Remembering Barbara George
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Remembering…. Barbara George
By Richard Halstead, Marin Independent Journal, March 28, 2014
Ms. George, who died on Nov. 7 after a brief battle with cancer at the age of 65, was divorced and had no children. After moving from Berkeley to Fairfax in 2007, she lived alone in a small cottage.
"I think it was lonely being Barbara George," said Stephanie Jensen, who met Ms. George in 1995 when they both were working for the Union of Concerned Scientists in Berkeley, Ms. George as a volunteer and Jensen as a staffer.
"She made the absolute best of it," Jensen said. "But her particular form of genius resulted, most of her life, in people calling her crazy, because they didn't see what she saw."
Rebehak Collins, founder of Sustainable Fairfax and one of Ms. George's close friends, said, "She was far more than an activist and organizer; she was an expert in her field. She had a mind like a steel trap."
Collins said Ms. George scored a number of victories during a lifetime devoted to social activism. These included: helping to defeat plans to base the battleship Missouri in San Francisco, helping to scuttle plans to build a dump for radioactive waste in the eastern Mojave Desert about 20 miles from the Colorado River and working to shut down the San Onofre Nuclear plant in Southern California.
Collins said Ms. George was regarded as a persona non grata at Pacific Gas and Electric Co. due to her tireless advocacy at the California Public Utilities Commission for more effective energy efficiency programs. Ms. George's research on energy issues facing the CPUC was deemed valuable enough to qualifier her for the CPUC's intervenor compensation program.
The program was created to ensure that individuals and groups that represent residential or small commercial electric utility customers have the financial resources to bring their concerns to the CPUC. Compensation is provided in cases where intervenors make substantial contributions.
Collins said Ms. George played a major role in the CPUC's decision to require a third party monitor system for PG&E's energy efficiency projects.
"PG&E actually then had to show the work they'd done in energy efficiency; before that they could just bill," Collins said. "We're talking millions of dollars of ratepayer money in the public goods fund that they used as a slush fund."
Ms. George, founder of the nonprofit Women's Energy Matters, was one of the chief movers behind the birth of the Marin Energy Authority, which was created as a public option to PG&E that focuses on maximizing use of renewable energy sources.
In 2008, when PG&E offered to partner with the county of Marin to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a last ditch effort to prevent the formation of the Marin Energy Authority, Ms. George said PG&E's offer was "zero percent solar, 2 percent wind and 98 percent hot air."
Dawn Weisz, executive director of the Marin Energy Authority, said, "I certainly miss Barbara. She was a fearless advocate and supporter of clean energy. She worked tirelessly on energy efficiency issues at the CPUC, which can be a pretty daunting place to make change."
Ms. George grew up in Lake Forest, a suburb of Chicago. Her father was an executive with the Nielsen Corp., famous for doing television ratings, and her mother was a female pioneer in the field of home building.
Ms. George earned a theater degree from Stanford University during the 1960s and then moved to New York City. Ms. George, however, didn't spend much time pursuing a conventional acting career.
Instead, she put together a one-woman show titled, "Everything You Ever Wanted to Ask about Nukes but Were Afraid to Know," and drove all over the United States performing in community centers, churches and schools.
"She traveled all the way up into Alaska with her old truck," said Mary Beth Brangan of Bolinas, another friend of Ms. George.
Katie Epmeier Tremblay of Boston, Ms. George's niece, said, "She had a big red truck with a large model of a nuclear missile fastened on top. I remember her pulling up in front of my mom's house and my mom being mortified."
Ms. George's brother, Bill Epmeier of Chicago, said, "She was a rebel from the time she was in high school." Epmeier said his sister's advocacy work was her life.
"She cared little about having a 9-to-5 job or a family," he said.
Tremblay, who lived with her aunt for a time in Berkeley, said Ms. George felt unsupported by her parents.
"It caused some friction," Tremblay said. "She always harkened back to her grandfather who was a union organizer during the depression. The story goes that her grandfather had not been able to keep a job because he was always organizing for the unions. He ran away as a teenager and joined the French Foreign Legion. She felt him in her blood."
Tremblay said, "Barbara really felt like through her friends she had a family."
The memorial for Ms. George was held . at the Marin Art and Garden Center, in Ross, California
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