John Tewhey '65

 

Land Mark

%295%left%The environment may not have been a major concern for Colby students in the 1960s, but for John Tewhey '65, a field he didn't even imagine in his college days would become his life's work.

As former chair of Maine's Board of Environmental Protection and the head of a small environmental consulting firm, he works hands-on with the environmental problems that affect Maine and greater New England. His firm, Tewhey Associates, participates primarily in site investigations, performing groundwater analysis and soil testing, but the firm also offers a variety of other services, including work on securing permits, soil treatment and serving as a mediator between clients and environmental regulatory agencies.

An avid student of both chemistry and geology, Tewhey planned to work in mining, petroleum or chemical industries. Following graduate school he worked for a government laboratory in California and a pulp-and-paper industry engineering firm back in Maine. Environmental concerns were not yet on the public radar, but in the late 1970s that changed dramatically with the infamous Love Canal disaster.

Love Canal, an industrial chemical dump in Niagara Falls, N.Y., leapt into the national consciousness when families fell ill due to the deadly wastes buried under their homes and schools. Love Canal brought environmental problems to dinnertime conversations in America and eventually into the workforce as a new field of study. "It was not on my agenda," Tewhey said, "but as the environmental business emerged subsequent to the Love Canal, the opportunity to do environmental work presented itself, and when it did, it was clearly something that I thought I wanted to be involved in."

%296%right%Tewhey says most of the environmental problems he deals with today were created in the '60s and '70s and even the early '80s, when people had less understanding of the hazards of handling chemical materials. A number of his clients have inherited these environmental dilemmas, and often they do not have the expertise to deal with them. That's where Tewhey and his consulting firm, which he started in 1987, step in.

One of his greatest challenges, he says, is educating clients on the technical aspects of their environmental issues. "When I went to Colby my intent was to be a teacher . . . so I try to write and do illustrations that describe the technical aspects of my work. I think the education of the people that you are involved with is a big part of the work."

A flair for teaching is not all Tewhey took away from his time on Mayflower Hill. He says that communication is one of the most important aspects of business. "The ability to write, to speak, to interact with people is very important . . . and I would urge students, no matter what field they intend to be in, [to take from a liberal arts education] the ability to communicate and write and think."

Although he's worked all across the country, Tewhey has found himself back where he began: in Maine, starting up Tewhey Associates, teaching a course at the University of Southern Maine and serving on the state Board of Environmental Protection. Maine, he says, is the only state that has a 10-person citizen board rather than an administrative environmental agency. "The advantage of a citizen board is that, as citizens come forward to appeal a decision or there's environmental rule making, it's citizens interacting with citizens," he said. It's this more personalized atmosphere that brought him back to Maine.

"After graduate school I worked for a seven-thousand-person firm on the West Coast. And two things were wrong with that: it was on the wrong coast and it was too big. . . . I was born in and grew up in Maine, and Maine has a strong attraction to people who were born and brought up here."

,Anne Marie Sears '03