This is an edited version of a story I posted several years ago in honor of Black History Month.
Errol had an ancestor on his mother's side, named Norbert Rillieux, 1806 - 1894.
To quote Wikipedia:
'Mr. Rillieux was an American inventor and engineer who is most noted for his invention of the multiple-effect evaporator, en energy-efficient means of evaporating water. This invention was an important development in the growth of the sugar industry. Rillieux was a cousin of the painter Edgar Degas.'
As a Creole, Norbert Rillieux was able to get a good education in Louisiana, where he was educated at private Catholic schools. He later traveled to France and studied physics, mechanics, and engineering at the École Centrale. Fluent in French, he became an expert in steam engines and was also a skilled blacksmith and machinist.
The process of refining sugar was slow and expensive in the 1800s. While still in France, Norbert Rillieux began looking into ways of improving this process. He continued his work upon his return to New Orleans and patented his evaporator machine in 1843. The new machine was so efficient that sugar makers soon covered the cost of the evaporators with the huge profits from the sugar produced by them.
Norbert Rillieux also attempted to apply his engineering skills to dealing with an outbreak of Yellow Fever in New Orleans, presenting the city with a plan that would to a great extent eliminate mosquito breeding grounds. His plan was turned down by a state legislator, who had become his enemy. However, several years later the ongoing Yellow Fever problem was successfully addressed by white engineers, using a method very close to what Rillieux had proposed.
Norbert Rillieux spent his later years in Paris where he began a study of Egyptology and hieroglyphics. He also created new inventions and spent time defending his patents.
Norbert Rillieux died in Paris in 1894 and is buried there. He left behind a legacy that revolutionized the sugar industry and thereby the way the world eats.
And both Errol and my mother-in-law were extremely fond of sugar and all things sweet.