Pioneers and heroes can be closer than you expect.
Louis Strong, who died this past New Year’s Eve, blazed trails in an industry I’ve worked in for more than two decades. And he did it in a way that deserves admiration.
I met Louis Strong at several meetings of the Kentucky electric cooperatives. But mostly I knew him from historical accounts and second-hand stories.
The stories described innovation, dedication to a cause, persistence, applied intelligence (also known as common sense), and decency. My boss, Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives President Ron Sheets, singles out Strong’s warm and personable leadership style, which seems to contrast with what we often hear about leaders these days. He adds that Strong could get very tough when basic principles were involved.
Strong’s career focused on bringing affordable electricity to rural Kentucky. For decades farmers could only envy the lights of the cities because no business envisioned a way to profit from farmers’ use of electricity. Louis Strong was not among those known for first creating electric co-ops. Rather, he led the next wave of those who organized the consumer-owned utilities into a powerful, long-term force for keeping a high quality of life in our small-town communities.
Strong served as an ensign in the Navy in WWII. He managed an electric co-op in Oklahoma. From 1970 to 1981 he headed the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives, which publishes Kentucky Living, among many other functions.
Strong’s leadership helped pass a 1974 Kentucky law that protected electric utility territory. That law is a key reason for industry stability and low electric rates in the state. He helped form a national cooperative bank to finance electric co-op projects. He supported an international initiative that used what we learned in this country’s electric co-op program to bring electricity to people in other countries.
Strong enhanced his resume with personal integrity and compassion. The stories I heard about him were summed up on the back page of the brochure from his memorial service: “Thanks Louis, Daddy, Dada, for a life well lived.”
I’m proud and grateful to work in an industry with values that match the traits of Louis Strong.