I had the privilege of meeting Andy Wells in the fall of 2009. I had become fascinated with the Prince Edward Island of the late 1960s and early 1970s: the “Development Plan” of that era, and the cultural and environmental transformations it begat were, in light of our current concerns about climate change, a beacon of hope that substantive and dramatic change on Prince Edward Island is possible. Wells’ work with Premier Alex Campbell and, later, with the Institute of Man and Resources, seemed almost unbelievably revolutionary in light of our current paralysis.
Here is how Alan MacEachern introduces Wells in his excellent book The Institute of Man and Resources: An Environmental Fable:
Campbell’s interest in environmental matters was, like much of his thought, nurtured by his executive secretary, speechwriter, and right-hand man, Andy Wells — Machiavelli to Campbell’s Prince, in one pundit’s words. Theirs was what Campbell calls “a remarkable relationship.” For one thing, it was a second-generation one: when Alex’s father Thane was premier of PEI in the 1930s, Andy’s father James had been his assistant. After returning to the Island to take over the family farm in 1959, Andy Wells had worked on Alex Campbell’s winning election campaign in 1966, and soon became the premier’s closest advisor. Wells had a philsophical bent that matched Campbell’s pragmatism, a skill at behind-the-scenes politicking which nicely complemented Campbell’s public persona. When defining policy or preparing speeches they were so in tune — Wells knowing what his premier wanted said, Campbell trusting the words handed to him — that it was difficult to know where one’s ideas ended and the other’s began. Campbell states simply, “He was my researcher and I was his voice.” Wells remembers Campbell once referring to himself as a vessel into which Wells poured his ideas. Though he adds that the premier was joking, Wells is clearly pleased with the line.
It was largely through Wells that the Campbell goverment gained an interest in environmental thought. Wells was an inverterate reader, and was drawing influence at the time from anti-technology works like Louis Mumford’s Myth of the Machine and Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful. He even built his own back-to-the-land project, a home in Hazelgrove heated entirely with wood. Wells got Campbell talking about environmental ideas, and, through Campbell, got the government involved.
Andy Wells died this week. With his passing Islanders have lost a man I would hold to be among the most positively influential public servants we’ve ever had.
More than any of the myriad ways in which the Development Plan and the Institute affected life on the Island practically, the notion that Prince Edward Island can determine its own future, that we can innovate and experiment here as or more nimbly as anywhere, and that we can change seemingly unchangeable things is a tremendous and powerful legacy.
On a sunny day in the autumn of 2009 I travelled to Andy Wells’ home in Hazelgrove — the selfsame “back-to-the-land project” — to chat with him his role in the Island’s transformation of that day.
It was not in the nature of Andy’s position or inclination to shine light on his own accomplishments; it is my great hope that his contributions to Island society not be lost. Rest in peace.