BRIAN REED: I was visiting John's old college chemistry professor, Tom Moore, at his office in South Carolina, where at the time he was chancellor of a state university. He and I were talking about the astrolabe John made when he was a teenager that he'd showed me in his mother's bedroom. And I'm telling Tom how I don't even think I'd ever heard of an astrolabe before meeting John, and I was trying to grasp what it was exactly when he was showing me this complicated medieval instrument hanging on John's wall. And Tom's nodding and he says—
TOM MOORE: We're at a point where I need to show you something that personifies John. I'm going to bring it over here.
BRIAN REED: OK, sure.
BRIAN REED: Tom gets up and comes back with something in his hands that he's holding delicately.
TOM MOORE: This is one of my prized possessions. This is a sundial.
BRIAN REED: Though on first glance, it doesn't look like a sundial to me. It's a small, brown, circular, wooden case.
TOM MOORE: Sometime when John was a student of mine, he told me he was going to make me a sundial for my birthday. And this was 1984 or '85 I'm guessing. He mailed it to me. He called me and told me that he'd finished it and he was mailing it to me for my birthday. I think I got it in 2012.
BRIAN REED: Wait. You just said that he started mentioning this '85—
TOM MOORE: '84 or '85.
BRIAN REED: Tom holds up a piece of paper in front of the wooden case to block my view of it. He's opening it to get something out and he doesn't want me to see inside yet. Then he puts the lid back on, removes the paper, and I see he's pulled out two very small, precise instruments—a compass and a plumb bob level that John machined himself in brass.
Tom uses them in conjunction with this tiny little point on the top of the case to make sure the case is facing the proper direction and that it's sitting level on the table. And then finally, he starts to lift off the cover.
TOM MOORE: I can't wait to see your reaction when you see the inside of this thing. Are you ready?
BRIAN REED: Oh, my god.
TOM MOORE: Can you believe that?
BRIAN REED: With the lid off, you see an intricate floral pattern that John cut from a sheet of brass as if it were a paper stencil, and laid atop purple felt, the color of the Mexican petunias in his yard. In the middle there's a tiny button which flips up the gnomon—that's the centerpiece of the sundial, the one the casts the sun's shadow. Gnomon means 'the one who knows.' This gnomon has Tom Moore's initials in it. And the sundial is designed specifically for the latitude and longitude of Tom's home.
BRIAN REED: It's really arresting, all with the precision of it being able to tell time based on the sun's shadow.
TOM MOORE: It's unbelievable to me what it took in knowledge and skill to be able to make this. Off the charts! [EMOTIONAL] What's more valuable to me than this? I think you get that.
BRIAN REED: When John's friend Bill was showing me his clock collection in his house, he cried too. I'd asked Bill what the allure of clocks was for him and he started telling me about the first clock he was entranced by—a cheap kitchen clock in his grandparent's house. He'd watch his grandfather pick it up and wind it every Sunday when he was a young boy. He was mesmerized by how this object suddenly became alive, ticking, hands turning. And he began crying as he told me.
Is it that clock, I asked him, that was emotional for him? It's not any one personal clock, he said. It was just the measure of time had something to do with me. I didn't totally know what Bill meant by this—the measure of time had something to do with me. But I think he was saying that even as a kid the clock captured this feeling of time going by, going by, and never coming back.
JOHN B. McLEMORE: If someone says the name John B. McLemore 25 years in the future, you'll remember exactly who that is.
BRIAN REED: Oh my god, John, I'm never going to forget you. Come on.