28 June 2008

Alaska: As Colonel Norman Vaughn used to Say, "Dream Big and Dare to Fail"

Last weekend while Twittering about my trip back to Alaska -- a place I left 10 years ago this August, one of my stalwart followers, globalgirl, revealed that she is the great niece of one of my heroes, Colonel Norman Vaughan.

For those of you not familiar with the man or the legend, Norman Dane Vaughan dropped out of Harvard in 1928 to pursue Admiral Byrd's Expedition in Antarctica. He was the chief dog driver on the two-year Byrd expedition and later Byrd named an Antarctic mountain in his honor.

He also mushed as part of a search and rescue unit in World War II, in the Olympics, and in the Iditarod, as well as in three Presidential Inauguration ceremonies.

On 16, 1994, Vaughan climbed his eponymous 10,302-foot peak, three days shy of his 89th birthday. National Geographic documented this trip in a film, Height of Courage

My encounters with Colonel Vaughan via my work with the Nature Conservancy in Alaska were inspiring and humorous. The humorous included bringing him to a TNC party in New York as part of an Alaska exhibit where he posed with a sled dog team from Long Island.

He was a man of tremendous courage, opinion, and drive. And he gave me three things that I still hold as inspiration: a zipper pull he had designed for clumsily shod gloved hands, which now dons my sleeping bag; words of wisdom he imparted to my young son when they first met; and a playing card he had developed bearing his face, bio, and motto: "Dream Big and Dare to Fail."

Vaughan died on December 23, 2005, 4 days after his 100th birthday. (Hear an interview with Colonel Vaughan from NPR, recorded just prior to his centennial birthday.

How wonderful to be reminded of Colonel Vaughan, and to be back in the Alaska we both once called home.

(Thanks to globalgirl for reaching out about her Great Uncle!)