Co-founder of outdoor product company North Face and fashion and lifestyle brand Esprit, US billionaire Douglas Tompkins died of hypothermia when strong winds caused his kayak to capsize during a trip on General Carrera Lake in Patagonia, Chile. Five others whose kayaks also capsized were not hurt in the incident.
Tompkins was taken via helicopter to a hospital in Coyhaique but died on 8 December, six hours after being admitted. "We are all deeply saddened at the news of Doug's passing. Doug was a passionate advocate for the environment, and his legacy of conservation will help ensure that there are outdoor spaces to be explored for generations to come," the North Face company said in a statement.
An outdoorsman and conservationist, Tompkins had left the corporate lifestyle in San Francisco for the untamed locales of Argentina and Chile where he bought up large pieces of land in order to conserve them and also contributed to various organisations working to protect South America's national parks.
In a 2014 report, The Atlantic described Tompkins and his wife Kris' contribution: "They have purchased enough land in Chile and Argentina to equal an area the size of nearly two Rhode Islands, and they plan to donate these ice-coated peaks, red-rock canyons and coastal volcanoes to the respective governments in the form of national parks. They have protected more land than any other private individuals in history."
While his fervent efforts in conservation have been recognised the world over, the local governments did not take kindly to his large real estate purchases. "I've never ever tried to make life easy for myself," Tompkins told The Guardian in a 2009 interview. "Land use is highly political here, more than most places: If we wanted to retire in peace we wouldn't be here. These parks are our life's work, not the clothing chains we created, selling people clothes they don't need. We are the ones who keep putting obstacles in our own way by buying more land. I'm a troublemaker and I'm proud of it. We know what to expect -- more confrontation, more outrage, more mistrust."
The 72-year-old had to often lock horns with the Chilean government and private businesses in order to limit the expansion of industries that he deemed harmful to the environment. He was also a member of Patagonia Without Dams, which opposed the construction of mega-dams for power generation company HidroAysén.
"Look, you can plough money into Africa, you can be like Bill Gates and take on malaria, these are all admirable pursuits, but it's really quite simple. There's not going to be any social justice on a dead planet. We need to pay our dues to live on this earth; we need to pay the rent and I'm doing that with the work we are carrying out here in Patagonia," he was quoted as saying, back in 2009.
Tompkins had purchased a total of over 2 million acres of wilderness in South Africa, which is being conserved by various environmental trusts.