MEET THE PEOPLE WHO CHANGED MY WORK FOR BETTER
Indoor air quality (IAQ) is a niche industry, but just like basketball, cooking, and app development, we have our own celebrities! These giants of the field aren’t household names like LeBron James or Gordon Ramsey, but maybe they should be.
In that spirit, I’m going to introduce you to four of the most impressive people I’ve met over my years in the business. These four are all experts in indoor air quality, and each of them has had an outsized influence on my work in the last two decades. When I go to conferences or other training events like the ones I detailed in last month’s newsletter, these are often the people I learn from.
DR. RICHARD SHAUGHNESSY: THE MAN IN THE MIDDLE OF IT ALL
Richard heads the Indoor Air Quality Research Program at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma and has single- handedly made the city an air quality hub. He’s been in that same position since 1987 and puts his chemical engineering degree to work doing research for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
I met Richard in 1990, when I was fairly new to the IAQ business. He was speaking at an air duct cleaners’ meeting I attended, and the more he talked about his work, the more fascinated I became. He was working in the same niche I was!
After the event was over, I caught up with him and introduced myself. I still remember saying, “I’m interested in learning as much from you as possible!” That’s how excited I was.
Richard and I struck up a friendship, and he invited me to his annual IAQ conference in Tulsa. The two-day conference was an IAQ workers’ playground. For several years in the 1990s, Richard brought in 10–12 speakers who were doing significant research in the industry to share their work with 150 people like me. That’s where I met the other three giants of the IAQ industry!
TERRY BRENNAN: THE BRILLIANT MOUNTAIN MAN OF IAQ
While Richard is fairly conventional, Terry was a character when I met him. He had long flowing hair and looked like he would survive just fine if you dropped him off in the backcountry of Maine. I met him at one of Richard’s programs in the early 1990s. While he was active in the IAQ industry, he was a fantastic researcher and a profound thinker.
Anyone who spoke with Terry could see he had a brilliant mind. When he presented his work, he always spoke slowly and deliberately, and if a listener asked a question, he pondered his answer, then selected his words carefully. When he replied, he looked directly at the person he was speaking to, smiling and nodding his head encouragingly. It was an entirely unique approach to conversation.
These mannerisms made Terry a pleasure to talk to and work with, and I think they were partly responsible for his early involvement with the EPA. He conducted research for the organization and quickly became influential in the IAQ industry, specifically when it came to residential populations and large building investigations. Though he’s retired now, there’s no doubt Terry made an indelible mark on our industry.
FRANCIS J. “BUD” OFFERMAN: THE BEST RESEARCHER IN THE BUSINESS
Bud is a researcher like Terry, but in manner, they’re polar opposites. His brilliance is sharp rather than warm. Still, he has done amazing work over the years, and I was awed when I was introduced to him at one of Richard’s programs. His research into large buildings and schools in the early ’90s set the tone for the work I do today.
Bud is still actively researching, and he has held his place on the cutting edge of the industry. His work is always very thorough and readable, whether he’s reporting on the effects of tobacco smoke in cars or the impact of bus exhaust on city air quality. Just a few months ago, he published a paper called “Beware: The COVID-19 Snake Oil Salesmen Are Here,” which was absolutely fascinating. You can read more about that on Pg. 2.
BARBARA SPARK: THE JOURNALIST WHO RESHAPED MY SALES FORCE
I first heard Barbara’s voice in 1989. I was listening to NPR, and serendipitously, a segment on indoor air quality began to play. The piece was 25 minutes long, and the program reported that it was researched and written entirely by Barbara Spark. I’d never heard of Barbara, but in just 25 minutes, she turned me into a fan. Her story was one of the most consummate pieces of knowledge about IAQ available at the time (remember, this is before I met Richard), and I knew I had to have it.
When the program wrapped up, I did something very ‘90s: I called NPR and asked if I could buy copies of the story. They sent me 10 tapes, and I distributed them to my sales force. For years, I used Barbara’s story to introduce my sales staff to the world of IAQ.
A year later at an IAQ barbecue in Tulsa, I sat across the picnic table from a short, opinionated woman. I rather liked her, so I asked what she did and she said, “Oh, I recorded a program on IAQ for NPR!” That’s how I came to know Barbara Spark. Funnily enough, she had heard of me, too. When I introduced myself and she sort of found out that I lived in Texas, she asked if I knew the IAQ guy in Houston who had bought so many of her tapes. I had to confess that I did know him very well, and we both had a good laugh! Barbara went on to work as a regional coordinator for the EPA’s IAQ Division before retiring. We still reminisce and swap articles today.
So, there you have it! You’ve met the four giants of IAQ who shaped my early knowledge and understanding of this industry. I certainly learned a lot from these IAQ “celebrities.” I wouldn’t trade their wisdom or friendships for the world.