Updated: Jan 30, 2020
Born: 20 March, 1943
Died: 8 December, 2015
Nationality: United States
Native from Ohio, Tompkins visited Chile for the first time in 1961, at the age of 18. But although he dedicated himself for a large part of his youth and adulthood to his businesses, founding the successful companies The North Face and Esprit, he returned on multiple occasions to the southernmost part of the planet to climb, ski, go kayaking and go on excursions. In the 1990s, however, he made the decision to devote himself to large-scale conservation and abandon the world of business.
As he considered that Patagonia was a vast and remote area of the planet threatened by ecological disaster, he began to form his green empire with the acquisition of land in Chile and Argentina. The first thing he bought in 1991 was a 17,000-hectare estate, the Reñihué Field, whose native and virgin forest was threatened by logging. It was the beginning of the Pumalín Project, Chile's first private protected area. In order to encourage visits to these unique landscapes on the planet, the environmentalist had cabins, campsites and trails built.
However, he faced resistance from locals and from both national and local authorities, who distrusted his plans, some of whom said he was seeking to appropriate freshwater sources to sell abroad, others that he was a CIA spy, still others that he wanted to set up a new Jewish state. And although he ended up reconciling with the presidents of Chile at the time and had excellent relations with Ricardo Lagos, Michelle Bachelet and the right-wing center Sebastián Piñera, he never ceased to be a man of battles. He repeatedly opposed local and transnational projects in Patagonia. With the support of organizations, advisers and links with the environmentalist political world - whose trust he conquered over the years - Tompkins was one of the main activists against the HidroAysén electric megaproject, which Chile finally discarded in 2014. Upon his death in 2015, his widow Kris Tompkins fulfilled his last wish and, three years later, gave his lands to the Chilean State, now part of the Pumalín and Patagonia national parks. Without his determination to protect one of the most fragile areas of the planet, highlighting the importance of nature, we would might have a very different picture of Patagonia and its importance at a global and national scale.