By George Hayhoe | STC Fellow
David Armbruster never met a stranger—perhaps a cliché, but nonetheless true. He introduced himself to me at a reception at an STC East Tennessee Chapter conference in 1986. He had moved from Oak Ridge, TN, two years earlier to head the scientific publications unit at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) in Memphis. The room was full of friends from his days there, where he had served as manager of the publications competition and two terms as chapter president. Instead of chatting with his friends, he sought me out, because I suppose he could tell that I knew no one in the room. As I look back on our long friendship, that act was the essence of David’s character and humanity.
He had a way of making people feel comfortable in uncomfortable settings, befriended in a room full of strangers. Over the years, I observed him repeating this kindness many times, especially at breakfast at STC Summits. He sought out first-timers, made them feel welcome, asked them about sessions they had attended, and delighted in sharing a joke.
In 1986, he was appointed STC’s assistant to the president for recognition programs, where he oversaw the competitions, Fellows programs, and other awards. In 1989, he was elected second vice president of STC. From 1989 to 1993, he served as Second and First Vice President, President, and Immediate Past President, and then spent more than 20 years as an active member of the Senior Advisory Council, the group of past presidents who share their wisdom with the current holder of the office.
Within the Society, David’s contributions were recognized over the years by election to the ranks of Associate Fellow in 1994 and Fellow in 1998. He also received the President’s Award in 2001. Outside of STC, in his “day job,” he taught technical writing and presentation skills to students and staff at UTHSC, and worked as an author’s editor, helping students and faculty with journal manuscripts and grant proposals. He was promoted to full professor in 2003, and also served as assistant and then associate dean for academic affairs at UTHSC. When he retired in 2013, he continued his editorial work and also helped disadvantaged first-graders improve their reading skills.
Although he has been absent from STC for more than a decade, I can think of no one who better embodied the Society’s mission: “[advancing] technical communication as the discipline of transforming complex information into usable content .…”
Most of us associate this statement with making complex information usable for non-expert audiences, but David’s focus was expert-to-expert communication. I spent many hours talking with him about his work as a scientific editor and marveled at how immersed he was in the subject matter about which his authors wrote. Much of it I would be challenged even to pronounce, but David was always fascinated by the different challenge of helping physicians and scientists communicate effectively with an audience of their peers. Whether getting journal manuscripts published or grant proposals funded, I’m certain that David was partly responsible for the professional success of scores of authors with whom he worked over the years.
David died on 28 December 2017, three days before what would have been his 71st birthday. He is mourned by his two brothers and their families, many friends, and those whose work his editing elucidated.