Les Fisher has died. He was 100 years old, the former director of the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.
Les was a very special friend and a very important mentor. My businesses matured in a dog-eat-dog world of the 1970s and 1980s. With sadness I have to honestly say that many zoo directors back then and many of their hand-picked volunteers organizing the group travel were horribly corrupt. I know. I pulled out wads of cash to get their business.
Les made me realize that wasn’t the standard. Worse than my world, he worked in the world of very corrupt Chicago politics. He didn’t change. Chicago politics changed because of people like him.
Les and I traveled together to Africa almost 30 times. We were among the first to see the mountain gorillas. We remain among a handful at most of travelers to explore Kivu Province in The Congo.
But it wasn’t just Africa! We were among the precious view travelers to ever get into Assam. We were among the very first to travel the Sepik River in New Guinea. We visited Manu in Brazil before it was Manu.
Many of these were first-time trips for the entire travel industry! There was real, enormous risk traveling to many of these places when we did. He insisted I ferret out these wild opportunities. So after I did my research I’d sit in his office and listen to the characteristically mild din of his sing-song voice that he wouldn’t go unless I did. I wonder if I would ever have gone if he hadn’t.
So beneath the mild veneer that so many people praise was a rigorous explorer, a risk-taker that inspired me.
But whether planning a trip or secreting in a baby gorilla against all the rules, he was a man of such impeccable morals it changed my behaviors forever for the so much better. The world isn’t as dark as I once thought.
I will never stop thinking of him.