Of Hawaiian shirts and equations

David Wilcox likes his Hawaiian shirts.

In fact, he wears them every chance he gets, event at lectures and in class.

In 1976, he and a young engineer sailed from Los Angeles to San Diego. Under contract with the Air Force at the time, Wilcox was traveling to the city to present a paper. When he and the engineer arrived at the hotel — and sunburned from the two-day trip — he was introduced by his contract monitor to a “fairly snooty Princeton professor.

“I told him who I was, and he says, 'These guys look like a pair of beach bums!'” Wilcox recalls. “Well, I thought, I'll fix your wagon! When I come to give my paper the next day I'm going to wear the loudest Hawaiian shirt I can find!”

So Hawaiian shirts became his trademark. “I mean if I went to Washington to sell the military guys, of course you wear a coat and tie,” he says.

Wilcox was recently appointed alternate member of the 44th Assembly District Republican Central Committee under Peter Amundson, mayor pro-tem of the Arcadia City Council.

Each Assembly district in California — there are 80 — has a Democrat Central Committee and a Republican Central Committee. The central committees have four key responsibilities.

First, they coordinate the get-out-the-vote effort. “This is where you get people to the polls,” said Wilcox.

The second is to search for candidates, not only for the state Assembly and state Senate, but for local city councils, said Wilcox.

The third is to raise money to help those candidates.

And the fourth is to promote the party.

The committees don't necessarily determine policy, that falls on the candidates, Wilcox said.

Each committee has seven members, plus one member who represents the state Senate and one who member who represents the state Assembly. Every committee member can appoint an alternate member who fills in for the committee member and votes when necessary. Wilcox was elected as treasurer of the Republican Central Committee in 2002 and served for two years before running for state Assembly, where he lost in the primary election.

A self-employed aerospace research scientist by profession, Wilcox holds a doctorate from Caltech. He is the author and publisher of numerous university books on aerospace engineering applications and is a professor of aerospace engineering and applied mathematics at USC and UCLA.

Wilcox has been active in many campaigns, such as the effort to recall Gov. Gray Davis in 2003. He is the founder of the Republican Club of the Foothills, which represents La Cañada, La Crescenta, Tujunga and Sunland, and is president of the Foothill Republican Assembly, which serves La Cañada, La Crescenta and Montrose.

Wilcox traces his love of politics to his days in high school, where he was taught by a conservative calculus teacher who was also a Barry Goldwater admirer. After reading a book titled “Cliches of Liberalism” presented by his teacher, Wilcox's faith in socialism went out the window. It was then that he became a conservative Republican.

He considers himself to be a conservative first and a Republican second.

Wilcox carried his love of politics through college, where he participated in getting people to the polls. When he decided to begin a family and start his own business, Wilcox's participation in the world of politics waned, as he wanted to give his full attention to making a living. His interest was reignited in the late 1970s during the effort to pass Proposition 13, which sought to lower property taxes for home owners.

“For years, I didn't do much in politics,” said Wilcox. “I was busy building the business.”

Wilcox's love of politics is second only to his love of teaching. There is nothing that Wilcox loves more than to speak in public.

“I can pack the room,” Wilcox said. “I get a real big kick out of it, that's why I love teaching. There's an enjoyable thing about public speaking. It's just fun. Being a political candidate, guess what you do? A lot of public speaking!”

Except, in politics, one doesn't need to solve differential equations, Wilcox says. But no matter what you're discussing, he says — fluid dynamics or taxes — the fundamental principals remain the same: “If you don't believe in what you're telling people, you're not going to present it well.”

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