A Tribute to My Brother Sheldon, Certifiable Genius on the Occasion of His Semi-Centennial

It’s a well known fact that the Searle’s are a family of unmitigated geniuses, and Sheldon is no exception. Just this afternoon, he brought his insight to bear on college basketball, saying, “There are teams that might not win against any team, but then they might win.” The rest of us were speechless in the presence of such intellect. 

Sheldon is named after our paternal grandfather, Sheldon Walter Searle, Sr., whose intelligence bordered on the clairvoyant. One day, Grandpa Sheldon came home to the family ranch after spending all day taking care of business in town. He called his clever sons together to dole out their punishment for misbehaving while he was gone. Even though they had gotten everything back in place before his return, Grandpa new exactly what they had done. Turns out, the business he went to town for was renting an airplane to fly over the ranch and spy on his kids. You did not want to try to outsmart Grandpa Sheldon.

Sheldon’s also kind of named after our Uncle Walt, Sheldon Walter Searle, Jr. During a good part of his life, Uncle Walt has earned his living demonstrating that he is much smarter than horses, cows, and other animals. That is to say he had careers both in training horses, especially horses used to herd cows, and guiding hunters. But Uncle Walt’s genius is most evident in his storytelling. It’s from Uncle Walt that we learned that our dad was no ordinary airplane pilot, but had actually flown his A-4 jet under the power lines there at the ranch. Because of Uncle Walt’s great storytelling skill, sometimes it’s not until several days later that you realize that the story couldn’t possibly be true. I mean, I’m not sure you could ROLL an A-4 under those power lines. Our dad was a great pilot, though. I remember watching him win the Yuma Aeroclub landing contest by landing ON the target stripe.

Both Mom and Dad were also geniuses. One example of this was their invention of boatless waterskiing some time around 1952. Yakima, Washington, where they grew up, was a place where agriculture was possible only because of irrigation. Consequently there were lots of irrigation canals around in those days, some of which had roadways along the banks. Our clever parents figured out that they could water ski in the canal by tying the tow rope to the bumper of a car. What a great idea! And it worked great ‘til the bumper came off the car. 

As you can see, it is no surprise that this gene pool would produce prodigious offspring. A national merit finalist, Sheldon graduated near the top of his high school class, and attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, from which he took a degree in chemical engineering. Today, if you ask him what he does for a living, he’ll have to dumb it down for you. One of the most obvious signs of Sheldon’s intelligence is the fact that he somehow talked Stephanie, a genius in her own right, into marrying him, though he nearly let it slip when he gave a particularly clever vacuum cleaner demonstration just before they got married.

When we were teenagers, Dad figured out that waterskiing was more convenient if you used a boat, so he bought one. Not long after buying the boat, Mom and Dad quit coming to the river with us, and being left to our own devices, our weekly ski trips on the Colorado River became an opportunity for our natural Searlean gifts to flourish. After only five or six tries, we figured out how to get back to the dock before running out of gas and exactly how close to a sandbar you could ski without running aground. We also came up with all kinds of cool tricks. In one of them, Sheldon and I would both be skiing along, me on two skis and Sheldon on one. With his rope just a little longer than mine, he would ski up next to me and climb from his ski onto the back of mine so that we would both be skiing on a single pair of skis. Wow! 

Our little boat had two gas tanks, and when one ran out of gas, you had to pull the gas line from the empty tank and hook it up to the full one. Being geniuses, we eventually figured out that it was not necessary to stop the boat to change the gas line. When the engine started to sputter, whoever wasn’t driving would jump down in the stern and switch the tanks before the motor died, and you could just keep right on skiing without missing a beat. It was while this was happening one day, that Sheldon conducted a really clever experiment to determine just how high you could get a boat up in a tree. Sheldon was driving along pulling a skier when the motor began to sputter. Being especially quick myself, I jumped to the task of changing the gas line. But it didn’t come loose from the empty tank right away, so the motor continued to threaten to die on us. This led Sheldon to sense a need to provide instructions, so he turned to see what I was doing. Right about then, I got the gas hooked up to the new line, which resulted in a sudden burst of acceleration followed shortly by coming to a quick and complete stop and a strange sensation of altitude. Having taken his eyes off the road, so to speak, Sheldon had driven us right up the riverbank and into the nearest tree. The whole boat was completely out of the water. No worries though. This was simply another opportunity to put our mental prowess to work. We Searles are probably the only people in the world who know how to get a small powerboat into and out of a tree.

This story explains why Stephanie was so enthusiastic about our decision to purchase a ski boat in 1996. Obviously, a couple of geniuses like us would have nothing but hours of uninterrupted fun once we got back on the water. And hardly anyone has more experience than us dealing with the little things that go wrong while boating. What could be more fun than learning to use rented hoists and pumps to deal with a little sinking issue? So as you might imagine, Stephanie’s enthusiasm reached a whole new level when Sheldon recently returned to another hobby he started in high school, flying airplanes. Now there’s an opportunity for smarts to shine!

All kidding aside, Sheldon is actually a bona fide genius, and it is one of the main blessings of my life that God led us to live in the same town and be part of the same Church. His intelligence, insight, enthusiasm, and sense of humor have sharpened my ministry in more ways than anyone knows. He is a diligent student and clear communicator of God’s word. He is a wise and committed elder who loves God’s people well because he is even more devoted to the Lord himself.


6 Replies to “A Tribute to My Brother Sheldon, Certifiable Genius on the Occasion of His Semi-Centennial”

  1. Are you also related to Dr. John Searl of “The Searl Effect?” This guy is a textbook “Genius.” Or maybe this is the black sheep of the Searl clan. I can’t tell.

  2. I don’t think we’re related to this guy. I mean, how much of a genius can he be? He doesn’t even know how to spell his own last name.

  3. Oh my gosh! I just googled John Searl of the Searl effect! Not only can he not spell, he’s an actual crack-pot inventor mad scientist. Yikes! Certifiable, but no genius. I’m sure he’s just using our name to try to persuade people that he’s an ACTUAL genius. Kind of like how apartment complexes in Antioch put “Brentwood” in their names.

    By the way, there’s another John Searle, who knows how to spell, is a real genius, and is a well known professor of philosophy at the University of California.

  4. Or is this the Missing Link? And the Searle family changed their name to not be associated. Maybe the cosmic explosion is a metaphor. Hmm.

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