The late great energy pioneer, Richard ‘Dick’ McCormack

Richard A. “Dick” McCormack, a leading figure in the energy industry for five decades, passed away last month at the age of 90.

When I first met Dick, I thought, “This is a frame; he’s a leader. It was a feeling that I hadn’t had the opportunity to change after nearly 50 years of shared friendship and adventures.

We met, if I remember correctly, at a press conference in 1973 at the Georgetown Club in Washington. Dick was a young vice president at Combustion Engineering, then a major presence in steam technology and the burgeoning nuclear industry. The others were Westinghouse, General Electric, and Babcock & Wilcox.

It was a busy and dynamic time for the nuclear industry. Dick, an engineering graduate from Stevens Institute of Technology who had served as a naval officer, sold power plants.

Two of its sales stand out: the twin nuclear reactors in San Onofre in California and the Ravenswood fossil fuel power plant in Long Island City, New York. These sales were in the days of energy crises and all energy was good.

Dick was tall and handsome like a man. Her smile was emblematic of her entire active personality: it was the smile that made you feel that anything was possible. The strength of his presence was such that people wanted to be part of his team, help him with his projects and be in his company. Dick made everyone feel important.

He was drawn away from Combustion Engineering in 1974 to become chairman of General Atomic Power Systems Company, then owned by Gulf Oil and Royal Dutch Shell. Nuclear power was a hot topic and the oil companies wanted to participate.

General Atomic was promoting gas-cooled reactors, and the future looked bright for what many thought was a winning technology.

Nuclear power lost its luster after the Three Mile Island accident in 1979. Dick left General Atomic and began a life as a serial entrepreneur, primarily in advanced energy projects, including energy storage. through chemical reactions, the safety of power plants and the green renovation of homes.

His advice included a massive study of gas-cooled reactor technology for the Department of Energy. I worked with Dick and David Fishlock of the Financial Times on the summary.

We worked together on two other projects. The first was an attempt to bring independent and reliable facts and analysis to the current energy crisis of the 1970s. We designed an energy institute that would be a repository of facts. Irrefutable truths.

It was a time of wild conspiracy theories about energy and its technologies. Ralph Nader, for example, said nuclear reactors could burst like rotten melons. Others said there would be incredible mutations near the reactors, with double-headed babies to begin with. Oil companies were believed to have tanker fleets off the east coast, waiting for prices to rise. Also, it was believed that the oil companies inhibited water vapor technology that would double the mileage for any car.

Dick and I raised funds for the institute. We visited senior executives from oil companies, electric utilities and their suppliers. We’ve been turned down a number of times, but Dick always cherished the idea.

I am happy to say that the DOE Energy Information Administration is functioning today as we had hoped.

Another of our projects involved Dick’s desire to start a newspaper in Hartford, Connecticut. I was a director and a small investor.

Dick believed in everything he worked on, no matter how successful he was. Those who joined the newspaper project were swept away, including Harold Evans, the legendary editor-in-chief of the British daily The Times. Those who joined the newspaper project were swept away, including Harold Evans, the legendary editor-in-chief of The Times, the British daily. When I visited Evans at the newspaper’s offices in London, he said to me, “Any friend of Dick’s is a friend of mine. He too had been carried away, even though he knew little about Hartford or American newspaper publishing.

None of us regretted our investments or the hours we spent on this project. Working with Dick paid off quite a bit.

He ended his extraordinary career working in association with US Generating. Throughout his life, he supported many charities and even helped resettle Syrian refugees.

He adored his wife and his large family: five sons, one daughter, eight grandchildren and five great grandchildren. His namesake son worked for me in Washington as an outstanding editor and reporter for my newsletters. I consider him a dear friend as I counted his father.

In Dick, the energy world had a general who sometimes served as an infantryman.

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