Last week, I had the privilege of seeing the film Jane’s Journey about Dr. Jane Goodall. Here’s the trailer:
For me, the most fascinating part of the film was watching the footage of a young Jane Goodall in Gombe with the chimps. Such a pioneer. I love how she did things simply because she wanted to—no formal training, no college degree—just passion and curiosity (and the support of Dr. Louis Leakey). I love how she became one of only a handful of people to gain admission to Cambridge’s Ph.D. program without having first had a Bachelor’s degree (again, thanks to Dr. Leakey). Such an inspiration. Where are the pioneers today? What areas of science and exploration will change our understanding of the world over the next 50 years?
After the film ended, Dr. Goodall answered a number of questions from the audience. I have to say, at 76 she is still sharp as a tack and tireless as an ambassador for her causes: chimps, the environment, education, world peace.
I was really hoping to speak with her afterward but the crowd was 5-deep after she finished and everyone had something to say, so I left to get a hot chocolate across the street from the theater. Imagine my surprise when, 20 minutes later, she comes walking past me on the street with the film’s producers! I immediately jumped in front to express my profound gratitude to her for all she’s done and everything she stands for. I thanked the producers of the film, too (since they were right there) for capturing so much of her spirit for others to enjoy. I thought the film was good, a bit long in places, but the highlight for me was shaking her hand and seeing that sparkle in her eye. I didn’t say a word about what I did for a living—I didn’t even tell her my name. I was just happy to be an anonymous fan, grateful for all she’s done and still does.
On January 23, 1960, US Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh and Swiss engineer Jacques Piccard descended to the bottom of Challenger Deep—the deepest spot of the Mariana Trench—in the Trieste bathyscaphe. The descent took almost 5 hours, at which point the Trieste touched down in a cloud of silt, roughly 35,800 feet below the surface. After 20 minutes on the bottom, Walsh and Piccard ascended back to the surface (which took 3 hours and 15 minutes). Their accomplishment has not been repeated by another manned vessel since, and their success has influenced a half-century of oceanography and deep-sea exploration.
Last week, 50 years after the Trieste and its crew completed their historic mission, Capt. Don Walsh and the children of Jacques Piccard (who died in November, 2008) came to Washington, DC to take part in a number of ceremonies and celebrations. The first was a dinner hosted by The Explorers Club’s Washington chapter on Tuesday evening at the Cosmos Club. On Wednesday afternoon, a reception was held on Capitol Hill to acknowledge H.R. 1027, a resolution passed on Jan 23, 2010 commemorating the 50th anniversary of the descent. On Wednesday night, in a private ceremony at National Geographic’s Hubbard Hall, Capt. Walsh received the Hubbard Medal, the highest honor from the National Geographic Society for “distinction in exploration, discovery, and research” and the U.S. Department of the Navy’s Distinguished Public Service Award.
On Thursday morning, the U.S. Navy welcomed a small group of guests with the Walsh and Piccard families to the Washington Navy Yard, where Capt. Walsh spoke (among others) in front of the Trieste.
After a brief lunch, Capt. Don Walsh, oceanographer and conservationist Dr. Sylvia Earle, Dr. Tim Shank of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, engineer Graham Hawkes of Hawkes Remotes, and officials from NOAA and the NSF hosted a press conference at the National Press Club to discuss the past, present and future of ocean exploration. And finally, on Thursday evening, 500 people gathered in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History to again celebrate and honor the achievements of Walsh and Piccard. In front of the supportive crowd, Capt. Walsh was given the Administrator’s Award, NOAA’s highest honor.
I attended most of the above events and had the good fortune of spending a surprising amount of it with Capt. Walsh and his family. Through it all, I was deeply impressed by Capt. Walsh’s tremendous accomplishments over the past 50 years (see this list) and deeply touched by his humility while receiving so many awards and so much recognition. He took time to answer everyone’s questions. He stayed late at every event. He took pictures with anyone who asked (including me). For all of these reasons and many, many more, Capt. Don Walsh, USN (ret) is my Hero of the Month.
In October, 2007, I was honored to be the Master of Ceremonies for The Explorers Club’s Lowell Thomas Awards Dinner in New York. At the beginning of the night, I asked for a slide of Mr. Lowell Thomas to be shown to the guests (you can see this photo in the Speaking Opps section of this site, across from the AdAge Green Conference description). To those in the room who were over 60, Lowell Thomas probably needed no introduction—he was as famous as, say, Walter Cronkite or Jacques Cousteau. But for those younger than 60, I felt it appropriate to at least introduce the man for whom both the Awards Dinner and The Explorers Club’s Headquarters are named. Lowell Thomas (April 6, 1892 – August 29, 1981), as you can read on Wikipedia, was a journalist, broadcaster, and author. He was most famous for introducing the world to British soldier T.E. Lawrence (aka “Lawrence of Arabia”), with whom he spent time before writing With Lawrence in Arabia (1924).
What inspires me about Lowell Thomas was his love of life: his desire to travel, to learn, and—through his reports and books—to take the world along for the ride with him. He also had a thing for hats. Here’s a website filled with photos from his “High Adventure with Lowell Thomas” series that aired Wednesday nights on CBS in 1957-1959. I take comfort in knowing that 50 years ago, someone else was traveling the world in search of great stories, mysteries, and wonders. It’s unfortunate I never had a chance to meet Lowell Thomas, but I appreciate his contribution to journalism, the media, and The Explorers Club—and I aspire to inspire future generations the way he did.
Categories: Hero of the Month
During last year’s Mountainfilm Festival, I had the pleasure of interviewing Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Whale Wars on Animal Planet. (You can see that interview in the archives.) During our talk, Captain Watson said that he could shut down all whaling in Antarctic waters if he just had enough money. When I asked how much (see roughly 05:00 into our talk), he said not much—maybe 10 million…possibly less. This surprised me, as I know there are philanthropists out there who could easily make that kind of contribution. For less than the price of a small Caribbean island, a patron could, in theory, save the whales. Well, today I’ve learned that a patron has stepped up and his name is… Bob Barker. (Come on down!)
Like many people in the US, I grew up watching Bob Barker on The Price is Right. He always struck me as a man of mettle, and I loved his tough character in Happy Gilmore. Today, though, I’m impressed by his support of SSCS. I’m grateful that someone of Mr. Barker’s iconic stature is supporting Capt. Watson’s mission and helping put an end to illegal whaling. For that, Bob Barker is my Hero of the Month.
Categories: Hero of the Month
Of the modern living explorers I’ve been lucky enough to meet, few can compete with the embodiment of mathematical brilliance, scientific ambition, and awe-inspiring bravado that is astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin.
I first met Buzz and his wife Lois at an event for Discovery in 2007 and last night I was thrilled to go to an event for Louis Vuitton where Buzz and Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell were the guests of honor. See http://www.louisvuittonjourneys.com to learn more about that partnership, but the event – held at the American Museum of Natural History’s planetarium – was a blast (sorry, couldn’t resist). Afterward, the Aldrins, the Lovells, a few people from Louis Vuitton and a handful of other guests including myself went to a private dinner together. Buzz was as indefatigable as ever, and it was an honor for me to meet Captain Lovell, whose heroic performance many younger people know from the film Apollo 13, in which Tom Hanks played him. The 40th Anniversary of our landing on the moon is just around the corner, and Buzz’s memoirs have been published to coincide with that anniversary. I’ll let you know more as I start reading it.
Categories: Hero of the Month