Earth Day – Reflections from Someone There at the Beginning
With Earth Day 2009 in the recent past, I got to wondering about what happened at the First Earth Day. Luckily, one of my colleagues in the Dallas regional office, William Rhea, was there and glad to share his thoughts.
Q: Why did you attend the first Earth Day in Washington 39 years ago? Was it connected to a school project or driven by your personal interest in participating?
A: In 1970, I was working for General Electric in Evandale, OH. I was visiting Washington to see a friend who had played on the University of Kentucky basketball team and was then an assistant coach at George Washington University. I went to the Earth Day festivities on April 22, 1970, because my friend said I should go to see what Washington demonstrations were like.
Q: What is your most vivid memory? Was it like a concert/festival or a demonstration?
A: Most vivid memory was the huge mass of people that were so passionate about the environment. It was like another world experience in that it was so new. After taking a job in Washington in 1970, I likened Earth Day to the Vietnam protest rallies – masses of people united by a thought. The other vivid memory was the incredible diversity of people, their ways of showing their environmental passion, and their ideals.
Q: Where were you in school at the time? Did you go on your own or with others?
A: I had graduated from the University of Kentucky in Mechanical Engineering the year before. Actually walked to the Earth Day rally from my friend’s apartment in Arlington, Va. and was alone or as alone as you can be in a crowd of several hundred thousand individuals.
Q: Was attending the first Earth Day your inspiration to a career at EPA working on environmental issues?
A: Attending Earth Day gave me the idea about working in Washington. Since I was raised on a farm, environmental issues were always important. It then took 7 months to translate that into taking a job with the National Air Pollution Control Administration, which became EPA on December 2, 1970.
I’ve known William for close to 30 years and can tell you that he is as passionate and curious about the environment as he was back in April 1970. EPA is lucky to have this Charter Employee still onboard and serving the American people.
About the author: Rob Lawrence joined EPA in 1990 and is Senior Policy Advisor on Energy Issues in the Dallas, TX regional office. As an economist, he works to insure that both supply and demand components are addressed as the Region develops its Clean Energy and Climate Change Strategy.
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.
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