Jamie's Presentation Speech to David Foley

Tonight, we are presenting the Distinguished Service Award for the 25th time.And tonight is the 15th celebration of NESEA Night. It is our time to shine a spotlight on each other as members of NESEA, young and old, and the ways in which our actions, in a breadth of roles, define and determine what we love about our community. This is where we say to ourselves who we are and be glad about it. This is because NESEA’s secret sauce is, was, and ever will be, that we are member driven. Member driven, and staff supported. So let’s applaud the NESEA staff for their devotion to keeping our vessel afloat.

Tonight we are awarding David Foley for his distinguished service to NESEA. And while the spotlight will shine on him, before we narrow the focus, let’s think about why we give an award like this. Awards are opportunities, rituals really, to shine brightly on things that matter to an organization. To light them up. This award celebrates service. Service is simple. You show up because you care. You listen. You learn. You choose to act. Rinse and repeat.

The Distinguished Service Award sets out to illuminate the many characters of service to NESEA, over time, and the contribution of time and energy made by those who didn’t just show up, but kept showing up over and over and over to support NESEA’s mission and its members. Distinguished service. 25 and counting. Each a proxy for all who serve, and what it means to serve. And the character of that service isn’t just in support. We as often champion those eager to challenge us. Challenge us to do better. Here are quotes from a couple recent award plaques:

Fred Unger: In spite of meeting resistance to many of your proposals, you have stayed true to your vision and remained devoted to NESEA’s mission and its future. (he kept getting knocked down - he kept getting back up - and we gave him an award!)

Chris Benedict: With courage and conviction, you challenge orthodoxy, expand our vision and inspire the rest of us to do the same. (so we are saying to each other: we admire courage and conviction)

Catriona Cooke: with this quote from Yeats - Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of afire. (that’s right - we celebrate passion)

This year, in David, we champion a quieter voice. I want you to recognize in David the character of his service, and perhaps see qualities we each aspire to in ourselves, qualities worth celebrating.

David found NESEA (and his wife Judy) in 1981. She was an early board member. In 1983, along with 250 others at the Cape Cod Conference, they turned to each other and said, “We’re witnessing the dawning of the Solar Age.” They went to California and David got his masters in architecture. They returned to Maine to start what for him would become a lifelong devotion to place-making. In the early 90’s he formed a practice there with Sarah Holland. He found his way back to NESEA, presenting at conferences about their work and what he had observed on a green building tour of Europe.

David’s education includes a Bachelors in Community Design and a Masters in Resource Economics. This foundation rooted him in the principles of Systems Dynamics. It enriched his lifethru relationships with mentors, including systems thinking gurus Dana Meadows and John Sterman. When Dana died unexpectedly in 2001 he decided it was time to share what she had taught him with our community.

He saw at NESEA an apparent synergy with Systems Thinking.Then he recognized his training was what made that awareness possible. It was time to show up and share this robust toolkit with the rest of us. His timing was good. Fred Unger asked him to lead a conference track on systems thinking. That blossomed into the Whole Systems in Action track, with sessions focusing on qualities of sustainable practice, while all the others were nerding out on the quantities. Previous award winners Bill Stillinger, Robert Leaver, Amelia Amon, and John Abrams, along with me and many others worked this soil together with David for a decade. It’s a focus we miss.

While we at NESEA have become adept at speaking in the language of building science, our systems literacy remains a work in progress. It excites me to hear the voices of NESEA members like JacobRacusin and Ace McArleton’sfrom New Frameworks and Sarah Hardcastle from 377 Builders speaking the systems language. David has faith that systems synergies remain alive.

There is really so much more to say about David, but David, let’s make it official and present you, on behalf of the NESEA community, with the 2018 NESEA Distinguished Service Award.


The 2018 Distinguished Service Award
Presented to
David Foley


David Foley is an architect, builder, farmer, musician, and philosopher. Inspired by his teachers, David has persistently advanced NESEA’s understanding of Whole Systems Thinking in action, for decades. Walking the talk, his homestead and office are efficient and beautiful, his community engaged, and his clients' and collaborators' voices valued and respected. As a strong source of clarity for NESEA, understated by his quiet, kind demeanor, we recognize David for his powerful contribution to our worldview and collective wisdom.


March 8, 2018


Read David's acceptance speech here.


Our Mission

NESEA advances sustainability practices in the built environment by cultivating a cross-disciplinary community where practitioners are encouraged to share, collaborate and learn.