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After a Career on Deadline, Soaking Up the Sun

COM’s Bill Lord retires to focus on solar energy

Bill and Debbi Lord outside their solar house in Cape Porpoise, Maine. Bill Lord retired this spring after 14 years at BU. Photo courtesy of Bill Lord

Bill Lord formally began his golden years only recently, but the Emmy Award–winning journalist and College of Communication professor has been basking in the sun for quite some time. He and his wife, Debbi Lord (SSW’96), built a solar house near Kennebunkport, Maine, more than a decade ago. After 14 years of teaching at BU, Lord retired this spring to spend his time in Maine growing vegetables and educating the public about solar energy.

Lord’s storied career in journalism spanned 32 years, and he garnered five Emmys while at ABC News. He started out on the air for American Newsstand, then went on to become vice president of ABC’s Washington news bureau, executive producer and vice president of Nightline with Ted Koppel and World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, and executive producer of Good Morning America News.

“My experience taught me about in-depth coverage, thoughtful analysis, and creative presentation,” he says. “My hope was to instill in students those elements when they present information.”

Arriving at BU in 1993, Lord focused his attention on the then-emerging Internet and its uses in the field of journalism. “Here’s something big that everyone’s going to use,” he remembers thinking. “Being able to publish information on the Internet is going to be huge.” Besides teaching, Lord directed the COM Technology Task Force, which focuses on integrating interactive multimedia into the journalism curriculum. He cotaught an experimental multimedia class last semester, where students from the print, broadcast, and photojournalism departments collaborated to create projects using a combination of audio, video, and stills.

Lord began at BU at the same time as his solar-house plans got under way. After meeting Steven Strong, a leading solar architect, the Lords’ interest in solar power and other ways of reducing environmental impact came to fruition. Their house was built with solar panels on the roof to generate electricity and hot water. Excess power goes into a “bank” that can be used in the winter, when there are not as many hours of sunlight.

The house also has a vapor-barrier sealed interior to keep heat from escaping and uses low-consumption plumbing. The windows and sliding-glass doors are made with solar glass. “My wife and I have always been interested in the environment,” Lord says, “and how best to tread lightly on it.”

Commuting to BU from Maine takes two hours each way by car, so instead of consuming more resources by driving, Lord took the Amtrak commuter train to Boston. As a result of his travels, he started the Down East Riders Web site, which provides information on train service while seeking to improve it. He used his train time to correct papers or socialize with other passengers. “I enjoyed it,” he says. “It’s a good way to get off the turnpike, sit back and relax, and take part in the community on the rails.”

With his commuting days behind him, Lord says, he will be promoting the benefits of solar homes and updating his Solar House Web site. Bill and Debbi Lord — who has a master’s degree in social work from BU — also open up their home annually on the first Saturday of October to show visitors how solar power works, as part of the National Tour of Solar Homes. The Lords’ house has been featured on CNN, PBS, the History Channel, Home and Garden TV, and Maine and Connecticut public television, drawing media attention for its environmental friendliness.

While the cost of building a solar house was greater than that of a conventional house, the payoff comes in helping the environment, not to mention electric bills totaling just $7.61 a month — their electric company’s basic hookup charge.

“We’re a convincing example of how solar power works,” Lord says. “I consider myself an evangelist — I want to convert people to solar power.”

Abby Jordan can be reached at ajordan@bu.edu.