This is a guest post from Randy Swisher, AWEA’s Executive Director from 1989 to 2009.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around Tom’s passing. It’s not easy. He was clearly the best writer I ever had the pleasure of working with, but that doesn’t begin to explain who he was as a person—one who gave so much of his life to AWEA.
I could easily write a book regarding all the contributions that Tom made over the years, but these stand out:
Tom took two key steps that began to establish AWEA and the wind industry’s strategic capability in Washington:
- With minimal resources, he effectively developed AWEA into the voice of the wind industry, raising the industry’s profile before federal policymakers and before key audiences such as utilities, environmentalists and the financial community.
- Tom established the AWEA Legislative Committee as a means of building industry consensus on policy issues. The Committee also became the vehicle for achieving stronger financial support for AWEA’s advocacy.
Tom was also an early proponent of taking aggressive action to address the challenge of climate change. He helped present wind as a key to reducing carbon emissions. Even in retirement, he maintained his role as a leader in this field.
He was a pioneer in electronic communications as well, establishing an email system for AWEA in the mid-80s, long before it became common practice.
Clearly, Tom was a good strategic thinker, but it is important to keep in mind the context of the times, which makes his accomplishments even more extraordinary. The wind industry as we know it today did not exist. AWEA’s dues were minimal and the annual conference exhibition consisted of fewer than a dozen table-top exhibits. So there was virtually no budget for AWEA to work with. Wind technology was still in its infancy, and had the at least somewhat deserved reputation of being too expensive and marginal in its performance. But Tom (and others) shared a vision that wind could be a standard electric power technology. He held fast to that vision for almost forty years, long enough to see wind take dramatic steps toward achieving its potential.
Tom was a wonderful colleague. We all knew we could count on him to graciously share his deep knowledge and to cheerfully carry an enormous load. He was as committed to shaping a better world as anyone I knew, and his impact was enormous.
So long, Tom. Your commitment to wind – and your colleagues – was unsurpassed. You will be missed.
Here are more tributes from Tom’s friends and colleagues:
Mike Bergey, former AWEA President
Tom took over AWEA in 1980 at a time of organizational weakness. By sheer force of will and hard, hard work he brought it back to solvency and made it an effective voice of the industry. In doing so, he led the transition of AWEA from a government-funded consultancy for small wind to a true trade association representing the full range of turbine sizes and applications. Tom was a gifted writer and one of the most productive people I have ever met. His articulate, poised and balanced writing, and the sheer volume of it, gave our emerging industry credibility and won us a lot of supporters. The passion Tom had for wind energy development as a path to a better world can’t be overstated. He did make the world a better place. I hope he will be remembered as a giant of our industry. Rest in peace, my friend.
Sam Enfield, Windline Development
Tom took the reins at AWEA when the industry was in its infancy, transitioning from a small turbine industry peopled by individualists seeking freedom from the monopolist utilities into an industry feeding the utility grid from multi-megawatt projects. At that point, the wind industry was not able to support even a very modest staffing level, and was heavily dependent on DOE work contracts for financial support. Poorly managed, AWEA had been underperforming, and was at risk of losing that vital source of income. Through extraordinary effort and personal and financial sacrifice, Tom – with his wife Linda’s assistance – brought the organization back into good standing and kept it on its feet. AWEA could very easily have disappeared from the landscape.
While Tom was a gentle soul, he was a fierce advocate for wind energy. He accurately predicted to me that wind would be the renewable energy source which would first succeed in the marketplace, because it would be the most cost-effective. Right on all counts.
In sum, I know of no one who has done more for the U. S. wind industry than Tom Gray. We all owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude. And those of us lucky enough to have known him are heartsick.
Jan Blomstrann via Facebook, Renewable NRG Systems
I’m very shocked and saddened to hear this news. Tom was a beloved mentor, colleague and friend, as well as a fellow Vermonter. The wind industry would not be what it is today if not for the work he and his wife Linda did as a team to get AWEA up and running in the early days. He will be missed greatly by me and so many others. What a wonderful man!
