Antrim native Steve Sawyer’s life and career dedicated to changing the world

  • Steve Sawyer was at home on Gregg Lake in Antrim. The Antrim native and former executive director of Greenpeace International passed away on July 31 from lung cancer. Courtesy photo—

  • Steve Sawyer often hiked Mount Monadnock during his summers in Antrim. Courtesy

  • Steve Sawyer, an Antrim native, loved sailing on Gregg Lake during his summer returns to his hometown and would bring his children Layla (pictured) and Sam along for the ride. Sawyer passed away at the age of 63 on July 31 after a short battle with lung cancer. Courtesy photo—

  • Steve Sawyer would spend an entire day on the water at Gregg Lake in Antrim during summer vacations to his hometown. Sawyer passed away on July 31 from lunch cancer at the age of 63. Courtesy photo—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 8/12/2019 4:20:25 PM

Steve Sawyer’s career took him around the globe, but he felt most at home sailing on Gregg Lake in Antrim.

Sawyer was remembered at a memorial service in Antrim on Friday for his long career that included time with Green Peace International and the Global Wind Energy Council, but also as a man who cared deeply about his family and friends.

He grew up in the town after moving there at the age of 6 and graduated from ConVal High School. It’s where his love of nature first began. Even though Sawyer made his home in Amsterdam for the last three decades and trotted around the world in his fight to make it a better place, he always came back to his hometown for summer vacations on the lake, even buying a home there in 2005.

“It’s our little paradise,” said Kelly Rigg, Sawyer’s wife. “It’s beautiful and it just felt like our place.”

Those vacations were getting longer and longer in recent years as he slowed down a bit and his work allowed him to do more remotely, but sadly Sawyer never made it back to his hometown this summer. After being diagnosed with lung cancer in April, Sawyer lost his battle with the disease on July 31 in Amsterdam at the age of 63.

Sawyer was always one to think big about global problems and their solutions.

As a founder and leader with the Global Wind Energy Council – a member-based organization that represents wind energy companies and investors – Sawyer worked to convince governments around the world to accept wind as a key solution to meet growing energy demand while lowering carbon emissions. In just over a decade, global wind projects grew sevenfold under his advocacy.

“Steve had a passion for wind like no one else I have known in my life and has been instrumental in our efforts to globalize the industry and bring wind into the center of the global energy debate,” said Morten Dyrholm, the chairman of the global wind council. “This legacy should inspire us all to fight even harder and with ever more resolve to realize a 100 percent renewable energy system.”

Yet, Sawyer largely remained on the sidelines for the controversial wind project proposed in Antrim that took years before it received final approval.

When the wind proposal in his hometown got the go-ahead to proceed and would be visible from his little paradise, Rigg said he was “excited about it and completely supported it.”

While Sawyer never got to see the first turbines go up, he felt strongly about the project and the revenue it could bring to the town, not to mention the impact it would have on the environment, which his friends said he cared about deeply.

“More than anyone else I know, he never let the wind industry forget the fight to stop dangerous climate change and why what we are collectively doing is so important,” said Ben Blackwell, the CEO of Global Wind Energy Council. “He traveled and worked constantly, but he always had time to chat, and he was a loyal and caring friend.”

Sawyer graduated from Haverford College in Pennsylvania in 1978, and moved to Boston, where he met a canvasser for Greenpeace and quickly got involved with the group’s environmental protection fight. He traveled a lot, and it was in New Zealand where he escaped serious injury or death after a bombing sank Greenpeace’s flagship in 1985, in the country to protest against a planned French nuclear test. Sawyer wasn’t on the boat at the time of the bombing.

Sawyer rose to become Greenpeace’s U.S. director a year later and then Greenpeace International’s executive director in 1988.

“He believed strongly in what he was doing,” Rigg said.

In May of 1989, he and Rigg moved to Amsterdam, where they raised their two children. Layla was a 1-year-old when the family moved and their son Sam was born there.

Rigg said it was a tough decision to leave Greenpeace, but she said her husband felt strongly about making the change.

“He felt it was time to really focus on the solution side and not the protest side,” Rigg said. “He was completely focused on climate change and climate energy.”

When in New Hampshire he liked to sail around Gregg Lake in the boat his father and brother built and he hiked Mount Monadnock every year. He golfed at Angus Lea in Hillsborough, played the guitar and enjoyed getting lost and finding his way.

“Steve always loved to be out in nature,” Rigg said. “He grew up here, barefoot in the summer out in the woods.”

At Friday’s memorial service, his niece Kim Akins read from what is considered Sawyer’s Bible – Lord of the Rings. She chose a few passages that made her think of her uncle. Sawyer gave Akins a copy of The Hobbit when she was a kid and their connection through ‎J.R.R. Tolkien stuck with her.

“They were so important to him,” Akins said.

Akins was 10 years younger than Sawyer, but when he went off to work with Greenpeace, “I knew what he was doing was changing the world,” she said.

His college friend Tom Sutton said from the time he met Sawyer he wanted to be him.

“He was brilliant,” Sutton said. “There was nothing Steve Sawyer could not do.”

Sutton pointed to his work around the world and how he wished more people believed Sawyer when he discussed the idea of climate change.

“He had a huge impact on everyone he dealt with in the world,” Sutton said.

His son Sam talked about the role model his dad was and how he always stressed to believe in what you do and try to figure out the solution to the problem before asking for help. Layla talked about how her dad urged her to think critically and work hard. She reminisced about heated debates “that even Google couldn’t solve.”

Carl Querforth went to high school with Sawyer and even though they lost touch for many years, they reconnected a few years ago and always made it a point to get together when he was in Antrim.

“He didn’t really change. He was the same guy,” Querforth said.

Susan Kenney, his niece, remembers when she was young and Sawyer was in high school, he’d come home for lunch and the two of them would eat peanut butter sandwiches and watch Hollywood Squares. She talked of his brilliance and go-getter mentality.

“You could always look to Steve for an answer,” Kenney said. “But he was very much a pull yourself up by your bootstraps and figure it out” person.

Rigg said her husband was a resourceful man who learned how to do things by doing them. Even during his final months, he never complained or felt sorry for himself.

“He was as strong about (his illness) as he was with everything else,” Rigg said.

There will be another memorial service in Amsterdam on Aug. 27 that will be live streamed. For those wishing to view the memorial page or leave a message, visit

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