About Andy Mele
I was born and mostly raised in Woodstock, NY. The name Mele is Italian, probably originally Miele, and that side of my family comes from the Abruzzi, in the middle of the boot in the mountains east of Rome—so poor that the Romans never bothered to conquer it. My father was a viola prodigy, and was first viola of the Rochester Philharmonic by the age of 20. My mother’s side is American blueblood, from a family of people who got famous in their day for doing things.
My mother and father were published novelists and short story writers. My mother was the youngest woman to have a night beat for the Times in Manhattan, and soon thereafter was the first woman journalist in the ruins of Berlin. Her second book, Prettybelle (Dial Press), was optioned for Broadway and made into a musical with book by Bob Merrill, music by Jule Styne, and starring Angela Lansbury. Almost everyone on my mother’s side, going back to the Civil War, has written. This fact has had a profound effect on my commitment to writing.
My father’s real loves were writing and dry-fly trout fishing. He became an accidental environmentalist by way of his love for the streams where he fished. Appalled at New York City’s withdrawals of impounded Catskill Mountain waters during the hot, dry summers of upstate New York, he formed a group called Catskill Waters, that after seven years forced the city to release minimal amounts of water all summer, preserving the streams, their fish, and the tourists who were the backbone of the region’s economies.
My first real job was grooming the clay tennis court at Byrdcliffe. I was 14. The next year, I worked building swimming pools with pick and shovel. The summer I was sixteen, I became an unpaid apprentice at the Woodstock Playhouse, a summer stock theater with a wonderful sense of community (and some really nice girls). I parked cars for $20 a week.
Then it was off to the University of New Mexico to become immediately disillusioned with my career choice (archaeology), and drift into academic oblivion, which in 1968 meant a rapid enlistment in the Navy, where lots of family members had enjoyed long, productive careers.
After an early (and honorable) discharge, on grounds of conscientious objection, following two tours aboard a DEG in the Tonkin Gulf—no combat but a few very close calls—I spent a year writing for a local newspaper, wrote a memoir of the Navy experience, built and worked in a sawmill, spent a few years picking up the basics of woodworking, then built and restored wooden boats for 17 or so years. During that time I married, adopted my wife’s two kids, Tina and Justin, and had a daughter of my own, Paloma.
My first book, published by W.W. Norton in 1993, has resulted in a wholesale outboard motor technology change, and in reducing oil discharges to American waterways by millions of gallons each year. Readers of my book included two lawyers with Sierra Club, who sued the EPA for an overdue marine engine rule. My book was Exhibit A in federal court. They got the rule, and today most outboards are four-strokes or direct-injection two-strokes, which are 93-98% cleaner. Look at me! I can change the world!
I had quit boatbuilding to write the book, and then went back to college. I graduated with honors from Bard College in 1994, then pursued a Master’s in Environmental Science, also from Bard, which I completed in 2002.
Sloop Clearwater sailing up the Hudson River photographed by Anthony Pepitone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
From 1995 through 2005, I worked for Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, or just plain Clearwater, winding up as Executive Director. I helped bring the venerable environmental group, with its magnificent wooden replica of a Hudson River sloop, out of an economic and existential crisis and back to its place as a valued resource in New York and the nation.
On my watch, General Electric was finally backed into a corner and forced to sign a Consent Decree to clean the toxic PCBs out of the upper Hudson, after 25 years of resisting. We handed Indian Point (nuclear powerplant) its first courtroom defeat in decades, and helped launch the Hudson River Park, on Manhattan’s west side.
Then it was to Florida full-time, as my mother and stepfather began failing, and I have been here since, living in Sarasota, Bradenton Beach, and northwest Bradenton.
I ran into an old friend from the Hudson River environmental wars, Justin Bloom, who had just founded Suncoast Waterkeeper. I started working with him as a volunteer, and eventually became full-time.
Thanks for reading this bio! I hope you’ll check back in from time to time.