Kristine McDivitt Tompkins
Medal Citation: 2017 Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy
In The Gospel of Wealth, Andrew Carnegie places parks in “the very front rank of benefactions,” praising their positive effects on body and spirit. Continuing Douglas Tompkins’s vision, Kristine McDivitt Tompkins has made immeasurable advances toward the preservation and restoration of the world’s great ecosystems, bringing to life Mr. Carnegie’s words more than he could have imagined.
Mrs. Tompkins has always been connected to the outdoors. Raised most of her life on a ranch in southern California, as a teenager she spent summers working for Chouinard Equipment, a rock climbing equipment company, and skied competitively at the College of Idaho. After graduation she returned to Chouinard Equipment and helped its founder grow his operation into Patagonia, the world-renowned outdoor apparel leader and “anti-corporation.” As CEO over a 20-year period, Mrs. Tompkins was widely credited with the company’s values-driven business practices and activism on behalf of the wilderness it celebrates.
In 1993 Mrs. Tompkins retired from Patagonia and married Doug Tompkins, founder of The North Face and cofounder of Esprit. With a shared passion for the outdoors, the two embarked upon a crusade that would push boundaries, raise standards, and, ultimately, make history. The result was Tompkins Conservation, a powerhouse of initiatives that lends unwavering commitment to parks and their restoration, along with sustainable agriculture and environmental activism.
Tragically, Mr. Tompkins died in a kayaking accident in 2015. Despite this loss, his wife has courageously driven their movement forward with outstanding accomplishments. In March 2017, for example, Mrs. Tompkins and Michelle Bachelet, president of Chile, signed a pledge to expand that country’s national park system by approximately 10 million acres. This unprecedented act is the largest land donation ever made by a private individual to a nation. In addition, Mrs. Tompkins has bestowed upon Argentina hundreds of thousands of acres of parklands. These gifts, however, did not come without conditions. Both countries are obligated to actively restore, preserve, and nurture these unspoiled landscapes and their biodiversity in perpetuity. The parklands must also be staffed by a locally sourced workforce to energize the regional economy.
Mrs. Tompkins continues her tireless struggle for conservation. Her gifts to Argentina and Chile are a critical step toward helping those countries to create world-class national park systems, which will continue to benefit visitors from all over the world for generations to come. By protecting the environment that she has always loved, Mrs. Tompkins has become a force of nature in her own right, and the Carnegie family of institutions is honored to recognize her extraordinary accomplishments and generosity with the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy.