“Either Write Something Worth Reading or do Something Worth Writing” were words of advice spoken by U.S. founding father Benjamin Franklin. George Loehr, a self-employed management consultant based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S., has accomplished both feats. During his 45-year career, Loehr has not only made an indelible mark on the electric utility industry, he is also a renowned photographer and a published author.
Raised in the middle-class neighborhood of Queens Village, a borough of Queens, New York, U.S., Loehr says his father pressed him from a young age to pursue a career in engineering. “My dad was a very intelligent man, but he only had an eighth grade education,” remembers Loehr. “When he read the The New York Times every Sunday, he noticed all the pages of ads for engineers and the salaries they were making. So, he really encouraged me to go into that.”
After attending a Jesuit high school, where he was required to take four years of Latin, three years of classical Greek and two years of French, the honors student found he was hungry for all things related to math and science. “I had been smothered in liberal arts,” says Loehr. “That, combined with my father's encouragement and the fact that I discovered if I studied engineering, I didn't have to take any languages, led me to enter Manhattan College's School of Engineering.”
Partway through his junior year of college, Loehr's father passed away unexpectedly. “I realized then that my father had been pushing me toward engineering,” he says. “I also started asking myself what the heck I was going to do with my degree. At the same time, I had developed a fascination and taste for literature, and I was writing serious poetry.”
According to Loehr, he was elected editor of the school's literary magazine — the first time in the school's history that an engineer had been chosen as head of the publication. “So, I decided maybe I should be an English professor,” he says. “My strategy was to finish school, take as many English courses as I could until I graduated, find a job in engineering and at the same time start earning my master's degree in English.”
Staying true to his plan, Loehr completed college, was accepted into New York University's graduate program and landed a full-time job at Consolidated Edison (Con Edison) as an assistant engineer. He earned his master's degree in English literature in just two years by taking night courses and began working toward his doctorate.
Then, an event occurred that would change the direction of Loehr's life: the Northeast Blackout of 1965. On Nov. 9, 1965, around 25 million people and 80,000 sq miles (207,000 sq km), including the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, New York and Ontario, Canada, were left without electricity for up to 12 hours.
“The blackout thrust me into a position where I was getting some attention, because I was one of the few people at Con Edison who could analyze transient stability problems,” Loehr says. “More importantly, I was doing work that I found really interesting. Once again, I started questioning where my career was headed — did I truly want to be an English professor?”
Loehr ultimately withdrew from school and dedicated himself to engineering. “I've never regretted my decision,” he says. “I've also never regretted all the work I did in grad school, because it made me a better person. I was exposed to many interesting subjects and people.”
In 1969, Loehr became chief planning engineer at the New York Power Authority (NYPA). He left the NYPA in 1972 and joined the Northeast Power Coordinating Council (NPCC). Loehr was named executive director of NPCC in 1989 and remained in that position until his early retirement in 1997.
Don't be fooled by the word “retirement,” however. As well as performing management consulting, Loehr appears as an expert witness and teaches numerous courses on power systems to non-technical professionals. He also serves as vice president and as a member of the board of directors of the American Education Institute, is chairman and an unaffiliated member of the executive committee of the New York State Reliability Council, and holds the title of outside director on the board of directors of the Georgia System Operations Corp.
Although Loehr put his dream of becoming an English professor on hold, he continues to feed his creative side. The accomplished engineer is also a successful photographer who has exhibited his art photographs at galleries in New York and has done stock photography for a worldwide photo agency. His pictures have appeared in magazines, ads, brochures and coffee-table books, and one of his photographs was used on the cover of Sandra Brown's novel Fat Tuesday. In addition, Loehr recently published his debut novel, Blackout, a thriller set in New York City whose plot encompasses terrorism, sabotage, conspiracy and — what else — a local blackout.
When asked about his plans for the future, Loehr says he hopes to continue his fiction-writing and photography career as well as his involvement in the electric utility industry. “I've gotten to the point in my life where it's fun in seeing the pleasure people derive from something I've done,” he says.