Chuck Hedlund’s recent death at age 86 looms larger than the loss of CI’s longest-serving Board member and the beloved father of Ann Nichols, our vice president for development. Chuck was our wise elder, our unsung hero who imbued this organization from the very beginning with his passion and his commitment to making this a better world.
His strengths were many. One of the greatest was his ability to bring simplicity and clarity to the complex and the obtuse. I knew I could always count on Chuck to see perplexing problems in a clearer light. His recommendations often made the most difficult issues more manageable.
Chuck believed that one person could make a difference, and he lived his life accordingly. He stood by us in our earliest days, providing the guidance and support we needed to make the right decisions and hire the best people. He believed that both corporate and individual involvement were vital to long-term conservation success, and he worked hard to bring many new friends into the CI family.
For 18 years, with boundless enthusiasm and high principles, he shaped our philosophy, defined our goals, encouraged our labors, guided our growth, and taught us there is no higher calling than to celebrate and safeguard Earth’s beauty and wonders.
My apprenticeship with Chuck began in early 1987, when I left The Nature Conservancy and was followed by 35 colleagues. On January 28, after an intense, all-night meeting to hammer out our precepts, CI was born. Walking out of Washington DC’s Tabard Inn into a snowy morning, I found Chuck waiting on the sidewalk. He took my arm. “Keep this group together,” he said. Chuck helped make that possible by becoming CI’s founding Chairman. He also grew to become my teacher, my counselor, and—more importantly—my loyal and abiding friend.
Chuck devoted almost two decades to shaping CI, and from space, you can view his conservation accomplishments across landscapes and oceans
. From Santa Cruz Island to the Sea of Cortez, from Bolivia’s Beni Biosphere Reserve to the Talamanca Highlands of Costa Rica
, the endowment of this extraordinary man is a gift for the ages. What a legacy!
In mid-June, I paid a final visit shortly after dawn as he slept in his hospital bed. His family was present. Ann told me he was slipping away, but when she whispered, “Peter is here,” Chuck took my arm with the same firm grip I remember those 18 years ago on the morning of CI’s founding.
For two hours, we talked CI business: executive committee, senior staff, institutional options. He gave me advice, warned me of pitfalls. Everything made sense. And then he said, “I have to sleep.” Leaving, I kissed his forehead and said, “Thank you Chuck, for starting CI.” He looked up, held my hand, and said that after marrying his wife, Helen Marie, “it was the best thing I have done.”