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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Throughout much of his tenure as president and CEO of Public Service Company of New Mexico, Jerry Geist was known as an innovator whose company wowed many in the nation’s utility industry.
But Geist, who was at PNM’s helm for 14 years, left the utility in 1990 amid controversy over the company’s decision to venture into diversified businesses and the heavy losses that ensued.
Geist died Sunday at the age of 84. The Raton native, who served in various leadership roles in Albuquerque, and was a generous supporter of Lobo athletics and other local causes, had been battling cancer.
PNM’s losses stemmed from a rash of investments that included a gold mine, land deals, a laser company in Los Alamos and a fiberboard company in Las Vegas, N.M.
He later told the Journal that many of his ideas “stood the test of time” and that some projects, including the company’s participation in the Palo Verde nuclear power project, were successful in the long run.
“Jerry Geist was a force while he led PNM over a 14-year tenure as Chairman,” current PNM Resources President and CEO Pat Vincent-Collawn said in a statement.
She noted that Geist oversaw some of the biggest changes to PNM.
“Jerry was well-known throughout New Mexico, and his passion for volunteering and giving back to the community set an example for all of us to follow,” she said. “On behalf of our entire PNM team, we extend our deepest sympathies to his family.”
Geist later founded Santa Fe Center Enterprises in 1990 and served as the company’s chairman. He had also served as a consultant, teaming with other companies to work on energy projects in Ukraine, Turkey and Russia.
And he was a community leader.
Geist was the chief organizer of the City of Albuquerque’s Tricentennial events in 2005.
He also served on several University of New Mexico committees and boards, including the University of New Mexico Foundation, the regents Finance and Facilities Committee, the UNM Hospitals Board of Trustees and the UNM Health Sciences Center Board of Directors.
He and his wife, Sharon, made an estate gift of $1.7 million to UNM athletics in 2014.
“He’s just an outstanding person,” former UNM Regent Jamie Koch said. “When I was on the board, I had him appointed to a number of committees.”
Koch said he had known Geist for years, dating back to their days with the Jaycees. He said they also worked on a number of political committees together.
“He was just a super guy,” Koch said. “He will be sorely missed.”
Geist served as president of the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce in 1972-73. In 1975, he was appointed to a panel with city and police negotiators to settle a police strike.
He also raised funds for United Way, co-chaired New Mexico’s committee for the National Holocaust Museum, and served on the boards of the National Symphony Orchestra and the Institute of Public Law.
Geist graduated from high school in Las Vegas, N.M. He received a regular Navy scholarship and graduated from the University of Colorado with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. He served in the United States Navy for four years.
He is survived by his wife, sons Bruce Geist and Douglas Geist, and grandchildren Nicole Geist and Angelo Orozco Geist.
“He was a beloved father and grandfather,” his son Bruce Geist said. “He was a successful businessman and a kind gentleman. He was a pillar of the community for many years.”
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