"He made huge contributions to the development of mountaineering organisation and to protection of the mountain environment. His quiet wisdom, advice and support were very important," remembers Chris Bonington. BMC patron Lord Roger Chorley, who steered the National Trust through the most turbulent time in its history amongst many other feats, has died aged 85. We pay tribute.
"In the late 40s and early 50s Oxbridge climbers were heading a renaissance of British technical Alpinism frowned upon by the pre-war Alpine establishment. Roger was very much part of that, becoming president of the Cambridge University Mountaineering Club and joining two Himalayan expeditions," remembers Chris Bonington. "Catching polio put a stop to his climbing life but he always loved mountain walking."
Roger had mountaineering in his blood on both sides of his family, and was in his 20s when he caught polio in the Karakoram, on the mountain Rakaposhi. It must have been devastating for a young graduate, but he soon found his own, different niche. As Roger's childhood friend Hella Pick told the Guardian: "He applied his considerable powers of low-key diplomacy to the often complex politics of the climbing fraternity."
An accountant by trade and environmentalist at heart (he held a BA in natural science and economics), Roger became sought after by committees for his mix of passion about the outdoors and measured thinking.
"Roger helped the BMC enormously with the Countryside and Rights of Way Act," remembers his close friend John Innerdale. "And he was one of the founding members of the Mountain Heritage Trust (MHT), another BMC initiative, along with George Band and myself." The MHT collects material which documents Britain’s climbing history.
In the 60s and 70s, Chorley was honorary secretary of the Climbers’ Club and served on the Mount Everest Foundation Management Committee, the Ordnance Survey Review Committee and the National Trust Finance Committee. His 'Chorley formula' is used when the Trust has to decide whether to acquire new properties.
In the 80s, he was president of the Alpine Club and the Royal Geographical Society, served on the Natural Environment Research Council and chaired the Committee on Handling Geographic Information, which, amongst other things, made recommendations on converting OS maps to computer form.
With such credentials it’s no surprise Chorley was appointed chair of the National Trust in 1991, at the height of controversy surrounding stag hunting on the charity’s land. While many wanted to push through a ban on emotional grounds, Roger characteristically set up a two-year working party to study the actual effects of this on the deer population, stating: “This is not a delaying tactic or pussyfooting around.”
And these are just the outdoor organisations: amongst others, Chorley was also a board member of the Royal National Theatre and the British Council (an organisation specialising in international educational and cultural opportunities) and one of the 90 peers elected to remain in the House of Lords after the House of Lords Act 1999.
"My wife and I travelled the world with Roger and his wife Ann Debenham," remembers John Innerdale. "We shared a passion for all things of the mountain world. We explored Patagonia, we went to the Himalayas together, we did the Silk Road and we visited the mountain on which he caught polio in 1954. I can’t imagine a better travelling companion."
Hella Pick remembers: “The Lake District remained the backdrop to Roger’s love of mountaineering, to his concerns for the environment, and to his lifelong commitment to the National Trust. He always maintained a home in the Hawkshead area, and though polio had ended his climbing ambitions, he continued to walk on the Cumbrian fells. As his legs weakened, he still managed until fairly recently to hobble around his beloved Tarn Hows."
Lord Chorley donated a library of literature charting the international development of climbing and mountaineering to the Mountain Heritage Trust in 2013. It had been collected by three generations of both sides of his family, and is open to the public in Grasmere.
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