National Geographic Society 125th Anniversary Gala Celebration Honors Six

NationalGeographic 125th Anniversary Gala
WASHINGTON—Six exceptional individuals were honored last night at the National Geographic Society’s 125th Anniversary Gala celebration for their efforts to lead exploration, advance scientific understanding, conserve natural resources and expand knowledge of the world.

At the sold-out event held at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., National Geographic Society CEO and Chairman John Fahey presented the Hubbard Medal — the Society’s highest honor — to explorer and filmmaker James Cameron, oceanographerSylvia Earle and scientist and author Edward O. Wilson. Cameron and Earle were recognized for their critical efforts in ocean exploration and conservation, and Wilson was honored for his lifelong commitment to the planet’s rich diversity through his research and writing. Fahey presented the Chairman’s Award to philanthropist and humanitarian Howard G. Buffett for his contribution to conservation, the Adventurer of the Year Award to BASE jumper Felix Baumgartner for his 2012 feat of accelerating through the speed of sound in freefall to advance aerospace research, and the Alexander Graham Bell Medal to National Geographic Bee moderator and “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek for his 25 years of service to the Bee and his commitment to geography education. Cameron also received the Explorer of the Year Award for his record-setting solo dive to the deepest point of the ocean in 2012.

“Exploration for our founders in 1888 was driven by a desire for knowledge and adventure,” said Fahey. “Today we have the same goals, but our explorers — and those who support them — are driven by a deeper purpose. In this new age of exploration, they want to help navigate the increasingly complex relationship between humanity’s needs and the natural world that sustains us.”

The gala was presented by Rolex, FOX Networks Group and RBC. Co-chairs for the evening were Lucy and Henry Billingsley, Rosemary and Roger Enrico, Julie and Lee Folger, Gayle and Ed Roski Jr., Tricia and Frank Saul and Donna and Garry Weber.

The evening’s theme, “A New Age of Exploration,” echoed the yearlong celebration of the Society’s 125th anniversary. The gala was attended by global leaders in science, exploration and conservation, including oceanographer Robert Ballard, award-winning wildlife filmmakers and conservationists Dereck and Beverly Joubert, paleontologist Louise Leakey, population geneticist Spencer Wells, marine ecologist Enric Sala and conservationist Mike Fay, all National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence. Also in attendance was former Hubbard Medal winner Capt. Don Walsh, who, with late Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard, was the first to reach the ocean’s deepest point, the Mariana Trench, in 1960.

The evening concluded with an announcement of philanthropic commitments from nine families and one organization in support of the work of the National Geographic Society. These contributions and additional proceeds from the gala are part of $35 million in new gift commitments since Jan. 1, 2013, to honor the Society’s 125th anniversary and support a wide range of individuals leading research, exploration and conservation efforts that are fueling new discoveries and innovations. These commitments include a $1 million pledge by Alex Trebek to create an endowment for the National Geographic Bee, a competition he hosted for the last 25 years.

The gala featured an original music arrangement of National Geographic’s theme song played by the Washington Symphonic Brass, Washington’s critically acclaimed, award-winning orchestral brass ensemble; extraordinary videos projected in high definition on 80-foot screens — set design components never before seen in the United States; and custom-made dining tables featuring topographical maps, compasses and live plants. The menu was designed by renowned chef and National Geographic Fellow Barton Seaver. All the food was created with ingredients sourced from sustainable farms. Wine was provided by Iron Horse Vineyards, which is donating proceeds from each publicly sold bottle of its 2008 Ocean Reserve Blanc de Blancs to National Geographic’s initiative to restore the ocean’s health and productivity.

Additional support for the gala was provided by Bank of America, Fox International Channels, GEICO, Cengage Learning, National Geographic Channels, PetSmart, Southwest Airlines and SVM Foundation.

The gala was the culmination of the two-day National Geographic 2013 Explorers Symposium, #LetsExplore, an annual gathering of National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence, Fellows, Emerging Explorers, grantees and others affiliated with the Society to share updates of their research and fieldwork. This year, the National Geographic Society celebrates its 125th anniversary and its evolution from a small scientific body founded in 1888 “to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge” to one of the world’s largest educational and scientific nonprofit organizations, committed to inspiring people to care about the planet.

Photos are available at

Awardee Bios

Felix Baumgartner

On Oct. 14, 2012, Felix Baumgartner stepped onto a platform the width of a skateboard on a capsule hovering 127,852.4 feet above Earth. Millions of people around the world watched as the Austrian BASE jumper prepared to jump into thin air. “I wish the whole world could see what I see,” said Baumgartner. “Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you are.” Then he leapt. With that jump, the then-43-year-old completed his seven-year quest to become the first person to accelerate through the sound barrier without a vehicle, setting numerous records and providing valuable scientific research data in the process. His top speed was 843.6 miles per hour.

The Red Bull Stratos pilot is an expert parachutist previously best known for completing an unprecedented freefall flight across the English Channel using a carbon wing.

Baumgartner grew up in Salzburg, Austria. He made his first skydive at age 16. After sharpening his parachute skills as a member of a Special Forces demonstration team for the Austrian military, he supported himself by repairing motorcycles before becoming a skydiving professional.

Baumgartner set a record for history’s lowest BASE jump (from Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue), twice set world records for the highest BASE jump from a building (Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur and Taipei 101 tower) and even landed his canopy inside a cave in Croatia.

