Spencer Heath MacCallum, born 1931, died today in Casas Grandes, Mexico.

Spencer is the grandson, heir, and namesake to inventor Spencer Heath. It was Spencer MacCallum that carried Heath's ideas and spirit into the 21st century. To understand the remarkable life of Spencer MacCallum, we must first understand his grandfather.

Heath (born 1876) is one of those Victorian-era polymaths that makes you wonder if modern humans have declined. He was a successful patent attorney, horticulturist, engineer, entrepreneur and, later in life, a political and economic theorist with a large volume of writing.

Heath is perhaps best known as the inventor of a particular type of propeller which gave flight to early aircraft of the WWI and interwar eras.

The story goes that Heath, the grandfather, got into an argument with none other than a young Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR then occupied the humble office of Assistant Secretary of the Navy which managed armament procurement — including for the United States' nascent air force.

Heath believed a certain propeller design would fragment at high speeds — a death sentence for pilots. FDR demanded that Heath's company send the propellers anyway. Heath refused. FDR explained, "Mr. Heath, put those propellers on the train tomorrow or I'll have you shot for treason."

What to do? Heath could either risk his life and stand by his principles or send innocent airmen to fiery deaths.

Heath shipped the propellers.

And yet no plane with the defective propellers ever left the ground.

The night before the shipment was loaded on the train, Heath broke into his own factory with an employee and stamped the crates with bold red letters: "CONDEMNED BY MANUFACTURER".

Problem solved.

This moment from Heath's life speaks to a defining principle of Spencer MacCallum's own life: don't fight against problems, transcend them.

"Transcend the problem" sounds like a feel-good platitude. But to transcend problems does not mean "think positive" or "hope it goes away". Spencer's belief in transcendence is based on his deep understanding of society as evolutionary. Long before disciplines like computing and economics provided the language of "complexity science", Spencer saw society as a complex, evolving system.

Problems exist for a reason and the reason is often not obvious. Stubborn problems suggest a systemic issue that can't be fixed by tinkering at the edges.

For Spencer, reality is as it is. There's no point in complaining. To solve problems, you don't create things to "fight" the problem. You create new things that draw people and resources that fuel the problem in a different direction. You starve the problem. And, if you're lucky, you might just might render it obsolete.

Transcending problems was more than armchair philosophy for Spencer. It gave him a rare moral courage and willingness to venture where others wouldn't. And this took him to some unlikely places.

The Ballad of Juan Quezada

Spencer is most widely known for leading an economic and cultural transformation in the Casas Grandes area of Chihuahua, Mexico. This regional renaissance has an unlikely source: hand-made pottery and Spencer's totally unreasonable commitment to promoting it.