I am in mourning for a man I never met, nor ever will. A man I know little to nothing about, in fact, but a man that I respect. I don’t know his policies nor much about his politics, but I know through his actions he provided the world with a legacy that will outlast my time on this earth.
That man is Douglas Tompkins, co-founder of The North Face, or #TNF as the youngsters may refer to the outdoor-oriented clothing company. Now part of the VF conglomerate, I recall the days when TNF was niche adventure gear for the bold and well-to-do adventurers. Douglas was a backpacking hippie-cum-adventurer who started a small backpacking shop and grew into a multi- channel retail empire. TNF Quality is still great but the products are now mainstream fashion statements, and I feel the original message has been lost. But this doesn’t worry me – the man also founded Esprit – ne’er was there a sillier mark on humanity in hindsight, than this:
However, Mr. Tompkins was an avid outdoorsman and adventurer who turned his back on the corporate life to do great things. He recently passed away while kayaking in Patagonia, succumbing to the elements after a storm caused his boat to capsize, leaving the world at age 72. Not a bad way to go.
In his passing he leaves a great legacy. In addition to founding the Foundation for Deep Ecology, lovingly formed as “A voice for wild nature, the Foundation for Deep Ecology supports efforts to protect wilderness and wildlife, promote ecological agriculture, and oppose destructive mega-technologies that are accelerating the extinction crisis,” Tompkins, along with his wife, family and business entity The Corporation for Land Trust, was able to secure land in Chile and Argentina that they worked diligently to preserve and protect. Noting that land is a highly political currency in these parts, it certainly was no small feat to acquire some 2 million plus acres of land placed under protection as a private reserve. The sad part, he was still working on many more land deals at his passing. His passion served as a vehicle for change for the better, driven by his commitment to preserving the environment. Oh, and his money. He was reported to be a billionaire. Certainly that helps.
Which brings me to my point. Where would we be without the new wave of philanthropist – the successful business people who acquire vast fortunes only to turn them around and support causes that better the world? One can say mass produced clothing betters no one except corporate coffers and individuals’ reliance on mass consumerism as a pleasure center, but that is inevitable. Look at the growing roster of people who give back once they reach their pinnacle – and just how much they give back. Yvon Chouinard, co-founder of the aforementioned CLT and Patagonia founder, is rumored to have been with Doug in the accident/rescue as they were known companions and partners. He is another visionary philanthropist for the outdoors. Then we have Bill Gates (Microsoft), Mark Zuckerberg (facebook), Warren Buffet (who has already given $2 billion to Gates’s foundation and plans on donating 99% of his wealth at death – we hope), Larry Ellison (Oracle), Michael Bloomberg, the Dells, the Wal-Mart Waltons all dropping charitable coin at an astounding rate. And the list goes on…
In Tompkins legacy, he leaves such treasures as Pumalin Park in Chile, some, 700,000 acres of forest, lakes and fjords that support Puma from whence it drew its name. One man was able to preserve this. For you. For South America. For us. and this.
If it were only possible for our government to see the mass buying power of wealth used for good when put toward a cause, instead of functioning on a budgetary spend then ask for more mentality. Good tends to follow good intentions. There are reasons these folks start private entities to manage their efforts.
I’ll drop off my high horse now. But be thankful for those who were fortunate enough to amass enough wealth, enough to the point where their only fulfillment is to give back to ideals they believe in. I hate to say it, but we need more billionaires, because someone has to think for our future, the leadership in Washington DC certainly isn’t.
May your adventures in heaven be legend Doug.