Chris Barry looks back at 45 years in glass

Chris Barry had just returned from two years hitchhiking around the world when he was offered his first job with Pilkington, in Canada.

Dismayed by this evidence of a free spirit, one of his new bosses warned: "He's not stable - he's not going to stay."

Forty-five years later, Chris is still here. But only just - at the age of 72, he will be retiring from his role of Director of Technical Services, Architectural Glass, this month (January).

Born in Ireland, Chris gained his engineering degree from University College Dublin and worked for Smith Control Systems in the UK before setting off on the extended gap year which so unsettled his future employers at Pilkington.

Fortunately for Chris - and, as it turned out, for Pilkington - the company's Technical Director at the time, Terry Ginty, had faith in him and he was taken on as a process technologist on the newly-built float line in Scarborough, Canada. The prediction of instability came perilously close to the truth however, when the new recruit decided to climb one of the stacks to get a panoramic photograph of the new site.

"You get higher and higher, and the stack gets thinner - you look at the clouds floating by and eventually it starts to feel as though the clouds are still and it's you that's moving," says Chris. "I just had to keep reminding myself not to look down.

"Somebody took a photograph of me halfway up the stack, which was used in Glass Magazine - if anyone knows where it is, I'd dearly love a copy of that picture."

Chris was one of four process technologists at Scarborough. "I was on the cold end, so I was nearest the door and if any customers needed help or advice, it was me that was sent out to see them," he says. "That was how I first got into the Technical Services role."

Today, that role involves helping customers identify which of the billion glass combinations available is best for their application, and advising the manufacturing plants on what to make to meet those customer expectations.

In those early days, Chris's passion for investigating the performance capabilities of glass led him to devise a new and improved method for testing double glazing. "They used to place 14-inch test windows inside a pressure chamber," he says. "Instead, I made the pressure chamber out of four full size windows and put the weathering equipment inside.

"It was an expensive way of doing it - but within two weeks I could reproduce effects that would take a year to show up in the field."

Chris stayed 20 years in Canada, until the company there was sold to Ford Motor Co's glass division and he moved to Toledo just as Pilkington took over LOF. "I've worked for four owners during my career but the float furnace is my real master.

"Every day, you have to keep that hungry monster fed - and every day you have to get rid of the hundreds of tons of glass it puts out." And Chris loves every minute of it - hence the fact that he's still there long after the normal retirement age. "Having too much fun!"

The fun has included working with NASA to build new display cases for the Declaration of Independence and its fellow US Constitutional documents, at a cost of $1m each. And being asked by the Smithsonian to help them move "a piece of cracked glass" which turned out to be the windscreen of the car in which JFK was assassinated.

Exciting times then - but retirement is hardly going to be dull. For a start, Chris has recently remarried and his new wife Susan shares his love of gardening, wildlife and the New York Times crossword: "She leaves the easy clues for me". He is planning to take a Master Gardening Course to help him repopulate his one-acre garden in Perrysburg with native plants, to form a habitat for native mammals and insects, including his two hives of bees.

600450 Chris Barry looks back at 45 years in glass
Date: 23 January 2013

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