In Memoriam: My memories of Ray Anderson, Industrial Ecology Pioneer, Visionary, Mentor, Hero

I posted this memoriam to Ray’s memorial blog.

I first met Ray at Emory University in early 1996, not even a full 2 years after his reading of “The Ecology of Commerce,” and his eloquence then about the sustainability challenge of climbing such a tall mountain was just as poignant and inspiring to me as his last interviews and talks. I approached this gentle and engaging man afterward and expressed my discomfort about my work in environmental communities that I always felt like I was “preaching the choir” and not making much of a difference. Ray did not miss a beat, grabbed me squarely by the shoulders, and said, in his soothing Georgia accent, “My friend, the choir is growing!!” That moment still gives me chills, brings tears to my eyes, and was quite a pivotal moment for me in my thinking and, really, in my worldview.

I met Ray the following year, 1997, as an intern in Georgia Tech’s (our mutual alma mater, something Ray would remember about me in our future meetings) Center for Sustainable Technologies conference. As keynote speaker, Ray had refined his message even more, had goals to talk about for Interface, and introduced us to the concept of Mount Sustainability. I was privileged to sit at Ray’s table for awhile during lunch and get to know a bit more about the man who would become a professional role model and a sustainability hero.

I work at eschewing regrets in my life, though one that arises from time to time is that I did not get to know Ray more personally while I had the chance when I still lived in Atlanta. Ray invited me out to their offices, though I graduated and moved before I could find a time that worked. Nevertheless, I met Ray again at UC Berkeley where I was completing my Masters, and he remembered me right away with a firm handshake, a smile, and “Good to see you, John!” in that familiar Georgia accent. How this amazing being could meet so many thousands of leaders, scholars, presidents — important people! — and still remember my name and our conversation from two years prior was beyond me.

There are very few people we meet along the road that we can say steered our lives in one significant direction or other. Many teachers and mentors inspire us, encourage us to express our fullest potential, but few can change our core values and shape our very foundations. Ray had this keen and unique influence on me, and I will remain immensely grateful to him. While his temporary form has changed, what he brought to this world is timeless and immortal, a tremendous gift.

Many blessings to Ray, Mrs. Anderson, and his living and loving family.


1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    Lily Livingston said,

    Wonderful post. What divine guidance to connect with such a great man. And your connection, like a pebble in a pond, sends ripples of hope and truth out into the world. Thank you for sharing.

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