Editor’s note: This is a book review by Joyce Joslin Wolff who went to school with Dimas Chávez from 1944 through their graduation from Los Alamos High School in 1955. They shared teachers and experiences those many years.
It was 1943. A 6-year-old Dimas Chávez and his family from Torreon, New Mexico wound their way up the front hill road to make their home in Los Alamos. As the Manhattan Project was top secret they had little idea what living on the isolated Pajarito Plateau would be like.
On My Own, a new autobiography by Dimas Chávez beginning in Los Alamos. Courtesy image
Trinidad Chávez had been offered a job with the Zia Company. His family was assigned to live in one of the old Los Alamos Ranch School cabins and so begins Dimas Chávez’s captivating life story in his new book, On My Own.
On My Own is a simple straightforward tale of one man’s life, leading him from the earliest days of the Manhattan Project, Central School where he learned to speak English, Los Alamos High School where he was ’55 Class Favorite and to his surprise, Pep Club Sweetheart, to hard work and high jinks at Eastern New Mexico University for an education he earned himself, and then to employment at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory where, as Employee Relations Manager and inspired by his Down’s Syndrome sister, he initiated a hiring program for the mentally or physically challenged. But this was just the beginning.
He soon moved on to enter Government Service, working with the Executive Office of the President in the Office of Economic Opportunity and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, followed by a stint with the National Science Foundation. In each case his reputation brought him to the attention of those who sought him out and he advanced steadily. Eventually the Central Intelligence Agency recruited him and with it spent his final career years traveling extensively around the world on a variety of assignments.
Dimas is a shameless name dropper, but what was he to do? He has never met a stranger and constantly runs into famous and influential people, many of whom affected his life in some way. They appear on these pages as amusing anecdotes, sentimental moments, or as people who have advanced his more than interesting career. Mentioning the name Sargent Shriver might be appropriate here or Elvis Presley. In many cases these people became life-long friends. If you knew Dimas or worked with him at some time you may find yourself described within these pages. Dimas blends these moments of his personal life and his professional life seamlessly into a readable and enjoyable tale. The book cover is an attractive wrap-around color photo of the Pajarito Plateau, which captures the aura of the land he loves.
Up to the final few pages of the book it appears that Dimas has led a charmed life but suddenly in July 2013 a devastating accident changed his life forever. On My Own was nearly finished when this accident occurred making it seem like a footnote to his life’s story. Dimas has chosen not to dwell on this or add any more information than necessary in order to get the book into print as he had originally planned. Perhaps the reader can expect that eventually he will take on a second book, which will describe and document what he and his family have experienced during the year and a half since that tragedy. Knowing Dimas he will decry calling it a tragedy, instead turning it into a trial to be endured and conquered with courage, fortitude, and the unending support of family and the myriad friends he has earned.
Dimas lives with his wife, Mirian, in Potomac, Md.
The book, On My Own is available for sale at the Los Alamos History Museum and on Amazon here.
A perfect complement to Dimas’s book is an interview with him prepared by the Atomic Heritage Foundation and funded by the National Science Foundation. The project to interview a variety of people involved with the Manhattan Project broadened to include Children of the Manhattan Project. This effort is in support of the pending Congressional Bill proposing a Manhattan Project National Historic Park. The hour-long interview with Dimas can be found here.