The wind community suffered a heartfelt loss with the news that former AWEA Executive Director Tom Gray passed away last week, 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 industry publications 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 wind farm. 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.
Randall Swisher, former AWEA CEO
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. 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 tabletop exhibits. So there was virtually no budget for AWEA to work with.
Wind technology was still in its infancy, and had the 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 40 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.
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 dedication 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 guide 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.
It took immense dedication, stamina, and courage to face down these ‘experts’ and naysayers. Tom was never deterred.
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.
Abby Arnold, American Wind Wildlife Institute
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 1970s and early '80s.
Tom was ahead of the times in using telecommunications, and then the internet when that arrived, spreading the word [about wind] 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.
Greg Alvarez is writer and content manager for AWEA. A version of this post was published at AWEA and reprinted with permission.