Remembering Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Our Founding Patron

Lewis Pugh expresses his deep sadness at the passing of our Founding Patron Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu:

“What a profound loss this is. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a moral compass, as well as a spiritual beacon, for so many of us for so long. Now that his light has gone out, how will we see our way forward?

We will do it by remembering what he stood for. Principally he stood for peace, and for justice.

In his later life, he was increasingly concerned with issues of environmental justice. That's where we met.

He had a deep love for all living things, and for our natural world. He once told me, ‘The destruction of the earth's environment is the human rights challenge of our time.’

The Destruction of the earth's environment is the human rights challenge of our time.

As our founding patron, 'the Arch' helped us outline the principles which the Lewis Pugh Foundation stands for.

And he was instrumental in helping us secure the largest protected area in the world - the Ross Sea Marine Protected Area off Antarctica, which is 1.55 million km2 – created in 2016.

Russia was the last nation to sign the agreement that brought the MPA into being. Together we prepared a speech, which he recorded. I took this with me to Moscow to deliver to gathered dignitaries from all over the world.

In it, he made the connection between environmental protection and peace.

When you destroy the natural world, he said, you create conditions for conflict. But when you protect it, you create conditions for peace.

"I beg of you," he said. "Do something great. Do something meaningful. Do something that will make a difference to our world, to our planet, and to our children's future. Let us start by committing to protecting the magical Ross Sea of Antarctica. God bless you all."

Having a speech from a Nobel Peace Laureate added so much moral authority to our task, and helped us get the Ross Sea MPA over the line.  

His sense of humour is well known – just being in his presence could light you up. But he could be as fierce as he was funny, and he was the most fierce when he perceived an injustice, whether it be against a person, a people, a nation, or the natural world.

He was vehement and unwavering in his faith and in his belief in what was right.

These are the things that people know about him, because they are the things that defined him. But today I'm also recalling special personal memories of the Arch.

He loved cake (as do I). Whenever we had tea together, we made sure there was cake.

He was warm and tactile. I remember when he came down to the beach to watch me swimming and wish me luck before I departed on a lengthy expedition. When I got out of the water he came up and took my hand – and then shrieked and laughed because it was so cold!

He was unfailingly supportive. He would send me emails, sometimes just a one or two-liner, when I was swimming in the polar regions. He always signed them 'Your Father'.

Getting an email from the arch just before you get into the water warms you up on the inside.

He was very conscious of the need to build future leaders – supporting young people who understand the key issues of their generation.

We would all do well to honour him by following in his footsteps, even if imperfectly. I can just imagine him looking down on us when we do good, laughing softly and telling us "well done".

My love and sincerest condolences go out to Leah and the Tutu family.

May he rest in eternal Peace.”

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