Loren Steffy, Houston Chronicle
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
11:30 AM - 1:30 PM
Westchase Marriott Hotel
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J. Richard “Dick” Steffy stood inside the limestone hall of the Crusader castle and looked at the wood fragments arrayed before him. They were old beyond belief. For more than two millennia they had remained on the sea floor, eaten by worms and soaking up seawater until they had a consistency of wet cardboard. There were some 6,000 pieces in all, and Steffy's job was to put them all back together in their original shape like some massive, ancient jigsaw puzzle.
He had volunteered for the job even though he had no qualifications for it. For twenty-five years he'd been an electrician in a small, land-locked town in Pennsylvania. He held no advanced degrees – his understanding of ships was entirely self-taught. Yet he would find himself half a world away from his home town, planning to reassemble a ship that last sailed during the reign of Alexander the Great, and he planned to do it using mathematical formulas and modeling techniques that he'd developed in his basement as a hobby.
Steffy would become the first person ever to to reconstruct an ancient ship from its sunken fragments. Blessed with abundant technical skills and an encyclopedic knowledge of naval history, Steffy said ships spoke to him. This intuition often guided him as he pored over the misshapen remnants of centuries-old vessels. His journey would take him to dozens of countries, working on scores of shipwrecks. Steffy would join a team that included friend and fellow scholar George Bass to lay a foundation for the field of nautical archaeology. He eventually moved to Texas A&M University, where his lack of the usual academic credentials caused him to be viewed with some initial skepticism by the university’s administration. However, his impressive record of publications and his skilled teaching eventually led to his being named a full professor.
Steffy went on to devote the next thirty years to the study, reconstruction and modeling of submerged wrecks, winning a prestigious MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant. He trained most of the preeminent scholars in the emerging field of nautical archaeology, and his research and publications still define the methods in use today.
Richard Steffy’s son Loren, an accomplished journalist, has mined family memories, archives at Texas A&M and elsewhere, his father’s papers, and interviews with former colleagues to craft not only a professional biography and adventure story of the highest caliber, but also the first history of a field that continues to harvest important new discoveries from the depths of the world’s oceans.
Loren Steffy, Business Columnist
Loren Steffy is the business columnist for the Houston Chronicle. His column appears on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, and he writes a daily blog (http://blog.chron.com/lorensteffy/) that discusses business topics. He has appeared on CNBC, Fox Business, the BBC and the PBS NewsHour.
He is the author of Drowning in Oil: BP and the Reckless Pursuit of Profit published by McGraw-Hill in 2010 and The Man Who Thought Like a Ship, published by Texas A&M University Press in April 2012.
Before joining the Chronicle in April 2004, Steffy was Texas bureau chief and a senior writer for Bloomberg News in Dallas for 12 years. He covered a variety of business topics in Texas and across the country, including the collapse of Enron. Steffy is a three-time finalist for the Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism, the business news equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. His reporting has won numerous state and national awards, and his coverage of the collapse of Arthur Andersen was selected for the 2003 edition of the “Best Business Stories of the Year.”
Steffy has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Texas A&M University, and he is a member of the professional advisory board for Texas Tech University’s School of Media and Mass Communication.