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July 2009 I embarked on a turn in my professional career I had not anticipated: I became NABIE’s executive director, following in the footsteps of Mike Stotts after his some 15 year run.  Some might say that being the director of a professional association can’t be all that hard, but I can attest to the fact that many events unfold that a long career in engineering does not prepare you for.
My tenure had both successes and failures. The first conference I ran took place in Memphis and some devastating winter weather in the northeast not only paralyzed travel, but affected attendance and complicated presentations.  We got through it.
Subsequent conferences were less troublesome, were well attended, and topics covered generally were well received.  I count our conferences among my successes.
As most of you know the work of the executive director represents the organization’s only paid position.  Mike Stotts’ situation permitted him a great deal of latitude during each day to address NABIE issues.  In my years at the helm I was not that fortunate.  I still maintained a consulting practice, and also worked at an entirely separate career as a Merchant Marine Officer involved with ferry operations to my island home (and NABIE’s base of operations).  Long a believer in being prepared to have different and varied careers, my United States Coast Guard (USCG) Master License had been an asset in times when engineering was slow.  Since 2000 my work in the maritime sector became a parallel career to my work as a professional engineer.
A small organization with a part time executive director will not always be adequately served if the “part time” component cannot include some flexibility.  Unfortunately that was the case with me.  Often a much regimented maritime schedule prevented the sometimes needed flexibility as executive director.  Occasionally our members and the public may have been deprived of the full service we might hope for.  I count that among my failures.
NABIE’s overhead costs were significantly reduced during the time I served, and a fully electronic version of the newsletter, The Examiner, came into existence.  Conserving member dues revenues became important when, for many NABIE members, keeping current with dues was difficult during the recession (and very nearly depression).  I like to think that the combined effort of officers, board members, and NABIE’s sole employee helped the organization weather a particularly difficult economic time.
As a member of NABIE, serving as executive director was made a bit simpler because of knowing the organization’s history and many of its members.  Before assuming the post, I had some 18 years of NABIE membership, had served in the elected positions, on committees, on the board of directors, was deeply involved with the certification program, and had been a conference presenter on a number of occasions.  That forms a strong foundation for stepping into the role of executive director.
Those are but a handful of the successes and failures, the high points and low points, of the job.
But a much greater realization came to me as I served: NABIE, albeit very small, is filled with some very fine people.  I used to think that as I served in a variety of the organization’s volunteer posts, but when you are getting paid to look around it is very evident.  NABIE represents one of my longest connections to any organization, and that steadfastness was a reflection of the friends I met and the colleagues with whom I participated.  Knowledge, dedication, kinship are strong here and probably represent NABIE’s greatest assets.  If there is anything I will take with me from my time at the helm, it is the knowledge that the success of even the smallest of organizations is not in its paid staff, its officers, its board members…it is in its members.  For it is from the members that are spawned the people that ultimately run the show and, in my case, are hired to help shepherd the organization.
A small engineering society like ours lets you see that very effectively.
I have many friends in NABIE, and have developed strong ties to a number of people at NABIE’s parent organization, NSPE.  I could spend many paragraphs acknowledging many who made my role as executive director an honor.  Similarly, as a member, many of you are the folks with whom I shared some good times and good discussions.  None of you are forgotten in my thoughts.
However, three people really stand out in my mind and I must pay homage to them as truly fine people to serve with.
First is David Roebuck, PE.  I suspect not all of you know Dave.  He hails from Georgia and when I first met him he had started a consulting practice that focused on building condition assessments and remedial design.  We served as officers together in the 1990s, and worked tirelessly on the membership committee and in evolving the building inspection engineer certification program.  Dave was not only a tireless worker on behalf of NABIE, he was a fine engineer and a visionary.  Dave built his consulting practice with partners and employees to international stature, yet he sought something more.  Leaving his practice he became a Federal government employee working as an engineer assigned in Afghanistan.  For me, Dave embodied a fine engineer driven by a higher calling.  He might have stayed in Georgia in a comfortable engineering practice, but he chose to offer his services in a place where they were needed not because of commerce, but because of national duty.
Second is David Carlysle, PE.  David was NABIE’s president when I became executive director.  I had known Dave many years as a fellow NABIE member but working with him in the synergy between paid employee and lead officer in the organization, I gained a new view of him.  Dave is a true Renaissance man and southern gentleman.  There was never any question in my mind about Dave’s talents as an engineer and, on some occasions, I called him when I was a member to seek his engineering opinion on things.  But far beyond that Dave embodies many talents.  A fine musician, Dave plays several instruments and does so on a part time basis in several different groups.  If that calling was not enough, he also has served his community in Alabama for many years as a paramedic.  In all that he does he maintains a soft spoken, gentlemanly consideration for all those around him.  Sadly, Dave lost his beloved wife Gwen last year.  Most everything in their lives was done in partnership.  I consider Dave Carlysle, PE a fine role model because there are just not many folks around anymore like him.
Lastly is Peter Schkeeper, PE.  If you want to meet one of the few people who can see the forest for the trees, Peter is your man.  Through 40 years of engineering I have met few, if any, people who have the management talent in a technical area for effectively seeing problems and conceiving solutions.  Peter can be a task master, but he sees the full picture and has superb ideas on how to achieve things for the greater good.  He is persuasive and has leadership skills that are unrivaled.  Peter is also humble.  He has a unique and very fine blend of talents and skills not seen in many who assume roles of leadership.  When you combine these with humility you have a fine leader who can help you achieve your best.  Peter served as a United States Coast Guard officer for some years.  Having a USCG license myself, I share a common love of the sea with him.  On any number of occasions I often thought, “I don’t always agree with him, but I’d follow this guy into a hurricane.”
Some years ago I had seen my serving NABIE as a capstone to a long career in professional engineering.  But the road has many turns.  Over many years of living in Shelter Island, NY (on the eastern end of Long Island) I have served local government in a number of roles.  They have included appointed posts on the town Planning Board and Housing Commission, as well as serving on the local volunteer ambulance squad as an EMT.  I won two elections to serve as Assessor.  Earlier this year the town board began discussions on creating, for the first time, the position of Town Engineer.  As those discussions progressed, I was eventually approached about the job and asked to accept the appointment as Shelter Island’s first in history Town Engineer.  My appointment took effect in early October.
As I look back over my time serving as NABIE’s executive director I realize I have taken more from the organization than I have been able to return.  I have had many fine associations with people from whom I learned, and gained insights.  Those are wonderful benefits I received in the post.  I hope the little I have been able to give NABIE serves as some small thanks for all each of you has given me.