A Kelowna man with a passion for slide rules was recently featured in the New York Times, after his death last fall.
Avionics engineer Walter Shawlee called Kelowna home for many decades, starting his company Northern Airborne Technology - an avionics and research and development company – with his wife Susan in 1979 in Prince George, before later relocating to Kelowna.
He died in Kelowna back on Sept. 4, 2023.
Shawlee had many interests over his long, storied life, and worked as an electronics engineer, teacher and entrepreneur. But it was his love of the slide rule, a hand-operated mechanical calculator that predated the digital calculator, that got him featured in a New York Times article this past week.
Dubbed the “Sovereign of Slide Rules” in the Feb. 8 story, the piece detailed Shawlee's fascination with the outdated technology, noting that he collected thousands of the devices over several decades.
In the late 90s, Shawlee created a website dedicated to the slide rule, and he began buying, fixing and reselling old slide rules.
The New York Times says Shawlee was earning $125,000 a year in the early 2000s, fixing and reselling slide rules. His unique website developed a subculture of its own, the New York Times reports, connecting him with enthusiasts from all over the world.
He even sold slide-rule cuff links and tie clips on his website.
Shawlee sold his company, Northern Airborne Technology, in 1992, but it continued its avionics manufacturing in Kelowna until 2009. Anodyne Electronics Manufacturing Corp., named Kelowna's large business of the year last year, grew out of NAT when it ceased its operations in town.
Shawlee “dedicated himself to the development of future generations,” according to his obituary, and mentored many young people working in STEM fields as a teacher at Okanagan University College.
“His innovation, creativity, and charity have left a lasting mark on the world far beyond the borders of the city he settled in, and his work is still keeping the skies safe today,” his obituary reads.