Bill Holmberg’s profound impact on those who knew him (1928 – 2016)
Bill Holmberg with intern Laura Brenner Kimes at an ACORE event
We were incredibly privileged to have Bill Holmberg on our board of directors from the very beginning in 1995 until his passing on September 8, 2016. Bill was a major advocate and pioneer for renewable energy in Washington, D.C. In honor of Bill’s extraordinary career and contribution from war hero to environmental advocate, we would like to share reflections from those who knew and worked with him.
From former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle:
I have known Bill Holmberg ever since I came to Washington as a freshman Congressman more than 20 years ago. I know Bill not as a war hero, but as an indefatigable champion of the environment and as a visionary who understood the potential of renewable fuels for improving air quality and reducing our dependence on imported oil long before they were accepted as a viable alternative to fossil fuels.
Bill is a true American hero who stands as a model for us all. His selfless commitment to making the world a better place to live has been demonstrated not only on distant battlefields, but also by his daily pursuit of a more secure, environmentally sustainable, and just society.
From Laura Brenner Kimes worked with Bill as an intern at ACORE:
Sad news about the passing of a great leader and mentor.
Bill Holmberg was my first boss, a soldier through and through, for whatever was lucky enough to be his mission. As I knew him, that usually meant advocating tirelessly for biomass, healthy soil, and a clean energy economy. As Bill himself would probably recall, that meant fighting against the system and the norm when the norm was wrong: fighting for civil rights, fighting for greater transparency, fighting for community building in Iraq, fighting for social and environmental justice. A few times, that also meant Bill going to battle on my behalf, a kindness that launched my career and that I think of often. From Bill’s 80th birthday, I also know and heard so many others who have worked for him echo the same.
So many memories to cherish and lessons to learn (and relearn now years later with more capacity to understand) from working with Bill to launch his Biomass Coordinating Council and helping grow that part of ACORE. Bill was the first person to show me what it means to really fight for something with tenacity and grit and charm, how to lose, and how to be the last one standing and win. Bill was also the first person to show me how people are the strength of any mission/movement and how to motivate and mobilize. In the earlier days of conversations about building the renewables industry, Bill was the consistent voice at the table reminding not to overengineer so as to forget about the people and communities that our work is designed to help.
I can’t count how many lunches I was privileged to be able to attend at the Army Navy Town Club (Navy Bean Soup lunch and iced tea) to watch Bill create excitement and motivation and rally deep purpose among friends and new acquaintances. He had a way about him that would draw in anyone to hear what he had to say, and then they would leave with a new mission, assigned to them by Bill. Subsequent lunches would be progress reports and new missions. Bill’s brand of leadership is one that I’ve come to aspire to in my own career.
Though it’s been years since I worked for Bill, there are only a few phone numbers I remember by heart, and Bill’s is one of them. From the days when we shared an office, I can still see him in his jean vest and hear him leaving a message on someone’s voicemail, asking to call back to discuss the next battle in this biomass and cleantech (and really, sustainability) revolution.
Before I left DC to move to California the first time, Bill gave me a copy of The Ages of Gaia by James Lovelock. He linked it to the “biomass wheel” that he developed – a model for sustainability. Friends at and of ACORE at the time will remember that wheel, I’m sure.
Bill, you will be missed.
From ACORE general counsel Mark Riedy:
I had the tremendous and rare privilege of working closely with Bill Holmberg for more than 40 years of his remarkable life of immense achievements. Bill was a passionate advocate, an exceptional leader for all of the biomass industries, and the original Director of the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Alcohol Fuels. He was a mentor, a true role model, one of my absolute best friends, a wonderful colleague who I fortunately was able to convince to join the of Board of the American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE) during its infancy, and an unwavering pillar of strength in the renewable energy industries. Very few were as hardworking and committed to winning as was Bill. The higher the odds, the harder he fought. The renewable energy industries are forever indebted to Bill.
However, Bill Holmberg was much more to those who knew him best. He was not only the true grandfather of and champion for renewable energy, but he was also a humble giant of American virtues and values. Unknown to most because he would never discuss his remarkable past, Bill Holmberg was a very highly decorated Marine, having graduated as an electrical engineer from the Naval Academy at Annapolis, who then saved a significant number of American lives in fierce battle without regard for his own safety. He was one of America’s very few and true National Heroes. Bill was, and always will be, an invaluable National Treasure. I do not remember anyone in my life who I truly could say was absolutely irreplaceable—except for Bill Holmberg. We have lost an icon. Rest in peace dear friend.
From Todd Foley, SVP for Policy and Government Affairs at ACORE:
From my perspective having known him since the late 1980s at the US EPA and then working more closely with him at ACORE, Bill was all about service to his country, to our Earth and, in recent years, to our organization and its mission. He was a great Marine, Cold Warrior, and champion for the environment – a real hero. He was also a great leader at ACORE, a terrific colleague and mentor to many of us, including those who’ve been around a while and especially young people getting their start. He leaves an incredible legacy and will be sorely missed.
Biofuel Digest editor Jim Lane:
I never spent 5 minutes with Bill Holmberg without learning something new about commitment and dedication. I deeply admired his intelligence and courage, and the way he went about getting things done. Despite his illness, he never spoke of himself and his condition, only of the country he loved, his faith in its future, and in the future of renewable energy as a resource for all, for all time.
Of the advanced bioeconomy he loved and worked hard for, editor Jim Lane quotes Bill:
“The U.S. must lead the way in rapidly transitioning to a sustainable use of natural resources. We will initially focus on our transportation system; mostly on the energy used in that system. Again the initial goal is conserving fossil fuels for future generations. There are millions of Americans involved in these biomass oriented areas. Certain sectors are quite profitable and have major political support. Some are just a fledgling idea. What is needed is a powerful system that can attract all involved in an honest, productive and sustainable manner.” -Bill Holmberg
You can find the remembrance of RTE’s Executive Director, Joanna Campe here. These are few of many accolades and remembrances inspired by the life of Bill Holmberg. We at RTE will miss him greatly.