by Tom Ellis
ALBANY, NY: Lou Ismay died on October 12. He was 96. One of the great environmental leaders and educators of the last half-century, he pioneered a unique course–the Environmental Forum–at the University at Albany where students chose and worked on important short- and long-term environmental projects that were often handed over to new students who took the course the following semester. Some projects continued for years. NYS government employees often provided tips for projects.
The course was offered for eight years, beginning in 1969. Each week the class met for four hours: the first with a guest speaker, the second a sit-down dinner, and the final two a give and take between the speaker and students. Each student was required to assist another student(s) with their projects.
During 1973-1974, a dozen students surveyed the Mohawk River and prevented a Thruway ramp from being constructed across Moss Island with its natural “pot hole” rock formations. One project documented ambulance visits to GE in Selkirk; another exposed the existence of PCBs in the Hudson River. Students cleaned a dump in a Pine Bush ravine. Every wetland in Albany County was documented. The course was nationally recognized and widely reported on in the Times Union and Knickerbocker news.
Many founders of the hugely successful Save the Pine Bush (begun in 1978) met in the Environmental Forum. Lou also moderated a radio show and was a regular at monthly SPB dinners until the pandemic forced suspension of in-person dinners early last year.
Lou was a fountain of historical knowledge and wisdom with a detailed knowledge of many issues, including the health dangers of microscopic airborne particulate matter. I admire Lou’s uncompromising commitment to fair play, always behaving in a civil manner, and working for the good of all. Lou had a set of moral values that were supurb.
At the April 2019 Save the Pine Bush dinner, Lou said, “If we lose reverence for any part of life, we lose reverence for all of life” and asked “What would the world look like if children really mattered”?