Back in college, one of the first items of clothing to become a mainstay of my new Acadia hiking life was my beloved gray henley-style snap Patagonia fleece. Granted, it didn’t start out as mine. It belonged to a friend. But after several “borrowings,” it eventually took up residence in my closet full time.

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I loved that fleece. It lasted forever, or at least several decades. I hiked all of Acadia – and I do mean all of Acadia – in that fleece, and a bunch of other trails and mountains besides. It lasted through several puppies growing into great dogs, and the drudgery of my first post-college jobs.

All of these memories – of college days, of favorite hikes, of making cocoa on a camp stove in the freezing drizzle – came flooding back in a warm, fleecy nostalgic rush as I read the news that Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, had just given his company away.

If you have followed his career or listened to his TED Talks, it isn’t really that shocking. As he stated early and often, Chouinard never wanted to be a businessman in the first place; the company was just a way to fund the life he wanted of rock climbing and ascending steep mountains.

Chouinard certainly never wanted to be the billionaire he became. He was a man who wanted to live his life with his wife and kids and outdoor sports. The irony is that his attitude contributed to his wild success.

Early on, Chouinard decided that if he had to work (to afford to climb) it should at least be enjoyable, so he built a corporation where he himself would want to be, with healthy food on offer and a humane, supportive structure for employees. It worked.

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Globally, the company became known for its philanthropy and was seen as a model of ethical corporate behavior. It continued to thrive financially, too.

The news is full of people and corporations putting the worst of humanity on display – nothing about that interests me. Their stories are like eating junk food for dinner. I never feel great after taking it in.

I am, however, forever intrigued by people out there in the world doing what they can to make it better for the rest of us. What drives them, what makes them break out of the cynical expectations and stay true to the people they were before they got money?

In Yvon Chouinard’s case, I also can’t help but wonder if this place we all call home played a role. Although he came of age out in California, he was born right here in Maine. Lewiston to be exact, where he lived until the age of 9. Those are formative years.

I grant that I might be romanticizing a bit, but to my way of thinking there truly is something about “here” – Maine – that shapes a person. How lovely it is to see this human walking through the world and making his mark with kindness, compassion and generosity of spirit.

According to multiple news sources, the company was valued at $3 billion at the time it was handed off. Not too shabby. Not trusting a purchasing corporation to stay true to the ideology, he opted not to sell, instead creating a new entity to run it, with the funds to go towards fighting climate change. No payout, no write-off, just doing what he saw was right.

I admire that. I’m proud to live in his home state. I’m stunned by his generosity and inspired by his dedication and optimism. I want to live in the world he sees possible.

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