Remembering Jay Fay

, president | June 11, 2015, 1:27 pm EDT
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In my first year at UCS, I learned that several extraordinary individuals have left unmistakable and enduring marks on this organization. James “Jay” Fay, a long-time member of the UCS Board of Directors, was one of them. He died last week at age 91.

Back in 1969, while I was still in elementary school, a visionary group of faculty members at MIT banded together to question the ethos of the time that steered many brilliant scientists into careers designing weapons of mass destruction.

james-a-fay“We were dissatisfied that so much of the research at MIT was supported by the Department of Defense,” said one of those visionaries in an interview—Jay, at the time a professor of mechanical engineering. “We felt that there should be more support for research that was directed away from munitions and military systems, to problems of public health and the environment.”

What if, the group proposed, they could start a new kind of organization, one that put science and analysis to use for the betterment of the humanity and the planet?

Soon after Henry Kendall and Kurt Gottfried founded that organization, Jay Fay joined in. And, for the rest of his long life, he was a loyal friend and board member, active and emeritus, of the Union of Concerned Scientists. All of us at UCS will miss his vision and his dedication.

Jay had a lengthy resume and a distinguished career in his field. In addition to his tenure at MIT, he was the chair of the Air Pollution Control Commission in Boston, where he worked hard to create policies that would reduce emissions from vehicles and power plants.

“People today don’t realize how bad the air pollution was back at the time I became interested in it,” Jay said at UCS in 2007. “Today, to find what it was like, you’d have to go to Beijing.”

He also served as chair of the Port Authority in Massachusetts, and on panels of the National Research Council, including two terms on the Environmental Studies Board. He was a fellow of the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Physical Society, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Jay also published several textbooks, and was the author of a number of papers—including one that our Co-Director of Global Security David Wright relied heavily on to write a technical report, 50 years after its publication.

“When I said something to Jay about it, he just smiled and seemed pleased that his equation had not only held up for half a century, but had also been useful for UCS’s work,” said David.

One of Jay’s earliest experiences with UCS was attending a series of hearings in Washington, DC, on nuclear reactor safety—specifically, on emergency core cooling systems, with the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) on the defense. In an interview, he recalled the David-versus-Goliath atmosphere of the hearings.

“The supporters of the AEC were scores of scientists and lawyers from the makers of nuclear power plants. And here was this pitiful little group of interveners, a threadbare group of scientists! They attacked us as much as they could,” he said. “It was a good proving ground for UCS.”

As president of UCS, I am pleased that Jay was able to see the organization he helped launch become the premier science-based nonprofit we are today—and I am incredibly grateful for his work in getting us here.

“He was a brilliant man and an outstanding engineer,” said Jamie Hoyte, whom Jay recruited to serve on our board. “He maintained his commitment to UCS and his interest in all of our issues right up to the end.”

UCS is a better organization for the many years of service Jay gave us. We will continue our work for a safer, healthier planet with his legacy guiding us.

Posted in: Energy, Global Warming, Nuclear Power, Nuclear Weapons, Vehicles

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