a web of simple thanks: part 3

Donald McGilchrist –the gracious leader

Every now and again People Magazine publishes an edition featuring the world’s most beautiful people. No prizes for guessing the profile of those who dominate. However on my list of beautiful people is a very different character.

I first heard of Donald McGilchrist when I listened to a cassette tape of talk he gave on global trends in the mid 80s. I was immediately captivated by the quality of his thinking. It was the first time I had been exposed to a theme that would be a formative thread through my life over the next decades. Donald’s ability to identify events from the past that help define the trajectory of society continues to inspire me.





I could not have imagined when I first listened to that cassette tape how much I would learn from Donald about how to work well and how to live well. Of the people I thank in this little series of posts, I have had the least amount of face to face time with Donald; he is a Brit who has lived long term in Colorado Springs. Although I have had numerous trips to that part of the world and Donald has been DownUnder once or twice over the last 25 years, the depth of Donald’s input into my life defies the ad hoc nature of our relationship.

Donald is many things. He is the only person I’ve every known who has described himself as an Archivist. He is an Historian who simply lights up at the prospect of understanding the events and meanings of the past. Although thoroughly an Englishman, he has become one of the premier authorities on the history of Colorado Springs, his adopted home. He is currently writing a history of The Navigators, the organisation through which we met. From him I have learned the value of place and the way events form a narrative of meaning.

Donald’s use of English vocabulary stands out in my experience. Occasionally he uses a word in correspondence that I’ve never heard before and I delight in discovering some new meaning. But Donald’s common prose is poetic, not pretentiously so, but because his thinking about, and expression of life has natural beauty. I wish I had learned to chose my words as thoughtfully.

One of the practical things I learned very early on from Donald was to subscribe to journals. I recall marvelling out loud with him one day about how well read he appeared to be. While he suggested modestly that he didn’t read many books, he confessed to having subscriptions to a wide range of periodicals. (I recall the number being 60, but that might be subject to an exaggerated memory!). The idea was that when authors are forced to write their thesis in the form of a journal article, they tend to say the important stuff in a tenth of the space they take in a book, which is often padded out with many irrelevancies. I do recall that when I asked him what his top 5 were, he included the Economist, which I’d never read until then and have done so ever since. I wish I could retain and process information into wisdom like Donald is able to.

Donald’s physique, he won’t mind me saying, means he is a long shot to make the cover of People Magazine. But a beautiful human being he is. Of all the things I have learned from Donald, the most significant is grace.

I have learned from Donald how to be a global citizen, a key characteristic of which in my view is graciousness. His role, for as long as I’ve known him has been an international one. The forums in which we have interacted have often been international gatherings. I have seen and admired the way Donald is able to immerse himself in the positive aspects of a culture and relentlessly pursue the perspective of ‘the other’. He is able to suspend his own judgements and biases to tease out the insights of others. He allows other people to be themselves without judgement: grace.

There are other things I love about Donald. Jeanie’s health has been poor in recent years as she lives with advanced stages of diabetes and their children and grandchildren have not had an easy road. Donald and Jeanie’s poise as they live through suffering has been a beacon.

In a funny way I love the left handed scrawl that Donald prefers to execute with a blue felt tip pen. I’d probably love it more if I could read it.

Donald, if there were more people who shared your poise and grace the world would be a very different and better place to live. I thank you deeply for offering me friendship and companionship on the journey to appreciate beauty, truth and goodness.