Ken Cohn, Second Wind Inc.
Tom and Linda were the heart and soul of AWEA in the early 80’s. Tom seemed uncommonly calm and wise at a particularly formative and turbulent time. He brought the association and the U.S. industry together in a way it had not been. I have never met a more generous and kind person.
Tom worked at Second Wind for a short time on a project that turned out to be “a bridge too far” for us. Tom was tireless and thoughtful. Working with him was a joy. He will be sorely missed.
Paul Gipe, former AWEA staffer
Tom was one of the U.S. wind industry’s stalwarts. He was the “go to man” for decades on U.S. renewable energy policy, wind’s environmental benefits, and the role wind energy plays in mitigating climate change.
For many years Tom was the face and the voice of the wind industry in the United States as AWEA’s executive director. It’s safe to say that without Tom’s commitment AWEA wouldn’t exist today.
Tom was an effective tactician and his quick wit could often turn a tense situation to his—and the wind industry’s–advantage. He continued to support wind energy against the naysayers even in his retirement.
Abby Arnold, American Wind Wildlife Institute
Earlier this week we lost a leader in wind and wildlife. Tom Gray a visionary, dedicated, and tireless leader for the wind energy industry and for the environment as a whole will be remembered with fondness and respect.
I first met Tom 24 years ago, when the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative was formed. For many years, Tom was the face of AWEA for the community of conservation groups, biologists, and other stakeholders who came together to understand and address impacts of wind turbines on birds.
Together with other leaders in the wind energy industry and conservation community, Tom raised awareness in the industry of the importance to address the wind-wildlife challenge early on and to clearly communicate rigorous information about wind’s benefit to wildlife and conservation as well.
Early on Tom saw the promise of wind energy in full – and that included a world where wind and wildlife coexist in a healthy, productive environment. On behalf of the American Wind Wildlife Institute, we honor that vision and his work to bring it about.
Christine Real de Azua, former AWEA staffer
Tom told the story of wind energy and its power as a force for good. He fought for a better world, a cleaner environment and sensible energy policies as a staffer on the Hill working for energy and environment reforms in the 1970’s and early 80’s, as one of the leaders of AWEA over the life of the wind energy industry as it grew from the first-ever, heady wave of investment in California to the mainstream energy source and industry that it is today, and continually in his personal life and online networks.
Tom was ahead of the times in using telecommunications and then the internet when that arrived, spreading the word in its new forms and working from his home in Vermont in between countless work trips. Whatever the technology or the venue, Tom rigorously and eloquently crafted the words and the message to serve that higher purpose.
Jim Lindsay, NextEra Energy Resources
Tom and I worked through some tough times in the early 2000’s while forming the Bat Wind Energy Cooperative to address the emerging bat/wind energy interaction issue. Tom always prevailed with a cool head and long-term vision for solving wind energy and wildlife issues. He will be deeply missed.
Mary Kate Francis, former AWEA staffer
Tom was my mentor and my friend. I was, and always will be, inspired by his passion for combating climate change. I have to admit that I sometimes struggle to stay upbeat, in a political landscape that continues to throw roadblocks in the way of renewable energy, but I will forever keep Tom in mind and channel his undying energy to work toward a cleaner, safer world.
Another thing about Tom – he was kind. He loved to share quotes, and I will leave you with this one, from the Dalai Lama, that Tom shared with me, not only in words, but also in actions: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
Services for Tom:
- A “memorial party” will take place on Sunday, September 24, 5-7 p.m., at the Montshire Museum, in Norwich, Vermont. There will be pizza and beer (the menu from Tom and Linda’s post-wedding party), time to reminisce as a group, and toasts to Tom. Flannel shirts are encouraged!
- There will be a celebration at Georgia Mountain Community Wind in Vermont on Sunday, October 22, 1 p.m. Celebrants will scatter some of Tom’s ashes, remember his passion and dedication to wind energy, and, of course, reminisce.