Among the recurring themes struck by those who paid tribute to the ongoing career of Johnny Foster Thursday were his energy, technical insights, "relentless" examination of assumptions, selflessness, ability to galvanize those around him to achieve extraordinary goals and the global reach of his influence.
The special events were held to honor the Laboratory's fourth director, who turned 90 last September, but who remains active as a consultant on a range of national security issues and continues to advise the Laboratory senior leadership.
In opening the afternoon tribute to Foster, Director Parney Albright called him "a great leader in national security" and "one of our founding and continuously guiding fathers."
Those who provided testimonials to Foster's career included: Ellen Tauscher, former congressional representative and undersecretary of State for arms control and national security; Harold Agnew, former Los Alamos director; Mim John, former director of Sandia National Laboratories, California; and former Lab directors Mike May, George Miller and Bruce Tarter. A pre-recorded tribute by Gen. Larry Welch of the Department of Defense was also played.
Tauscher called Foster an "indispensable American because you have been synonymous with integrity and honesty," noting his credibility and ability to work across partisan lines helped to produce a report that served as a "primer" for the most recent Nuclear Posture Review.
Clearly moved by the testimonials, Foster said "the day has been total immersion for me and I'm humbled and I don't know how to handle it."
But Foster quickly returned to form, joking "I'm grateful no one mentioned my ideas that didn't work."
He was also quick to share credit for the projects he worked on as a physicist and programs he led as a manager and director of the Laboratory from 1961-65. "A lot of people had a hand in those projects and their successful execution was because of the hard work of dozens and in some cases thousands of people," Foster said.
He ended by looking forward and addressing remarks to the Laboratory's younger employees. "The Laboratory must use its record of accomplishments to continue attracting the best and the brightest."
"I detect some malaise," Foster said, noting the budget challenges the national labs face. "Life is tough. But we all remember what the tough characteristically do when the going isn't easy."
"It's up to you to help the folks in Washington D.C. to improve processes and see the relevance of what we do for national security."
A morning roundtable before a packed Bldg. 123 auditorium reunited B Division leaders for a discussion of the weapons program's development over six decades, its impact on the Laboratory's broader national security missions and future challenges. Foster was the founding leader of B Division. He was joined by Michael May, also a former Lab director, Richard Wagner, George Staehle, Stephen Cochran, former LLNL and Los Alamos Director Michael Anastasio, Bruce Goodwin and Charlie McMillan, current director of Los Alamos National Laboratory. The roundtable was moderated by Mike Dunning, current B Division leader.
Foster also met with young researchers and recent hires in the Weapons and Complex Integration Principal Directorate.
The spirit of the events was perhaps best summarized by Gen. Welch of the Department of Defense, who extolled Foster's "relentless need to examine assumptions," refusal to "gloss over problems" and broad influence on U.S. nuclear weapons policy. "This is not a farewell, but a recognition," Welch said. "We still have a lot of work to do."