Listen, media mogul and Montana rancher Ted Turner is saying something surprising here: “Ultimately you have to listen to your heart. I wish I had done that more often, earlier in my life. What I do know is that I’m listening to it now.”
Last Stand, a penetrating, expansive book by Bozeman journalist Todd Wilkinson, traces Turner’s evolution from a lonely, abused child, to America’s Cup sailing champion, the “Mouth of the South,” creator of the first round-the-clock, all-news network, and finally, to eco-capitalist, bison baron, foe of nuclear proliferation and steadfast supporter of the United Nations.
It’s a fascinating metamorphosis and Wilkinson does it justice, interviewing scores of Turner’s friends, family members and associates, from ranch hands to world leaders. He also was granted unprecedented access to, and cooperation from, his subject. “I put faith in his instincts as a respected old-school journalist,” writes Turner. “I opened myself up and the result is this open book.”
In the past two decades, Turner has wielded his considerable wealth to help create a more sustainable future for all of us. “On my lands, I have set out to prove that the polemic of environment versus economy is a false dichotomy, that you can be a tree hugger and still have your name appear in Forbes.”
To that end, Turner Enterprises Inc. owns 15 ranches in seven states, populated with the largest private bison herd in the U.S., as well as sandhill cranes, prairie dogs, and countless other plants and critters that comprise a healthy ecosystem. He’s an avid birdwatcher and naturalist, who first acquired three bison in 1976 and housed them at his Hope Plantation in South Carolina.
“What started as a less than fully formed desire to give bison a home on the range blossomed into one of the world’s most fascinating experiments in wildlife conservation,” writes Wilkinson. It’s an experiment that is changing ideas about how we manage grasslands, preserve habitat, raise organic food and humanely treat animals raised for human consumption.
In the global arena, Turner has channeled his vast resources into preserving and strengthening the United Nations, making a personal commitment of $1 billion and establishing the United Nations Foundation, an organization that strives to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and malaria, and is currently funding clean energy initiatives around the world.
Turner is also co-chairman, with former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, of the Nuclear Threat Initiative. “I’m a peacenik,” he says. “My hope is that one day zero nukes will be left on the face of the Earth.”
In addition to fleshing out his considerable accomplishments, Wilkinson plumbs Turner’s softer side, including his 10-year marriage to actress Jane Fonda and his relationship with his five children, which has matured as they’ve taken the lead in the Turner Family Foundation.
“Ted is on a mission to save the world and the world should be grateful to have an energetic and imaginative friend,” writes newsman Tom Brokaw.
– Kristi Niemeyer