Life is a journey

Paul Hetherington | TLT President's Report June 2020

These past 30 years with STLE have changed my life, both personally and professionally.

‘It would be impossible to adequately state how my experience on the board and, more recently, the Executive Committee, has changed who I am.’

Traditionally the new STLE president’s first TLT column is a summary of the speech from the President’s Luncheon at the STLE Annual Meeting. Unfortunately, as you all know by now, the 2020 Annual Meeting that was to be held in Chicago had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. My thoughts and prayers are with every one of our members and their families during this very difficult time. I thought long and hard about what to do for this first article but, in the end, decided to still utilize the speech I had prepared for the Annual Meeting as an introduction of who I am.

It was just a short 30 years ago that I attended my first STLE Annual Meeting in Denver in 1990. I sat at a table at the President’s Luncheon way in the back feeling excited to be attending such a great conference, but also a little apprehensive about being surrounded by these incredibly brilliant people who were the leaders in the world of tribology and lubrication engineering. One thing is for sure though—it never crossed my mind that I would one day be STLE president. 

Before introducing myself further, I need to thank a few people for helping to make this day happen. I may be president, but I am far from being the most important person. That distinction goes to my amazing wife, Lyse, who has been both my rock and dearest friend in our journey together during the last 25-plus years. I would most definitely not be here at this moment without her love, guidance, understanding and support. I truly am the luckiest. Je t’aime! 

Second, I want to thank Petro-Canada Lubricants and HollyFrontier for supporting me since I joined nine years ago. I could not serve the society in this position without their financial assistance and support. Specifically I would like to thank Tony Weatherill, president of Petro-Canada Lubricants, for his guidance and encouragement. 

In addition, I would like to acknowledge my entire family and, in particular, my brother Tom and sister-in-law Pat, who planned to be in Chicago. When it comes to big brothers, I definitely won the lottery. Also I am honored to know that Dr. Roger and Maggie Melley planned to attend the STLE Annual Meeting to help celebrate the start of my presidential term. Roger and Maggie have not only been dear friends for almost 30 years, but Roger has been instrumental in my participation in STLE since the early 1990s. 

I would not say I am a big hobby person, per se, but Lyse and I do love to travel, enjoy special gourmet dinners and, of course, share a glass of wine while at home or from some far-off location. I am a big lover of golf, and Lyse has been very patient as I have dragged her to such places as Pebble Beach and St. Andrews. Of course not to play, just for me to describe in detail famous golf shots by my golfing heroes. These golf adventures included a long three-hour detour just so I could stand at the front gate of Augusta National. Oh, and if anyone knows how to get me on the other side of the gate, please let me know. 

Paul Hetherington standing at the front gate of Augusta National Golf Club.

Let me talk a little bit about how I got here. 

I always like to say—somewhat jokingly, but actually 100% true—that I grew up on the south side of Detroit. Those good with geography know that if you go due south from downtown Detroit, you actually end up in Canada in the city of Windsor, and that’s where it all began. I lived and grew up in the area of southwestern Ontario and attended a small community college in Sarnia where I took a three-year mechanical engineering technology program.

The college had recently started a co-op program, which is really what ultimately changed my path in life. I was lucky enough to do all three of my co-op work experience terms approximately 2,000 miles away in Fort McMurray in northeastern Alberta with Syncrude Canada Ltd. in 1979 and 1980.

After college, in 1981, I returned to Fort McMurray with a plan to work about two years and then return home to Ontario. One thing led to another, until one morning I woke up and realized I got the two right but somehow added a zero at the end. Those 20 years were the best thing that could have happened to me, both personally and professionally. Obviously, it was where I eventually met Lyse, and I’ve already mentioned how special she is. Professionally though, it’s where I honed my skills doing maintenance and reliability engineering-type work before eventually falling in love with the world of lubrication. For the last nine years or so out of that original 20, I was Syncrude’s corporate technical advisor for lubricants and fuels, and I was right where I wanted to be. But other opportunities and adventures were still to come. In early 2002, Lyse and I moved to Edmonton where I developed and managed the training and consulting division for Fluid Life. And finally in 2011, I was thrilled to join the best technical services group in the world with Petro-Canada Lubricants. One last move to the Okanagan Valley in central British Columbia occurred about six years ago.

Paul and Lyse at Mount Etna in Sicily, Italy.

I first became aware of STLE in 1989 and, like most members, started by being invited to a local section meeting. Shortly thereafter, I became an STLE member in February 1990 and haven’t looked back since. By 1993, I was on the Executive Committee of the Alberta Section where I rotated in and out of most roles, including chair until 2007, when I first joined the STLE Board of Directors. Successfully obtaining my CLS certification in 1994—about 26 years ago—is something that I continue to be proud of. 

As I said earlier, I attended my first STLE Annual Meeting in Denver in 1990, and since then have missed only four annual meetings. During these years, I have been on and supported different committees, including the Mining & Construction Industry Council in its early days and, more recently, the Education Committee. While on the Education Committee, I helped lead the development of the STLE Learning Pathways project. The Learning Pathways is a great resource for finding published materials to aid in the development of our members. Oh, and by the way, I used the words “helped lead” because the real hard work and amazing effort was done by Alicia Skulemowski. But, without a doubt, joining the Board of Directors initially as a regional vice president and then as a director, following the restructure under the new constitution, has been the equivalent of hitting the jackpot. It would be impossible to adequately state how my experience on the board and, more recently, the Executive Committee, has changed who I am. 

Over the last year or so, I have been asked quite a few times if I was anxious, nervous or excited about becoming STLE president. On many of those moments, I literally had to bite my tongue from screaming the word “terrified.” Seriously, though, I am truly honored, proud and humbled to serve as your president during the next 12 months. Throughout my career, I have been mentored by many amazing people but, most recently, by each of the past presidents I have served under and my many colleagues on the board. As well, and really the glue that keeps the Executive Committee operating year after year, is the leader-ship of STLE Executive Director Ed Salek. And, of course, the wonderful STLE staff. The headquarters staff really does the hard work, and I would like to recognize them for their excellent service to the society. 

The first six months of 2020 have been very difficult, but I strongly commend the efforts of Immediate Past President Mike Duncan for leading the charge this past year for the society. I also would like to thank Dave Scheetz and the 75th Anniversary Committee, as well as the entire 2020 Annual Meeting Planning Committee chaired by Dr. Min Zou. It was going to be a great event, and it definitely will be in 2021. However, just as important, we should all be proud of the combined efforts of all members for guiding this organization throughout its 75-year journey. It is amazing what this organization has done, as a whole, to get to this stage. But the journey continues—and it can’t be done without you. We have an opportunity during the next 25 years to take STLE to an even higher level. Just imagine what this society could be like at the 100th Annual Meeting!

The backbone of this organization, very simply, comes down to one word—volunteers. The board doesn’t function without volunteers. Our certification programs don’t exist without volunteers. There is no education program without volunteers. TLT doesn’t publish a single word without volunteers. The dozens of committees and subcommittees within STLE do not happen without volunteers. Local sections don’t survive without volunteers. In fact, the last 75 years didn’t happen without volunteers. 

Plain and simple, STLE needs you. Life is a journey! STLE is a journey! Go ahead, take your professional society out for a spin—as no one knows better than me, you never know where you’ll end up.

Stay safe and healthy. 

Paul Hetherington is manager technical services for Petro-Canada Lubricants in Peachland, British Columbia, Canada. You can reach him at