18 December 2023

Gerry Commerford,
aerospace engineer
who worked with NASA
on the Space Shuttle

Gerard (Gerry) Lawrence Commerford (1934-2012) was an aerospace engineer who worked on the Space Shuttle

Gerard (Gerry) Lawrence Commerford (1934-2012), who lived in retirement in Irvine, California, was descended from a branch of the family who had emigrated from Kilkenny to New York in the mid-19th century, and both his paternal grandparents, Timothy Commerford and Anna (Comerford) Commerford, were members of this family.

He is often referred to today as the father of Tim Commerford, best known as the bassist and backing vocalist with the rock band Rage Against the Machine. But Gerry Commerford is also remembered as an aerospace engineer who worked on the Space Shuttle.

This branch of the family can be traced back to:

John Commerford of New York, who married Margaret Carboy. Margaret died on 15 January 1899, and John Commerford died on 14 December 1914. They were the parents of:

Timothy Carboy Commerford (1879-1946) of New York. He was born in New York in September 1879, and died in King’s County, Brooklyn, on 2 November 1946. He married Anna (Comerford) Commerford (1875-1962), daughter of Peter Comerford (1825-1902) and Margaret Anna J (Sullivan) Comerford (1833-1911). Her father Peter Comerford was born in Kilkenny on 10 May 1825 and he died in New York on 4 October 1902.

Anna (Comerford) Commerford and Timothy Commerford were the parents of:

Eugene J Commerford ( -1968). He married Charlotte (Meisenheimer), daughter of Charles David Meisenheimer (born 1877) and Charlotte (Dyckman) Meisenheimer (1883-1973), the descendants of families with German ancestry. Charlotte Commerford died in 1973, and Eugene Commerford died in 1968. They were the parents of at least two sons:

1, Eugene Commerford.
2, Gerard (Gerry) Lawrence Commerford (1934-2012).

The second named son:

Gerard (Gerry) Lawrence Commerford (1934-2012) was born on 22 May 1934 in Greenport, Long Island, New York. He graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York, with a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering. While he was at Rensselaer, he was a member of the Theta Xi fraternity. Later, he received a master’s degree from the University of Southern California (USC) and an MBA from Pepperdine University in Los Angeles.

As an aerospace engineer and manager, Gerry began his career working on the X-15 rocket-propelled experimental plane that reached space. He spent much of his career working on the Space Shuttle programme. His leadership and technical capability played a key role in the successful Return-to-Flight of the Space Shuttle Discovery on 29 September 1988.

Among his many professional awards, he received the 1976 Gas Turbine Award for the Most Outstanding Technical Paper.

Gerry was greatly admired for his integrity and character by his colleagues at Rockwell and by the NASA officials and engineers he worked with. For the many people he supervised, he was not just a boss but ‘a true friend and mentor’, a ‘stand-up guy’, who took immense pride in making himself available to everybody, leaving his office to walk among the workers to visit and to know each person.

Gerry was athletic and enjoyed sports. He and his wife Nancy bowled for years, and Gerry hiked, biked, and played golf. One of his proudest achievements was to hike down the Grand Canyon and back up, eight months after back surgery, at the age of 66.

Gerry and Nancy also took several holidays with a great group of friends. In later years, they discovered the Elderhostel programme and their trips included a 10-day programme to all the national parks in Utah. In Gerry’s last year, he and Nancy also took up duplicate bridge and, with his competitive spirit, consistently racked up master points.

He married Bobbie Ruth (Smith), a teacher and mathematician, from Arkansas on 23 November 1957 in Los Angeles. She was the daughter of Joseph Elgin Smith (1906-1971) and Willie Mae (Murdaugh) Smith. They were divorced on 1 October 1984, and she died in 1988. They were the parents of six children:

1, Sharon, married Tom Ragghianti.
2, Patricia, married Kris Kirk.
3, Joan, married Steve …
4, Dorothy, married Paul Ervin.
5, Larry Commerford married Carrie …
6, Timothy Commerford, born on 26 February 1968, in Irvine, California. He is best known as the bassist and backing vocalist with the rock band Rage Against the Machine. He married Aleece Dimas and they are the parents of two sons, Xavier Commerford and Quentin Commerford.

After his divorce, Gerry married Nancy K Commerford, and was the stepfather of:

1, Laura Crawford
2, Bill Sheline, who married Deborah.

