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Doug Tompkins founded The North Face, best known for its outdoor gear, and then quit that retail career to devote his life to conservation. And he has died. Tompkins was 72. He died in a kayaking accident on a lake in Chile. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports that Tompkins and his wife have helped save millions of acres of pristine land in Chile and Argentina.
JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: People who knew him say Tompkins never set out to be a business titan. He was an avid skier and mountain climber who never went to college. He founded a skiing and backpacking shop in San Francisco that became the outdoor gear giant North Face. Tompkins and his first wife also helped found the clothing line Esprit. In the early '90s, he decided to get out of the retail world to address what he saw as an urgent crisis facing the environment.
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DOUG TOMPKINS: The global economy, civilization itself and its overall enormous boot print that's destroying the natural world. This is the question of the times.
ZARROLI: Together with his second wife, former Patagonia CEO Kris McDivitt, Tompkins began acquiring land in Southern Chile and Argentina - more than 2.2 million acres. Much of that has been donated or earmarked for conservation. And those acres have been combined with land donated by government and private sources to create a vast park system. One Park stretches from Chile's coast to the Andes Mountains. Tom Butler is with the Foundation For Deep Ecology, one of several environmental groups Tompkins founded.
TOM BUTLER: He had just an intensity for work, to work on the things he was interested in. And what he was most interested in was saving nature.
ZARROLI: Not everyone in Chile and Argentina appreciated Tompkins' efforts. He was sometimes seen as a North American outsider using his millions to force a vision on the two countries. But Tompkins saw it as his duty to speak out widely and passionately about the environment. In the end, he leaves a vast legacy of conservation his widow is left to shepherd. Jim Zarroli, NPR News.
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