National Geographic : 1988 Jan
From left: CHARLES EVANS HUGHES, 1862-1948, Chief Justice of the United States STEPHEN T. MATHER, 1867-1930, Director, NationalPark Service From left: GILBERT H. GROSVENOR, 1875-1966, Editor and Chairman, NationalGeographic Society LEONARD CARMICHAEL, 1898-1973, Secretary, SmithsonianInstitution GIFFORD PINCHOT, 1865-1946, First Chief, U. S. Forest Service ELIZA R. SCIDMORE, 1856-1928, Writer ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL, 1847-1922, Inventor, educator polar explorer. The Society was helping to support his research when I became a fledgling Society employee in 1932. I regarded Admiral Byrd with awe and felt a special excitement each time he returned from one of his Antarctic expeditions. His long absences, however, pre sented some difficulties for the admiral, and before one meeting he asked a favor of me. "Please stand here beside me," he said, "and when members come in, whisper their names." I did, and he responded with flair. "Bill! How good to see you again!" he would shout heartily. Each Bill was impressed with the admiral's splendid memory. During one such meeting a blizzard hit Washington and grounded all flights, includ ing Admiral Byrd's plane to Boston. We ar ranged for train tickets, and I tapped him on the shoulder to tell him it was time to go. "How can I ever get a taxi in this?" he asked. I explained that we already had a car for him with motor running. He beamed: "Sometimes I think the National Geographic Society is more efficient than the Navy." High praise indeed. But then among our trustees we have enjoyed the efficient help of five other Navy admirals, as well as five Army and Air Force generals, a tradition that dates from the era when exploration was usually ar ranged in cooperation with the armed forces. Robert E. Peary and his exploits were an ex ception-but that was before my time. So were other giants of the early years inventor Alexander Graham Bell and pioneer conservationists like Gifford Pinchot and Ste phen Mather. I worked closely with the next generation of trustees, during the time of Gil bert H. Grosvenor and John Oliver La Gorce. Among our founding trustees, I met only one, Maj. Gen. A. W. Greely. But in 1932 the famous 19th-century Arctic explorer moved with the full weight of his 88 years and needed WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT, 1857-1930, 27th Presidentof the United States CALVIN COOLIDGE, 1872-1933, 30th President of the United States help to push open the heavy front door at Soci ety headquarters. At that time board members were elected for life, but later the board pro vided for the retirement of older members and then for the participation of emeritus members whose health permits. Charles Evans Hughes served as a member from 1930 until his death in 1948. I remember him as a very distinguished but reserved man, certainly no handshaker. Earl Warren, in contrast, was delightfully down to earth. He stayed on after meetings-often for a swim at the University Club across the street-and reminisced about his days in elective office. Each trustee has brought his own expertise and personal style to the service of the Society. Gen. of the Armies John J. Pershing (George Washington was the only other leader to re ceive that title) was a man of splendid military bearing, even in his declining years. His doc tors had warned him to avoid climbing stairs, and he missed many meetings until I found a way for him to use a basement elevator. Charles Kettering, the General Motors ex ecutive who invented the self-starter and many other devices for automobiles, flew his own airplane to attend meetings. Among the personal quirks of this original genius, I recall, were that he never carried cash money and he had an aversion to college-trained engineers: "College teaches them what they can't do." Through the years we have been fortunate that our trustees' bold decisions supported far reaching changes in Society policies as we moved from flatbed printing to state-of-the art rotary presses, entered radio and televi sion, and went into the production of books, atlases, globes, and a host of educational materials. Many great scientists have served the Society. There was Leonard Carmichael, former Secretary of the Smithsonian Insti tution. A psychologist and primatologist, Dr. Carmichael had been president of the American Philosophical Society. Even in the last painful days of his terminal illness, he traveled to Africa making a reconnais sance for our Committee for Research and Exploration, which he chaired. We bor rowed pillows and placed them around him in a van, as we bumped over difficult African roads. Natural history photography had its pioneers among our board members. Natu ralist George Shiras 3d developed tech niques for photographing birds and other wildlife at the turn of the century and won medals for his pictures at the Paris Exposi tion in 1900 and the St. Louis world's fair in 1904. Another sort of bird photography was perfected by Crawford H. Greenewalt, chairman of E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company. A scientist as well as an industri alist, Mr. Greenewalt pursued a hobby of photographing hummingbirds with ultra high-speed flashes that he himself de signed. He also analyzed birdsong by sonograph and used the electron micro scope to show for the first time the feather structures that create, by optical interfer ence, the hummingbird's brilliant colors. "I spent last weekend in South Amer ica,'"Mr. Greenewalt told me once. He had left by plane on Friday afternoon, taken pictures of some rare hummingbirds in Bra zil, and returned to his desk on Monday. "It was the only free time I could find," he explained. He produced an outstanding article on hummingbirds for this magazine. Juan Trippe, founder of Pan American World Airways, did his homework care fully for each meeting of the board. His MELVILLE BELL GROSVENOR, 1901-1982, Editor and Chairman, NationalGeographic Society JEROME H. HOLLAND, 1916-1985, Former U. S . Ambassador to Sweden experience in overseas business added a valuable dimension to Society operations. Diversity of talent, of course, has always been a hallmark of our board, but we want ed to broaden its representation. I recall the visit I paid to the late Dr. Jerome Holland in New York City some years ago with an invitation to join our board. "Why me?" he asked pointedly. Well, "Brud" Holland had been a national hero since his days at Cornell as an All-American football player. He had served two univer sities as president and won praise as an au thor and as U. S. Ambassador to Sweden. He was highly qualified. Dr. Holland con sidered our invitation, accepted-and be came our first black trustee. The members of our current Board of Trustees represent a heterogeneous group. Their pictures and affiliations we can see on the following pages-two from banking, two astronauts, two jurists, people from the arts, science, education, communications, philanthropy, business, and law. Trustees meet five times a year, electing an executive committee, new board mem bers as required, and the Committee for Research and Exploration. And when the latter committee exceeds its five-million dollar grant budget, the board enthusiasti cally approves. (I can recall in the 1930s when our research budget was $50,000!) They act on behalf of you and the 10.5 million other members of the Society, plan ning for the future of this, the world's larg est nonprofit scientific and educational organization.