Gerry Commerford died at home on 3 July 2012 at the age of 78, surrounded by his wife Nancy and his children after a courageous battle with lung cancer. He was also survived by 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild, and his brother-in-law Bob (Olympia). He was predeceased by his first wife, Robbie Ruth (Smith) Commerford (1932-1988), the mother of his children, and by his brother Eugene Commerford.

His funeral services took place in Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Irvine on 27 July 2012.

Gerry Commerford played a key role in the successful Return-to-Flight of the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1988

Daily prayers in Advent with
Leonard Cohen and USPG:
(16) 18 December 2023

‘You let me sing, you lifted me up, you gave my soul a beam to travel on … let me dare the boldness of joy’ (Leonard Cohen) … street art near Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are in the countdown to Christmas in the Church, with just a week to go to Christmas Day. Yesterday was the Third Sunday of Advent or Gaudete Sunday (17 December 2023), bringing us two-thirds of the way through what is a very short Advent this year.

I have some long journeys ahead of me today. But, before the day begins, I am taking some time for prayer, reflection and reading this morning.

Throughout Advent this year, my reading and reflection each day includes a poem or song by Leonard Cohen. These Advent reflections are following this pattern:

1, A reflection on a poem or song by Leonard Cohen;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Leonard Cohen’s ‘Book of Mercy’ is a collection of psalms or short poems

The Songs and Poems of Leonard Cohen: 16, ‘You let me sing, you lifted me up’:

In my reflections this morning, I am reading one of the poems in Leonard Cohen’s Book of Mercy. This book of psalms by Leonard Cohen is a personal and powerful collection. It was first published in 1984, and was republished 35 years later in 2019 by Canongate of Edinburgh. It is a slim volume of Cohen’s contemporary psalms, and it has been elegantly repackaged.

Like the psalms, the themes in the short poems in Book of Mercy include praise, despair, anger, doubt, trust and the search for the presence of God.

Constantly, Cohen speaks of God as ‘the Name’ – Hashem (השם‎). This is a title used in Judaism to refer to God without using God’s name. Rabbinic Judaism considers seven names of God so holy that, once written, they should not be erased, and restricts the use of the names of God to a liturgical context.

When Leonard Cohen says ‘Blessed be the Name,’ he is saying ‘Blessed be God.’

Speaking from the heart of the modern world, yet in tones that resonate with an older Jewish tradition, these verses give voice to the deepest and most powerful intuitions.

This morning, I am reading one of these short poems in 4Book of Mercy (p 28):

You let me sing, you lifted me up, you gave my soul a beam to travel on. You folded your distance back into my heart. You drew the tears back to my eyes. You hid me in the mountain of your word. You gave the injury a tongue to heal itself. You covered my head with my teacher’s care, you bound my arm with my grandfather’s strength. O beloved speaking, O comfort whispering in the terror, unspeakable explanation of the smoke and cruelty, undo the self-conspiracy, let me dare the boldness of joy.

‘Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way’ (Matthew 1: 18) … Nativity scenes in a stained-glass window in Saint John the Baptist Church, Coventry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Matthew 1: 18-24 (NRSVA):

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ 22 All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23 ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,

which means, ‘God is with us.’ 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife.

The Nativity depicted in the reredos in Saint Catherine’s Chapel in Saint Peter’s Church, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Today’s Prayers (Monday 18 December 2023):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘The Joy of Advent.’ This theme was introduced yesterday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (18 December 2023, International Migrants Day) invites us to pray in these words:

Let us remember the plight of migrants around the world. May we offer them hospitality, hope and joy.

Nativity scenes in the East Window in Saint Mary’s Church, Badby, Northamptonshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Collect:

O Lord Jesus Christ,
who at your first coming sent your messenger
to prepare your way before you:
grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries
may likewise so prepare and make ready your way
by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
that at your second coming to judge the world
we may be found an acceptable people in your sight;
for you are alive and reign with the Father
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

We give you thanks, O Lord, for these heavenly gifts;
kindle in us the fire of your Spirit
that when your Christ comes again
we may shine as lights before his face;
who is alive and reigns now and for ever.

Additional Collect:

God for whom we watch and wait,
you sent John the Baptist to prepare the way of your Son:
give us courage to speak the truth,
to hunger for justice,
and to suffer for the cause of right,
with Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

Reading Leonard Cohen’s short poem ‘You let me sing’ (Book of Mercy)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org