Obituary Jean MOOTZ (1931 - 2013)




Francis Massen, Claude Baumann

last edit: 12 Nov 2013


1. Biography

Jean Mootz was a single child born in a typical pre-WWII family: his father was a mechanical technician, and his mother a house wife looking after the family. Jean's father switched rapidly from mechanics to chemistry and started work as a laboratory technician in the department of chemistry of the Athenée de Luxembourg, one of Luxembourg's best known secondary schools. So Jean became familiar with chemical analysis very early, as in these times the departement of chemistry of the AL made numerous chemical food related analysis that today make the bread an butter of the National Health Laboratory .

His parents bought a small dual floor house at 79, rue d'Eich in Luxembourg City; Jean who remained a bachelor, lived in that house up to 2011, when he moved over to a retirement home.

After primary school, Jean made his secondary studies at the Athénée, before starting his university level studies in Luxembourg (the first year had to be done at the Cours Universitaires in Luxembourg). The remaining years were spent at the University of Strasbourg and finally at the Sorbonne in Paris. To become a lyceum-type teacher, one had to follow two curricula: Jean choose biology (as the minor ) and chemistry as his main subject. Having finished the academic years, and after the last examination delivering the title of "profeseur-docteur" required to be allowed for entering the training years preceding full tenure, Jean found that no opportunities were available for a chemistry teacher (or as we say in Luxembourg, a chemistry professor). So he spent about two years as an assistant to a minister (M. Schaus) of the Luxembourg government; he never had any regret in doing a clerical job far from his scientific matters, but found this excursion into more or less unknown terrain very stimulating. Finally, he was admitted to the trainee years which he spent at the Lycée de Garçons (LGL) and the Athénée, both in the city of Luxembourg. Having passed the last examination (called "examen pratique") he started his full-time teaching career at the Lycée classique de Diekirch (LCD) in 1960. Each day of the week he took the train from Luxembourg to Diekirch to teach biology and chemistry for all classes (K-12 to K-19). He was a member of several commissions and of the jury holding the practical examinations.

Jean retired in October 1992 and lived in his home until 2011. Starting about at 2007, his health deteriorated constantly. The symptoms were increasing pain in his feet and legs, and more and more difficulties to move. After many medical tests, he was told having polyneuropathy, an uncurable disease where the muscles do not respond properly to the nervous signalling (similar but not identical to ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease). As living alone in a house with back-breaking staircases became impossible, he entered the retirement home "Fondation Pescatore" in Luxembourg City. Alas, his disease continued to progress, and the last year of his life he was nearly unable to move his legs or arms and was forced to ly in bed 24h/24h. The crew of the Fondation Pescatore did an admirable job to make his life as tolerable as possible. His mind remained mostly crystal clear, even if talking became practically impossible. Being fully aware of his worsening conditions and remaining nevertheless open to discussions and comments showed that Jean had an tremendous courage until the very last weeks, when terminal fatigue led him to pass away.

2. The teacher

Jean was an extremely colorful teacher, who left lasting impressions on most of his students. His nickname was "Goofy", and much affection was cast in this name. Jean's teaching lessons never were boring, and he never was the man of one single book. Be it biology or chemistry, he always knew the practical sides and industrial applications, and he kept up to date by building a huge private collection of scientific books. His interests were not limited to biology and chemistry, but he also was fond of mathematics, graphics, electronics and computing (more on this later on).

In the 607s, biology also meant anatomy, and Jean built a large collection of white mice which donated their bodies for dissection by enquring students (these mice were usually put into deep sleep by chloroform, so that terminating their lifes was never painful).

3. Electronics

One of his biggest success nevertheless were his electronic workshops. Jean was an autodidact in electronics who became rapidly a real expert in the most arduous matters: first in analogue circuitry, than in integrated electronics and finally in micro-controllers. He started in the 1950's by building radio and TV kits, and making a lot of TV repairs. His collection of Heathkit assemblies is very large, extending from power supplies to measurement instruments, plotters and even spectrum analyzers. He also was a well known ham-radio amateur, and even the president of the Luxembourg  "Radio-amateurs" for some years. Receivers and transceivers, slow-scan TV and RTTY were familar subjects. This background enabled Jean to offer electronic workshop for interested students. He installed an electronic lab in an unused (and not well known!) part of the attic of the LCD, doing all the intallation work with the help of one or two persons. One or two times a week (and often even daily) students gathered in this attic and learned the basic of transistor circuits. Printed boards were etched with primitive but working home-made devices.

Jean very often was called for help when a complicated problem seemed unsolvable (as a problem for synchronizing sound and video which drove the LCD filmmakers to despair). He had a "green thumb" regarding electronic problems, often finding a solution by guided intuition, sharp reasoning and fearless testing!

4. Computing

When the first microcomputers (like the Altair) started to show up in the electronics journals, Jean saw a new opportunity to acquire new knowledge. I (F. Massen) had started with optional BASIC programming courses in 1974, but the programs had to be executed on a HP2100A minicompouter located in Luxembourg (which meant travelling every Saturday to Luxembourg with buckets full of marked cards or perforated tapes). When Jean read about an obscure Texan company "Southwest Technical Products Cy." and their microcomputer kit based on a Motorola 6800 microprocessor, hell went loose. He quickly found that a US guy with name Kirkland sold these kits in Brussels. So he convinced me to make the trip to Brussels and to investigate the shop. Actually, there was no shop, but Kirkland sold his kits in the kitchen and the corridor. I typed a few commands on the single running machine, and was blambasted that the BASIC of that tiny box outperformed the HP2100A. So we ordered two kits, and each of us assembled with great care the thousand of pieces (nothing was prebuilt, even the keys of the keyboard had to be assembled). Jean was first in having his computer running, but I was close second. These were the 2nd microcomputers in Luxembourg (the first one was built by a young engineer C. Welschbillig). After a few months it became clear that this microcomputer could replace the big HP2100A, and we built a third one for the computing lessons of the LCD. This was the welcome end of the weekly travels to Luxembourg.

From that year 1977 on, computing and informatics did fascinate Jean Mootz. Similar to his previous achievements in electronics, he became a computer guru, as well in programming as in hardware. He assembled numerous interfaces to command stepper motors or other devices. His attic at home was an Ali Baba cavern of everything that was related to electronics or computers. As he made numerous trips to the Belgian second hand shops selling disused military equipement and components, there was practically nothing that could not be found in this attic!

After his retirement, he became a regular visitor to the computing department of the LCD, of which I was he manager. Usually I put aside one or two unrepairable machines, and when Jean came for his visit, he normally was quick in solving the problem. These visits (about one every 3 weeks) continued up to 2010, as long as Jean was able to walk and take the train.

In 1999-2000 the meteorological station of the LCD was offered a definitve housing. Jean was instrumental in planning and helping to install the main rack with all the cabling and components.

5. An exceptional man

Jean really was an exceptional person: he was very social, participating to many school related trips. He did not much care if his shoes were shining, as he deemed the function primes the form. When help was needed, he never refused but invested without counting time and money. Above all, as a teacher he never was boring, and his lessons spiced with dry humour were subject of non-ending discussions. In many things he was an autodidact of the most noble species: not a brainless tinklerer but one who knows that acquiring capacities needs personal work and effort. As a colleague and friend he will remain unreplaceable.