A Tribute to Lydia Gill Polley

December 04, 2017
Winter 2017
A version of this article appears in the Winter 2017 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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Lydia Gill Polley was a gentle but forthright giant in the wonderful world of energy education and staff development training.

Lydia graduated with a midlife BA in adult education (1978) and in 1983 wrote and produced a series of how-to video programs for the Oklahoma Department of Economic and Community Affairs, with such hit titles as Saving Energy and Money Too, and The Cooling of Summer Heat. She described them as “practical and relevant for moderate- to low-income people—and nonracist, nonsexist, and nonpatronizing.” She never wavered from those standards. In modern parlance, these video programs, accompanying resource packets, and facilitator training went viral, and the next 30 years found her spreading her results-oriented approach at all levels.

Lydia stepped onto the national energy conservation stage in 1984 at DOE’s first National Weatherization Conference. We met there, joined forces in 1989, and crisscrossed the country together, closing with two sessions at the 2013 ACI-Home Performance Coalition conference in Denver: “Empathize Your Way to Greater Productivity” and “The Power of Choice: Intentional Influencing.” This was fitting as, at Linda Wigington’s behest, Lydia joined the Affordable Comfort family as a luncheon keynote speaker for the 1986 inaugural conference and went on to serve on the program committee, on the board of directors, and as president of the board. Her wisdom, insight, and executive leadership made her part of the bedrock upon which the home performance industry is built.

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Clockwise from top left: Lydia & Rana ACI 2012; Lydia & Rana Reg 8 1995; Lydia Project Home 1992; Lydia ACI 2010; Lydia ACI 2012.

A visionary leader, she understood the need for “beginning with the end in mind” and built feedback and evaluation into every possible endeavor. She introduced adult education to the energy efficiency industry at scale in the 1980s and early ’90s with a series of pilot programs and field tests that demonstrated the efficacy of her approach and set educational standards that persist to this day. She was a founding member of the National Energy Education Forum and its successor, the Professional Association for Consumer Energy Education.

She was a gifted communicator, influencer, and facilitator of experiential learning. Lydia believed strongly in the power of words and chose hers carefully. She was also the best listener I ever knew, a skill that underlay much of the transformational magic she was able to pull off when groups or individuals were struggling with a concept, task, experience, or feeling. Her staff development training environments were filled with resources, reminders, and human energy as she worked tirelessly to move energy education program design and practitioners beyond expectations of modifying people’s behavior by telling them what to do to a partnership between equals working together to solve problems.

Lydia was a lifelong learner and called that forth in others. She appreciated the power of diagnostic procedures, tools, and technical measures, yet retained her wholehearted conviction that residents are key to any home’s performance in powerful ways.

Lydia facilitated over 363 sessions and workshops, influencing thousands of participants who carried that forward to many, many more, for at least 84 organizations (many of them repeat customers) in 37 states, the District of Columbia, and Costa Rica.

She was extraordinarily congruent in her beliefs, values, and lifestyle. She lived her life by example and was a dedicated activist for peace and social and environmental justice.

Her work to reduce fossil-fuel use went far beyond her concern for families that couldn’t pay their utility bills. An antipollution activist, she was a tree hugger, water saver, reuser, recycler, and reformer of the first order. She supported others to take personal responsibility and narrow the gap between good ideas and actionable reality.

She reveled in her family, friends, music, laughter, nature, and a good Scotch and was an expert slalom water skier.

Lydia Gill Polley, loving mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, friend, colleague—and my best work partner ever—passed away in her home on September 24, 2017.

She is and will always be missed.

Rana Belshe is the owner of Conservation Connection Consulting. She has been an independent conservation, efficiency, and education consultant since 1983. She works with groups across the country to increase the likelihood that residents of all persuasions make household choices that reduce waste and pollution.

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