Derek Pritchard is an Outward Bound legend.
Today, if you mention his name in any Outward Bound circle, people will nod and repeat his name aloud with that special measure of gravitas reserved for those who have made their mark. From Aberdovey, to Outward Bound International, Derek Pritchard has led with, “a zest for action, and a thirst for new ideas.” Roger Putnam, former Principal of Eskdale, one of Kurt Hahn’s first OB schools, has called Pritchard, “the ideal Outward Bounder”:
He first joined Outward Bound as a student on a four week OB course at Aberdovey in 1949. Half a century later, in December 1999, Derek Pritchard retired from his position as Executive Director of Outward Bound International Secretariat. Derek’s remarkable career in the OB movement is unlikely to be emulated in the future. By a combination of good judgement and good fortune, he was able to influence and promote the growth of OB world-wide for over 40 years. Derek trained as a painter at the Royal Academy in London, also serving as a commissioned officer in the Parachute Regiment. Already a skilled mountaineer and expeditioner when he joined OB, he set about learning the other outdoor skills with alacrity. It is unusual to find one person with such a range of talents: physical, organizational and creative.
Derek Pritchard’s rare combination of talents are what led us to reach out to him. You see, Pritchard is a legend here at Voyageur Outward Bound School (VOBS) for a very good reason:
If not for Derek Pritchard, there would be no VOBS as we know it today.
In 1972, Minnesota Outward Bound (MOBS) was in trouble. It wasn’t a pandemic, there was no COVID-19, but nearly ten years into the school’s founding, a storm was brewing. When we asked Pritchard, a life-long sailor, about that long ago storm, he said:
It wasn’t a storm, it was a shipwreck.
MOBS had significant safety issues—people had drowned—and the organization was in chaos. Derek Pritchard was called in to lead MOBS out of that chaos. Here is what he shared about the “shipwreck”:
“It wasn’t a storm, it was a shipwreck. The task was to pick up the pieces and rebuild morale by delivering small successes. When I arrived in ’72, I saw skepticism, dissolution and chaos. The organization reminded me of a huge pile of Pickup Sticks, each stick elegant, functional and strong, but each haphazardly balanced, relying on one or two others to stay in place. The whole structure was in delicate and precarious balance. Move one carelessly, and the total entity could collapse. Each individual needed to be re-assigned a role and given a new sense of purpose. The task was one of rebuilding: build a staff who could deliver effectively on curriculum, and above all, safety. Structure, protocols, procedures.”
That crisis wasn’t the end of “MOBS,” but it was the beginning of a new school that would come to pride itself on organization, and a very long track record of student safety. That was the beginning of what we now know as “VOBS,” or Voyageur Outward Bound School. It’s an out-of-the-ashes phoenix story, a story of survival and transformation. Very Outward Bound.
Originally, I intended to share the story of Derek Pritchard and the MOBS rescue to draw a parallel between the imperiled MOBS of 1972 and the COVID-imperiled VOBS of 2020. It seemed important to remind our community that VOBS has been through tough times and survived. We’ve survived shipwrecks, and we can certainly weather this current storm. But Derek Pritchard suggests that this out-of-the-ashes story is beside the point. More to the point, he insists, is this:
The world can manage without Outward Bound. What it cannot manage without are people who are imbued by similar principles, the greatest of which is compassion.
Derek Pritchard insists that what we need, above all, is compassion.
Pritchard’s insistence on compassion strikes a chord that resonates.
Just this week, The New York Times ran an Op Ed by Thomas Friedman: We Need Great Leadership Now, and Here’s What It Looks Like. Friedman interviews Dov Seidman of the How Institute for Society who speaks directly to this moment, where we stand poised to consider life “After Corona”:
Emerson said, “In each pause I hear the call.” Now we need to save people, but in what you call the A.C. era — After Corona — it will be about how we serve people differently — with a tighter connection between human needs and economic progress and between our environmental needs and economic prosperity.
The call is clear here too: “save” and “serve.” Lead with compassion.
Derek Pritchard: “There is hardly a comparison to be made with Minnesota Outward Bound’s previous historical setback and today’s global pandemic. Yes, VOBS now is very sound structurally and philosophically. VOBS is like a well-built stone bridge, ready for any flood that nature might offer. Good foundations, excellent buttresses, beautiful cornices and delicate carving. The organization is strong enough to withstand this global challenge, but like any bridge, the integrity of the structure depends to a large extent on the keystone.”
So what is the keystone here? What is the keystone of Outward Bound today? What is the keystone of VOBS? I would argue that the keystone today is compassion. Compassion bears the weight and holds Outward Bound, and VOBS, together.
Derek Pritchard: “In 1972, Minnesota Outward Bound had problems, but you didn’t have a pandemic. It doesn’t compare. The way to meet the current challenge is with compassion and spirit.“
Pritchard continues: “In my life, it is people of indefatigable spirit who have inspired me. Shackleton, Mandela, Watkins, Schweitzer. One person in particular is RAF pilot, Douglas Bader, who in 1931 crashed during training and lost both legs. After healing and completing all his re-training requirements, he requested re-activation as a pilot and was refused. After the outbreak of WWII, he again petitioned the Royal Airforce, who then allowed him to get back into a Spitfire and fly combat missions. Bader went on to be a combat ace in many historic air battles, including the Battle of Britain. He was shot down and became a prisoner of war. Undeterred by his disability, he attempted several escapes and was eventually transferred to the infamous Colditz Castle. In later years, Bader visited an Outward Bound school in Britain. After listening to the complaints of one young man about his tough OB course he said, “Your legs hurt? Then have ‘em off old boy.”
“Nowadays, if I feel daunted, I call my inspirational quadriplegic granddaughter to my mind and that is just about all it takes for me.
The majority of Outward Bound staff I have been privileged to work with regard a certain quote as part of their DNA, and it should be part of everyone’s DNA:”
I regard it as the foremost task of education to ensure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an indefatigable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self-denial, and above all, compassion.
“That’s Kurt Hahn. Spirit and compassion. For most of my life with Outward Bound, I’ve been surrounded by fine idealistic people with great values. Our lives are changed for the better by Outward Bound. “
“So stand together, stand firm and believe in the contribution Outward Bound makes to society. VOBS will weather this storm, and very soon Outward Bound will be needed more than ever, just as it was in the early days. Outward Bound was founded so that men might better survive the hardships of war, and we will need Outward Bound to help us better survive the hardships of this pandemic. “
Thanks very much to Derek Pritchard for his indefatigable spirit, and, above all, compassion.
I invite our community to lead with compassion.
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