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Alan Abernathy

June 4, 1941 ~ May 24, 2017 (age 75)

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Alan Ray Abernethy passed away Wednesday, May 24, 2017 at 12:55 PM at The Laurels of Hendersonville. He was born June 4, 1941 in Hickory, NC to Thomas Kenneth Abernethy and Helen Clarissa Smith Abernethy. His father was the first engineer at Statesville’s first radio station, WSIC/WFMX and was known as “Uncle Ken.”

He is survived by his wife Patricia Harrell Abernethy and son John Kenneth “Jake” Abernethy of Hendersonville, NC. Alan graduated from Statesville Senior High School in the Class of ’59. While in high school he worked 30-40 hours per week at Statesville Drug Store, maintained a grade point average that earned him the honor of Junior Marshall and got him admitted to North Carolina State University. He also played in the school band, marching band and dance band.

He married Pat Harrell, his sweetheart since junior high school, in 1961. In 1963 he graduated from NC State University, one of the 13 out of 95 starters who completed a degree in Physics. While in college, he joined ROTC.

Upon graduation he received his commission as a second lieutenant in the Army Ordnance Corps, and served three years as an instructor at the Army school at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama teaching missile guidance to fellow officers. He achieved the rank of captain before being released from active duty in 1967.

He accepted a position as engineer/instructor with Western Electric when he left the Army and remained with the Bell System for the rest of his career. The facilities he worked at included El Paso, TX; Winston-Salem, NC; Greensboro, NC; Piscataway, NJ; Bell Labs, Murray Hill, NJ. He accepted a permanent transfer to the Western Electric facility on the north side of Denver, CO in 1977 and remained there for the last 22 years of his career. He stayed in place but the name on the building kept changing, and so did his responsibilities.

He loved computers and in 1977 or 1978 built his first personal computer, a Polymorphic 88, from a kit purchased from The Byte Shop in Boulder CO. It had 16 kilobytes of memory and it was dumb as a post (he had to type every single program into the machine! ) but he loved it . This love of computers ultimately lead to his job testing the computer software systems developed and manufactured at the Denver facility. In 1983 he was one of the first five engineers and scientists to receive the Distinguished Member of Technical Staff Award at AT&T Information Systems Denver Laboratory as the facility was called at that time.

In his spare time he learned to square and round dance and even performed in a team demonstration at the Colorado State Square and Round Dance one year. When he earned his private pilot’s license, he rented a plane for an afternoon and invited friends and coworkers to come to a small private airfield near his home for refreshments and a joy ride.

He was fascinated with fractal geometry and chaos theory and created a presentation for coworkers on the topic in his spare time.

As a very young man he collected rocks and found interesting specimens while camping and hiking. While he and Pat were teenagers, his future in-laws taught them how to play bridge. He became an excellent bridge player.

Depression and Parkinson’s Disease brought his career and other interests to an early end. He was first hospitalized for depression in 1991 on his 50th birthday. He fought hard and managed to continue working until 1999 when his condition forced an early retirement. He should be remembered for his courage, strength, honesty, integrity, humor, wit, intelligence and his sweet and loving personality.

There are no plans for a memorial service. In lieu of flowers the family suggests donations be made to The Michael J. Fox Foundation in his memory. Donations can be made online at or mailed to Donation Processing, The Michael J. Fox Foundation, P. O Box 5014, Hagerstown, MD 21741-5014.

His family deeply appreciates the excellent care and loving attention given to Alan during the last years of his life by the staff at The Laurels of Hendersonville and Four Seasons Palliative Care and Hospice.

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