By Kathy Swartz, Executive Director

I remember the day so clearly. We were gathered together and brainstorming SEI’s vision statement, and Ed Marston said, “What about ‘a world powered by renewable energy’?” And the room became quiet. It was perfect—visionary and simply stated.

It’s with great sorrow that I share with you that Ed Marston, long-time board president and SEI champion, died last Friday, August 31, 2018. He died of complications from West Nile. Back in April, we almost lost him to a heart attack and a multiple bypass surgery. We thought we had more time with him, but we lost this great man to a tiny mosquito.

Ed earned his PhD in solid-state physics from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1968, and was a physics professor before he and his wife, Betsy, and children Wendy, 4, and David, 2, moved to Paonia in 1974. He switched to journalism, founding two papers and becoming publisher of the weekly North Fork Times, 1975-1980, and Western Colorado Report, 1982-83, when it was folded into High Country News. He always worked with his wife, an editor who continued as his working partner. In 1983, he became publisher of High Country News, which continues to cover the West for its 35,000 subscribers who live all over the country. He held that writing and administrative post for 19 years until 2002, when he retired.

Ed was our champion and a fierce defender of the West’s birthright of public lands, of local empowerment, and disruption of any kind, including energy. Never an ideologue, he’d often talk about how he heated his home with a coal furnace with locally mined coal. Community was so incredibly important to him.

Ed joined our board in 2010 and was our board president from May 2012 through March 2017. As a student of the human condition with insatiable curiosity, he loved listening to our students share their stories and would joke how they, like him, couldn’t hold a career. After introductions, Ed would paint the 30,000-foot picture. He would weave together Topsy, the elephant that Edison electrocuted, the local marijuana industry, the decline of the nearby coal mines, electric utilities and the disruptive power of renewables. Sometimes we, the staff, would cringe—where is he going with this?—but he always brought it together in the inspirational way that only Ed could.

Ed led us through the turbulent times of 2012 when SEI almost went out of business. Ed, as a new Board President, and I, a new Executive Director, both stepped into our roles at the same time. Ed was a generous mentor with so many of us, myself included, and with our Americorps VISTAs. We would often have tea together and he challenged me to think bigger, even when we didn’t agree on the direction SEI should go. Our meetings, like his class talks, were circuitous and inspirational, but often days or months later, the gems of wisdom that he shared would find their way into my thoughts. Ed was incapable of thinking small, and had an amazing sense of humor and an easy, infectious laugh.

 About a year ago, Ed asked if, when he died, if the memorial could be at SEI. We were incredibly honored that he asked. Even Ed, as wise as he was, didn’t fully understand the impact that he’s had on thousands of people,  many of whom will be coming to his memorial on Friday, September 7 at 2pm. To accommodate everyone, it’ll now be at Delicious Orchards in Paonia.

To Betsy, his wife of 52 years, and David and Wendy, we send our love. We are incredibly fond of Ed, and grieve his death.

Ed, we miss you…

Kathryn Swartz, Executive Director
Solar Energy International (SEI)


More SEI Team Members Remember Ed Marston

In the past year, Ed sent out an incredibly “Ed-like” holiday card.
On the back was this poem,

Things to Think

Think in ways you’ve never thought before.

If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message

Larger than anything you’ve ever heard,

Vaster than a thousand lines of Yeats.

Think that someone may bring a bear to your door,

Maybe wounded and deranged; or think that a moose

Has risen out of a lake, and he’s carrying on his antlers

A child of your own whom you’ve never seen.

When someone knocks on the door, think that he’s about

To give you something large; tell you you’re forgiven,

Or that’s it’s not necessary to work all the time, or that it’s

Been decided that if you lie down no one will die.

– by Robert Bly

“Ed was one of the most insightful persons I have ever met.  I will miss his sense of humor and genuine concern for everyone he came in contact with.”

-Ken Gardner, Vice President of the SEI Board of Directors, and Instructor

“It must be a tough day at HQ in Paonia. Ed was a visionary and I am sure the entire community of Paonia and beyond will celebrate his life and contributions. I look forward to hearing more stories that are ‘Ed-like.’ Sadly, I only spoke with him a few times, though I was aware of his work from reading High Country News before I ever attended SEI. Sending loving thoughts to SEI, HCN, Betsy (his wife) and all in the North Fork Valley.”

-Roger Williams, SEI Curriculum Developer and Instructor

“How hugely ironic, unjust and unexpected that a man of such great physical and mental capabilities should be laid low by something microscopic.  What a wakeup call to each of us to live each day to our fullest capability and lie down each night knowing we had done the best we could that day, but vowing to do better the next. I write this through tears.

30 years ago,  I consulted with Ed about a small non-profit business I was starting.  He challenged me to be more thoughtful about what I wanted to do, to use more head not just heart, and to plan carefully.  I did some of the things he suggested, but not others.  He did not dismiss me because I chose my own way (which was not always successful), but continued to support and encourage me.  When he recruited me to join the SEI BOD, I asked, why me?  He said he thought I could bring some non-profit leadership experience to the Board (this from someone who had lead High Country News for decades and raised a lot of money to support it!).

This time, I tried to follow his guidance more carefully.  I have contributed to SEI’s – both Board and staff – understanding of what a well-managed non-profit organization should look like.  And as this highly respected organization moves into the world of seeking support from philanthropic institutions, it is well prepared to be most successful.  Ed was the spark.  I just helped fan the flame. While I have not seen him as much of late as I did when he was President of the SEI BOD, I enjoyed our occasional exchanges.  Oh how I will miss them!  There is a huge hole in our community.  My heart aches with sadness.  Too soon, Ed, too soon. With love and sympathy to Betsy and the family.”

-Sarah Bishop, SEI Board Director

“I am shocked and deeply saddened to learn about Ed Marston’s death. When we served together as board members at SEI, Ed always acted in what he saw were the best interests of SEI as an organization, never with a personal agenda. His honesty and forthright approach were always appreciated in meetings and beyond. SEI, the West Slope, and the American West have lost a good person who was a unique and valuable treasure.”

-Don Phillipson, former President of the SEI Board of Directors

“I really respected Ed for his way of thinking, his insightful words, and his overall kindness to everyone I ever saw him speak to. I will miss his openings at the SEI classroom very much. They always left me with something to think about. I am very sorry for his loss.”

-Karo Fernandez, SEI Curriculum Developer and Instructor