We recently learned the sad news that our dear friend and colleague of many years, Tom Webster, passed away at the age of 80. He died at home peacefully, after a stroke, surrounded by his family on February 26. Tom’s life was celebrated at a memorial on April 23rd at the UC Berkeley Faculty Club, attended by family members, friends, colleagues and former students, including many from UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and private companies — a Who’s Who of building science research leaders. The many stories and tributes shared that day are a testament to Tom’s many contributions to our work and community, as so many people spoke passionately of the ways that he helped and connected with them in a meaningful and selfless manner.
Tom joined CBE when it was founded, and was part of a core group of senior research engineers who led cross-cutting research on energy efficiency in commercial buildings until his retirement in 2017. He teamed up with Fred Bauman to be a primary contributor to CBE’s world-renowned research on underfloor air distribution (UFAD), and also initiated and led the development of a wireless measurement toolkit for field applications. Tom contributed his broad range of knowledge and skills, and led research activities that included building energy simulations, laboratory studies and field studies, working frequently in collaboration with many private companies and government agencies. His professional career also included time at Lawrence Berkeley Lab and co-founding an independent HVAC controls start-up, Energyline.
While many of us at CBE think of Tom as a mild-mannered researcher, at the memorial we enjoyed hearing stories about his youth, for example when he worked in the aerospace industry of Southern California, driving around LA in a new Corvette Stingray. Tom was a native Californian, and took advantage of much of what the Golden State has to offer. Born in 1942 in North Hollywood, the oldest of five children, he later went to high school in Folsom where he played football, cruised in a ’55 Chevy and still gained accolades from his peers, as senior class president and voted ‘Best All Around.’ Tom graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1964.
After graduation, he and his best friend Ben Clawson set out to build a sailboat — in spite of (or because of) the fact that they knew little about boats — and six years later they completed the Galatea, a 38-foot trimaran. Joined by Chris Weahunt, Tom’s girlfriend and future wife, the three enjoyed several years of sailing adventures, including the coast of Mexico and to the Galapagos Islands to be one of the last private boats to visit without an official guide. It was on these adventures, and especially time spent with Peace Corps volunteers in Central America, where Tom became inspired to apply his engineering background to sustainable energy, and to join the solar energy group at Lawrence Berkeley Lab in 1976.
Tom and Chris had a loving and enduring relationship of 52 years, married for 48. They went on many travels and adventures from sailing trips, backpacking, travels through Central and South America, Europe, and numerous family vacations. Tom was a loving and committed father to two children, Brett and Kelsey, and throughout his career made himself available whenever they needed him, whether at before-school breakfasts, and attending classes and performances, or simply lending a compassionate ear or a shoulder to cry on. He was also the officiant at both of their weddings.
Tom and his family moved to Piedmont, California, in 1993 after their Oakland home was lost in the 1991 Oakland hills firestorm. After his retirement, Tom became very involved with a local group, Piedmont Connect, generously volunteering his engineering experience to help the city reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including a proposal for an all-electric municipal pool facility that generates zero greenhouse gas emissions, now soon to be realized.
Tom also became dedicated to the study of Buddhism and spirituality. He began meditating and doing spiritual growth work in 1995, deepening and expanding his practice throughout the remainder of his life, attending several meditation retreats at Spirit Rock and Tassajara, and he also led weekly meditation sessions for several years for the staff at CBE.
The many tributes voiced at Tom’s memorial reminded us of his kind and generous spirit, and of his energy for life. He made a lasting impact on people, with his genuine curiosity and interest in the well-being and activities of others. He had a rich and wonderful life, and he will be so sorely missed by all of us who had the pleasure of knowing him.