National Geographic : 1960 Mar
Colleague of the Golden Years: John Oliver La Gorce By GILBERT GROSVENOR Chairman of the Board of Trustees, National Geographic Society RECENTLY, with heavy heart, I spread out upon my desk many of the treas ured mementos-letters from faraway places, brief personal notes-that I had re ceived through more than half a century from my beloved friend and colleague, John Oliver La Gorce. One note in particular, penned in his characteristically strong, copperplate hand, moved me deeply, for its warm message closed with this bit of old verse: The span o' life's not long enough Nor deep enough the sea Or broad enough this weary world To part my friend from me. But inexorable time has compelled that parting of friends which world-wide travel and grave, mutually shared problems could never bring about. John Oliver La Gorce, Vice Chairman of the National Geographic Society's Board of Trustees, passed away on December 23, 1959, ending 54 years of de voted service. He had been President of The Society and Editor of its magazine from May, 1954, to January, 1957, succeeding me in those positions. Worked as a Unique Team It has been said that our half a century of association in the direction of The Society and the editing of its magazine was unique in educational and publishing history. Cer tainly no two men ever worked together more closely or more harmoniously. I remember 1905 as the most exciting year in my life with the National Geographic So ciety. In January, I was elected a member of the Board. At last I had made the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE attractive. In that year the members increased from 3,256 to 11,479-a gain of 253 percent in 12 months. The increased receipts enabled me to advise my father-in-law, Alexander Graham Bell, that he could discontinue his annual subscription of $1,200 to aid the magazine. On an autumn day of that year, young "Jack" La Gorce, hearing that I needed an assistant secretary, walked into my office in Hubbard Hall and asked for the job. He got 440 it in 10 minutes. We made no contract; I asked for no reference. Here, I knew instinc tively, was a man who shared my deep, un quenchable faith in The Society's destiny. So it proved. I am proud and grateful that Dr. La Gorce was happy to continue to assist me until I retired as President and Editor 49 years later. Honors Reflect Global Interests In recognition of his distinguished contribu tions to science and education, Dr. La Gorce was awarded honorary degrees by five univer sities. He served as a U. S. delegate to the 1925 Pan American Scientific Congress. In 1948 the Geographical Society of Philadelphia presented him its Henry Grier Bryant Medal for outstanding service to geography. Columbia University in 1955 chose him as one of five leading journalists to receive its Maria Moors Cabot Award for promoting understanding among nations of the Americas. He was a Director of Riggs National Bank and Trustee of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. A mountain and a glacier in Alaska are named for him. La Gorce Arch-a fantastic rock formation in Utah-bears his name. In Antarctica's white wilderness rise La Gorce Mountains and La Gorce Peak. When Admiral Byrd led his first South Polar expe dition in 1928-30, he set up the La Gorce Meteorological Station. On the Admiral's 1933 expedition, Dr. La Gorce was appointed honorary postmaster of Little America. Though he never accompanied Byrd, Dr. La Gorce was no stay-at-home. He traveled extensively and wrote many articles for the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, on subjects as diverse as Puerto Rico and Pennsylvania, aquariums and Romania. Others dealt with fishing, an art in which he was highly proficient. He personally edited all editions of The Society's comprehensive Book of Fishes. He wrote for the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC one of the most dramatic accounts I have ever read, the capture of a giant devilfish.* The monster measured 22 feet across and 17 feet, 1 inch long, still a world record. * See "Devil-Fishing in the Gulf Stream," by John Oliver La Gorce, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, June, 1919.