Remembering a beloved wind power pioneer: Tom Gray

The wind community suffered a heartfelt loss with the news that former AWEA Executive Director Tom Gray passed away yesterday, after a head injury sustained in a fall where he lived in Vermont.

Tom was a true industry pioneer, having worked across four decades to grow American wind energy and our association. In the 1980s he famously used his personal credit card at one point to keep AWEA afloat. After writing our first newsletters, he personally stamped and mailed them.

Beyond all that, he was a kind friend and a skilled and principled mentor for countless people in our industry.

Whenever we needed clarification on an obscure point of reference, we called upon Tom’s encyclopedic knowledge of wind, leading many AWEAns to dub him the Wind Wizard. He was an expert copy editor and opinion writer, and continued to edit this blog and grow his Twitter following well into “retirement.”

There was simply no way to separate Tom from his love of wind power – on more than one occasion, he told me there is no better job in the world than working in wind.

His wife Linda wrote us: “You’ll appreciate that Tom made me promise to spread some of his ashes at a windfarm. I have a Vermont project in mind.”

As news spread of his untimely death in his seventies, we’ve received an outpouring of support for Tom today, far more than we can fit in a single post. Many of the people whom Tom influenced are also sharing stories on Facebook, such as on the page of Randy Swisher, who succeeded him as AWEA’s CEO.

Scott Sklar, The Stella Group:

“I met Tom in 1980 as he was trying to form AWEA. His love for the wind industry was so sincere and his dedicating to the wind industry was amazing. He was thoughtful and honorable to work with — and just a wonderful human being. The wind industry and AWEA owe Tom an immense sense of gratitude. He was a selfless giant and helped position the wind industry into its position today. You have to understand, we were ridiculed back then by policymakers, energy experts, and the media – the idea of wind farms and acres of solar modules were inconceivable back then with just a handful of tiny, tiny companies. It took immense dedication, stamina, and courage to face down these ‘experts’ and naysayers. Tom was never deterred.”

Lauren Glickman, former AWEA staffer:

“When I was hired to take over AWEA’s social media strategy, during my on-boarding process, I was told that the AWEA Twitter account was mostly managed by a semi-retired older gentleman, who lived in Vermont. I was filled with dread as I tried to imagine how I was going to manage this situation. Tom blew every stereotype out of the water about how social media is ‘only for a younger generation.’ Not only did he have a firm grasp on ‘using social media’ but he was completely self-aware about just how much he had to learn. Our time working together was inspiring…I’m proud to have been mentored by Tom, and filled with pride as I watched his social media presence as @ClimateHawk1 grow to over 77,000 followers.”

Paul White, PRC Wind:

“Tom is one of the first people I worked with on writing and editing the Wind Energy Weekly when I entered the wind industry in 1992. I believe that Tom’s personal commitment qualifies him as a founder and ‘hero for change’ in this important industry.”

David Ward, former AWEA staffer:

“We called Tom the Wind Wizard. He was the one who showed me how to write a powerful letter to the editor, he redlined my draft blogs, and he was my de-facto Wind 101 teacher. He was the spirit and, at times, the conscience of the AWEA Public Affairs team when I first started. He never hesitated to give me a call to check in on how was doing or give me words of support. I remember him for his heart and how big it was for advancing wind power forward. He’ll stand large for me personally as someone who has a fundamental presence in my professional upbringing. I never got to say this enough: Thank you, Tom.”

Jim Walker, EDF Renewables:

“I worked with Tom closely in the early 2000’s. Wonderful sense of humor and positive attitude. Completely devoted to his family and took great pride in the success of wind energy. He will be missed.”

Emily Williams, former AWEA staffer:

“Tom was such a pioneer in the wind industry, and never lost his passion for wind power or climate change. He also was incredibly welcoming and engaging to new entrants to the wind industry. I remember his thoughtful edits of our market reports, and tidbits on how to write better. I hope I can maintain a fraction of the passion he demonstrated.”

Stefanie Brown, AWEA:

“The thing I think of first and foremost about Tom, beyond all of his wisdom and experience, was his smile. He was just a good person always with a smile on his face and easy laugh. He never took things too seriously and had a generous spirit. And whether people realize it or not, he continued to have an influence on AWEA even to this day. Each Sunday I would receive an email from Tom with that week’s New York Times ‘Corner Office’ column, which I would share with all AWEA staff as short lessons on leadership and workplace culture.”

Kevin O’Rourke, Wind Energy Foundation:

“I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with, and learn from, Tom during my time as a contractor on AWEA’s Rapid Response team from 2012-13. Tom was in semi-retirement at the time, also on contract as the lead editor for all blogs and opinion content. Tom’s sense of humor, wind industry knowledge, thoughtful advice, and skill as a writer and editor were appreciated by all on the Public Affairs staff. In short, he embodied all the qualities that one would hope for in a co-worker. Tom will be missed.”

Please continue to send me your thoughts and condolences for Tom, and we’ll publish more next week with further details on how the industry will memorialize him. R.I.P, Tom Gray.