Ode to a Mentor: A Love of Power

In this, my first entry for CleanGridView, the Quinn Gillespie energy and environment blog, I thought it appropriate to talk about an ending as a beginning.

When people hear me talk about the electricity grid they assume I have a degree in engineering. I actually majored in English with the aspiration of writing and illustrating children’s books. I came to DC to find that my skills could only get me $6 an hour serving subpoenas for Arent Fox. In college I had spent a summer working for the Company, what my grandfather called Vepco, later Virginia Power and now Dominion.

My grandfather spent his entire career at the Company, interrupted only by a voluntary Navy turn fighting in the bloodiest battle of the Pacific for which he earned a Silver Star. He had an engineering degree and became a Professional Engineer, working his way up from surveyor to Senior Vice President. He had retired by the time my career began.

My grandfather always hoped someone in the family would follow in his footsteps.  I had already fallen short in my major and my only transferable skills seemed to be writing–technical, of course–which I spent that Company summer doing. As that recent grad with no prospect of a living wage (and no desire to go into law), my grandfather once again helped me find work, this time as a “service representative” in Alexandria–essentially the first Company job my grandfather had. The work entailed hands-on electrical designing; planning systems to meet new load; reengineering circuits to higher voltages; drawing vaults with French drains, switches, transformers, duct banks, and bus bars. I took night classes in electrical engineering and a test every six months for three years to prove my skills.

What was amazing is that I LOVED this work. My grandfather was overjoyed. I stayed at the power company for a decade and carried this experience over the next fifteen years–to a national lab, to start my own business, to run a non-profit association, and now to be part of the Quinn Gillespie team. Not all of this work required the technical understanding that I needed at Virginia Power but along the way I have drawn upon that knowledge of how the electric system works. And throughout all of them my grandfather watched proudly and with interest as I told him what I was learning about wind and solar, biomass co-firing, energy policy, and smart grid. His curiosity never ceased and I looked forward to sharing my experiences with the one family member who understood the difference between a wye and delta connection.

My grandfather just passed away after 93 years of leading an exemplary life in every conceivable way. He was loving, kind, ethical, patient, humble, skilled, and strong. He was my mentor. I cannot imagine not being able to sit with him as he listens quietly and attentively to my passionate tales of work. I can only hope he was as proud of me as he made me feel of myself. Some day when I retire I will perhaps write and paint stories for my grandkids, but even if I just sit and listen to them talk about their passions—engineering or not—I will have followed in the footsteps of my grandfather, my mentor.

To read more about the amazing life of Leon Dibrell Johnson, III, please see the following: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/timesdispatch/obituary.aspx?n=leon-dibrell-johnson&pid=148363601

Katherine Hamilton is a Director at Quinn Gillespie & Associates

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About cleangridview
Smart grid and clean tech policy expert with nearly 30 years of experience with utilities, government, non-profits, and the private sector.

2 Responses to Ode to a Mentor: A Love of Power

  1. Diana Miller says:

    I came across your grandfather’s obituary and your memorial to him as I was working on my family history. What a stellar individual he was and handsome too! His name came to me from an inquiry about a L. Dibrell Johnson (1865-1924) buried in Richmond, Virginia, at the Hollywood Cemetery. Do you know who this individual is?

  2. I do a lot of work for the electrical power industry and related companies such as those who work on protective equipment (see http://www.pstech-inc.com). I am also an environmental activist and member of the Sierra Club since 1975. I believe there are ways to reduce our energy demands without major sacrifices to lifestyle, and conservation is the key, rather than seeking new sources for spiraling demand.

    I found this blog while searching for an alleged new policy by VEPCO to charge anyone with solar panels an additional $60/month, but I think it is misinformation that was distorted. There is a standby charge for those who wish to remain connected to the grid in case their demand exceeds their supply capacity at times of low insolation or insufficient wind.

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