Heather Andrews, a.k.a. @PVaddict, 1978-2012
For those who follow me regularly here on Renewable Energy World, this week’s post will be quite personal, so my apologies in advance for straying somewhat from solar marketing and advocacy, though not completely.
My friend, solar installer, and solar PV instructor Heather Andrews died on Wednesday, February 8, after complications from brain surgery. She was only 33.
For those performing daily solar work, I think we can often underestimate our effect on this industry, but to me, everyone who contributes to putting more solar power into the world is special, and when I know them personally, their sudden loss is naturally felt even more deeply.
It’s okay if you don’t recognize Heather Andrew’s name. She’d be embarrassed if you did, yet Heather was fairly well known in the solar social media community, which some of us call "the solar tribe." Heather went by the Twitter handle @PVAddict, and if there actually is a clinical solar PV addiction, Heather had it.
When I first joined Twitter, there were very few solar pros there, so it was easy for us to find each other with a quick “solar “ hash tag. And when I saw “@PVaddict,” that was a Twitter handle that I had to know. It really was easy to get to know Heather, and not just because she was beautiful and a solar Twitter spitfire. She was just an open, friendly, and curious person, as well as a working example to young women wanting to put on gloves, get on a roof, and install solar.
Unlike me, who has only taken solar courses, Heather was one of a handful journeywoman electricians, a proud union member at IBEW local #357, as well as a solar PV installer and instructor in her home town of Las Vegas. I can’t tell you how many watts she installed throughout her lifetime, but it was a lot. She spoke technical solar, and would righteously recite passages from the NEC. Shame, shame, shame to anyone who tried to sneak a solar PV electrical work-around. If there was one thing that Heather could hate, it was sloppy electrical work and code violations.
Not only did Heather speak solar, she spoke several other languages. If you were lucky to be one of her friends on Facebook, you’d see her posting about solar, music, and protecting women and children in Korean, Spanish, French, and Japanese, and I think I’ve also heard her speak German at SPI.
What I'm going to miss most about Heather is her enthusiasm for everything, but especially her solar advocacy. She supported and volunteered her time to many solar social media campaigns, and she often insisted to me and others that “solar is sexy.” She would have gladly posed for a calendar, marched in a parade, or picketed for any solar cause.
I hope you’re getting a sense now for what a beaming solar light she was on paper, but it’s only an outline of what she was in person. You have to imagine a 5’ frame and a non-stop brain that was always observing details, asking questions, and making quick jokes. She talked really fast, and was not afraid of heights, pets, or dark beer…in moderation, of course. She may have been small, but Heather had a vice-like hug that she wrapped around students, colleagues, and new friends. She was so solid and so strong, and it is heartbreaking that those who knew her will never be hugged like that again.
From all the above, you’d think that I saw Heather every day, but I only met her a handful of times at the major solar conferences. Say what you will about the disconnectedness of social media, but I promise you that Heather genuinely connected to me and to many others in her virtual — global — social networks, and that made her a very powerful solar advocate and people connector.
Heather was very open about her illnesses, which only became apparent in the last year. She would rattle off medical terms to me and others like a doctor. She had a rare but curable condition called Chiari Malformation, as well as another rare blood disorder commonly referred to as APS. The Chiari was the most serious, but typically treatable, and Heather's case didn't appear to be unusual.
The treatment was a brief cranial surgery that relieves pressure on the brain with relatively few side effects. It was performed in November, and seemed to go well. Heather tweeted from her hospital bed soon after, but every time they released her, she returned to the emergency room within a day. Three months and many more surgeries, the doctors couldn’t find a solution to why her body kept producing too much cerebral spinal fluid, increasing pressure on her brain. She eventually passed into a coma and left us for a sunnier world on Wednesday.
Her last post on Twitter was on December 15th: “Still alive #SolarTribe, just fighting complications. Working toward full Twitter reintegration by the new year...I miss tweeting #solar!” After that, things got steadily worse for Heather. I only got to see her briefly once at the hospital with her fellow PV installer, teacher, and friend, Guy Snow. She couldn’t hug me, but we talked a little and she could still give me a vice-grip squeeze to my hand.
Through the end and during her solar career, Heather was supported by her family, especially her mom, Janice Andrews, and her great friend and solar colleague, Guy Snow. They were by her side daily, and they generously kept Heather’s many local and long distance solar friends updated on her status through Facebook.
And so I'm writing today about the loss of a single solar PV installer. You may not have known Heather Andrews personally, but she was a great example and symbol of our solar industry, and our solar tribe. If you are a solar installer or PV teacher, Heather was one of you. If you’re a solar advocate, she was one of you. If you’re a parent who lost a child prematurely, or you’re an animal lover, or defender of abused children and abused women, she was part of your tribe too. So, I hope that you will honor Heather by sending a first, or one last message to @PVaddict on Twitter.
Thank you for allowing me to share Heather’s story. Perhaps not surprisingly, she elected to donate her organs, so she will literally live on in others. In lieu of flowers, per Heather's request, donations can be made in her name to the following: APS Foundation of America, Conquer Chiari, RAINN, and Child Haven.
Thank you for reading, and thank you, @PVAddict. RIP.
Update: Solar Energy International, one of the places where Heather taught, has started a scholarship fund in Heather's honor to encourage more women to get involved with solar. More information and how to donate to the fund here.
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