA Service Company. Ed began to work to support the Air Force’s ships and stations with telemetry equipment. Specifically, his job was to help Range Safety make decisions on whether a missile was off course during the launch phase of flight, and to destroy those that were. Ed’s apartment directly overlooked the Atlantic Ocean. “You could go to one of the causeways connecting the mainland with route A1A, hold a light down near the water, and dip out more shrimp than you could eat in a week. It was an exciting time to be alive and have work that was so challenging.”
One night in 1961, Ed was doing his laundry in a different laundromat than usual. He saw a “beautiful young lady doing her laundry and trying to fend off the palmetto bugs and roaches that seemed to invade everything with lights at night.” Ed “joined in the fight” and introduced himself. Ed learned that this was not her regular laundromat either. Ed started dating Marie Dagenhart, a schoolteacher who had also recently moved to Florida. They enjoyed listening to Ed’s records and hanging out on the beach together.
Ed met someone who worked for Hughes Aircraft Company out of California, which inspired him to apply for a Hughes job in Culver City, California. Marie’s school year was wrapping up, and Ed was only supposed to be in California for three months. In the summer of 1962, before Ed left for California, he proposed to Marie at her Aunt Lois and Uncle Barney Barnhardt’s house in China Grove, North Carolina. They planned to get married in Cape Canaveral when Ed returned in three months.
Soon after arriving in California, Ed learned that Hughes had transferred him to Culver City permanently to test and modify a system used to detect submarines. Ed and Marie decided to get married in California instead, “so she flew out and I slept on the floor of my apartment for a couple of days until I could find a couple of witnesses for the wedding.” Ed and Marie were married on September 28, 1962 in the Frank Lloyd Wright Wayfarers Chapel, an all-glass church with spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. “We got married in the morning and drove most of the day to spend our honeymoon in Yosemite National Park in Northern California.”
Ed was assigned to work on the Surveyor Program. The goal was to develop and launch unmanned lunar missions to complete a soft-landing on the moon and take photos and gather data that was needed for the Apollo manned landing program. Ed and Marie stayed in California in 1964, until Ed was transferred back to Cape Canaveral to be part of the Surveyor launch team. Project Mercury was also going on at this time, which put the first man in space orbiting around the Earth. The “Mercury Seven” astronauts that NASA would later select to fly on Project Mercury were in Cape Canaveral at the same time as Ed and Marie. They frequently saw Alan Sheppard tooling around in his red sports car, and dancing at the Holiday Inn.
Ed and Marie lived on Switch Grass Island in Florida, where they enjoyed boating and fishing. In early 1966, Marie found out she was pregnant. During this time, Ed was working on the first Surveyor mission. Speculation was that the moon surface wouldn’t support the weight of the spacecraft, but on June 2nd, 1966, Ed watched as the Surveyor I successfully landed on the moon for the first time in American history. Just three months later, Shannon Adair Stevens was born. “I don’t think any parent in the history of humanity has been as lucky as we were for her to join us in our journey across the world.”
Faced with a decision to move back to California, Ed and Marie instead decided to find jobs on the East Coast. In 1968, Ed accepted a job with Ling Temco Vought (LTV) at NASA in Langley, Virginia. Ed worked on a program in support of the Apollo Program that developed a way to transmit signals through the ion sheath that surrounds a spacecraft on reentry. After moving around to Newport News and Gloucester, Virginia, Ed and Marie decided they wanted to settle in South Carolina for Shannon to finish school in one spot. “We bought a house in Aiken, S.C. in 1974. We gave Shannon a place to come home to.”
In 1976, Saudi ARAMCO recruited Ed to install pipelines that would connect the Persian Gulf to the oilfields inland in Saudi Arabia. While there, Ed visited one of the oldest cities in the world. Shannon and Marie stayed back in South Carolina, so Ed looked for a job closer to home. He landed with the Department of Energy’s Savannah River site in 1978, where he worked for the next twenty years.
Shannon followed in her father’s footsteps and studied engineering at the University of South Carolina. While there, she rescued Huckleberry the dog from a kill shelter. When Shannon graduated and moved to Hawaii, Huckleberry came to live with Ed and Marie. Huckleberry was the son Ed never had. Huckleberry came on many adventures with Ed and Marie, including to Vienna, Austria in 1989. Ed was on loan from the Department of Energy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). From there, Ed, Marie, and Huckleberry travelled all over Europe and loved meeting new people. They entertained many friends and family who came to visit while they were overseas. Ed particularly loved traveling for work to Norway, Switzerland, and Sweden.
Ed retired from the Department of Energy in 1998. He went back to Austria as a consultant several times, then fully retired. In his retirement, he enjoyed visiting his extended family in Clemson, South Carolina for Thanksgiving and Shannon and her family in Virginia Beach, Virginia and the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Ed also conducted lots of internet research on a variety of interesting topics, and attended weekly lunches at the Crossroads Café in Aiken, South Carolina with old work friends Henry, Guy, Bert, Bill, and others. Ed also developed a lasting friendship with best-selling author Lisa Wingate (Before We Were Yours), who dedicated her wonderful book, Dandelion Summer, to him. Ed also greatly enjoyed his walks in the woods behind his house, down at Gem Lakes, and in the Hitchcock Woods.
Ed and Marie moved to a Virginia Beach assisted living community to be closer to their daughter and her family in 2019. While there, Ed enjoyed sitting on the porch and talking with new friends, reminiscing, and coming to visit Shannon and Wick to eat his favorite meal of a Bubba’s crab cake.
Ed passed away on February 9th, 2021 in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He is survived by his wife, Marie, his daughter Shannon, his son-in-law, Wick, his grandchildren, Halley and Sam, his Uncle, Tom Mauldin (Robbye), sister Nancy Murphy (Forest), brother-in-law Mike Greico, sister-in-law Bonnie Dagenhart, and many nieces, nephews, and great nieces and nephews. Ed was explicit in his wishes for us to not hold a funeral for him. He wanted to be cremated and he wanted us to scatter his ashes in places that he loved. We will honor those wishes. In lieu of a funeral, please remember Ed by sharing a memory below. The memories you provide will be downloaded by Ed’s family to make a keepsake album.
At Ed’s death, everyone is asking his family, “what can I do? What can I do?” Here’s what Ed would want you to do: love on a pet, passionately support a sports team, donate to a favorite charity, read something new, investigate an interesting problem (bonus points if you solve it), or take a long walk in the woods. Ed was inspired by a gravestone he came across and mentioned this quote often: “when time is up for you, do not let history record you as a non-entity; go, do, accomplish.” Know that history has recorded all of Ed’s accomplishments. Know that Ed is smiling as he embarks on his final adventure amongst the stars.