Baumgartner is the winner of the BAMBI “Millennium” Award and Laureus World Action Sportsperson of the Year, among other honors. A licensed gas balloon pilot, he has earned private helicopter licenses in Austria and the United States and a commercial European helicopter license. He is an advocate for the nonprofit Wings for Life Spinal Cord Research Foundation. Baumgartner lives in Switzerland, but says, “The air is where I am at home.”

Howard G. Buffett

Howard G. Buffett grew up in Omaha, Neb., and has been active in agriculture, business, conservation, philanthropy, photography and politics. He currently spends the majority of his time managing the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, a private charitable foundation. Buffett has served in a number of public positions, including on two Office of the United States Trade Representative committees and as chairman of the Nebraska Ethanol Authority and Development Board. He held senior executive positions at Archer Daniels Midland Company and The GSI Group. He serves on the corporate boards of Berkshire Hathaway, Inc.; The Coca-Cola Company; Lindsay Corporation; and Sloan Implement Company.

In 1997, he was appointed a member of the Commission on Presidential Debates. He received the Aztec Eagle Award in 2000, the highest honor bestowed on a foreign citizen by the government of Mexico. In 2002, he was recognized by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture as one of the most distinguished individuals in the field of agriculture. In 2005, he received the Will Owen Jones Distinguished Journalist of the Year Award, and in 2007, was appointed a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Against Hunger on behalf of the World Food Programme. In 2011, Buffett received the Triumph of Agriculture Exposition Agri Award, the World Ecology Award and the George McGovern Leadership Award. Honors in 2012 included the National Farmers Union Meritorious Service to Humanity Award, the Columbia University Global Leadership Award, an honorary doctorate from Pennsylvania State University, the Leader in Agriculture Award from Agriculture Future of America and a Special Service Award from the Association for International Agriculture and Rural Development.

Buffett has traveled to more than 115 countries documenting the challenges of preserving biodiversity while providing adequate resources to meet the needs of a growing global population. He has written seven books on conservation, wildlife and the human condition.

James Cameron

On March 26, 2012, explorer and filmmaker James Cameron made history by completing the first-ever, single-pilot dive to the Challenger Deep, the deepest place on the planet. TheDEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible, which was designed and engineered by Cameron and his team, achieved 35,787 feet (about 7 miles) during the first manned scientific exploration of the deepest point in the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench.

Cameron has written, produced and directed a number of award-winning films that have blazed new trails in visual effects and set numerous box office records, including “Avatar” and “Titanic,” the two highest-grossing films in history.

Two of Cameron’s passions — filmmaking and diving — blended in his work on the movies “The Abyss” and “Titanic.” The latter required him to make 12 dives to the wreck itself, 2.5 miles down in the North Atlantic. Cameron has led eight marine expeditions, including a forensic study of the Bismarck wreck site and 3-D imaging of deep hydrothermal vent sites along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the East Pacific Rise and the Sea of Cortez. He has made more than 80 deep submersible dives, 51 of them in Russian Mir submersibles, to depths of up to 16,000 feet, including 33 to the Titanic. The DEEPSEA CHALLENGE expedition was the result of a more-than-seven-year engineering effort by Cameron and his team. The expedition is featured in the June 2013 edition of National Geographic magazine and will be the subject of a 3-D feature film.

Sylvia A. Earle

National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence and Rosemary and Roger Enrico Chair for Ocean Exploration Sylvia Earle is an oceanographer, explorer, author and lecturer. Formerly chief scientist of NOAA, Earle is the founder of Deep Ocean Exploration and Research, Inc.; founder of Mission Blue and SEAlliance; and chair of the advisory councils of the Harte Research Institute and the Ocean in Google Earth. She is a Founding Ocean Elder, IUCN Patron of Nature, patron of ARKive and member of the 2013 World Bank Blue Ribbon Panel for the Ocean.

Earle has a Ph.D. from Duke University and 24 honorary degrees. She has authored more than 190 scientific, technical and popular publications.

Earle has led more than 100 expeditions and logged more than 7,000 hours underwater, including leading the first team of women aquanauts during the Tektite Project in 1970; participating in 10 saturation dives; and setting a record for solo diving in 1,000-meter depth. Her research concerns marine ecosystems with special reference to exploration, conservation and the development and use of new technologies for access to and effective operations in the deep sea and other remote environments.

Her special focus is on developing a global network of areas on land and in the ocean to safeguard the living systems that provide the underpinnings of global processes, from maintaining biodiversity and yielding basic life support services to providing stability and resiliency in response to accelerating climate change.

Earle’s more than 100 national and international honors include France’s 2013 Légende de la Planète Medal, the 2011 Royal Geographical Society Gold Medal, the 2011 Medal of Honor from the Dominican Republic, the 2009 TED Prize, the Netherlands Order of the Golden Ark, Australia’s International Banksia Award, Italy’s Artiglio Award, the International Seakeepers Award, the International Women’s Forum, the National Women’s Hall of Fame, Academy of Achievement, Los Angeles Times Woman of the Year, and medals from Explorers Club, Philadelphia Academy of Sciences, Lindbergh Foundation, National Wildlife Federation, Barnard College and Society of Women Geographers.

Alex Trebek

“Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek has moderated the National Geographic Bee for 25 years — since its inception in 1989. He also has been the moderator of all 10 National Geographic World Championships, the biennial international geography competition that this year will take place in St. Petersburg, Russia. Additionally, he serves on the board of the National Geographic Society Education Foundation.

Born and raised in Sudbury, Ontario, Trebek earned two degrees in philosophy from the University of Ottawa. Interested in a broadcasting news career, he joined the Canadian Broadcasting Company, where he covered national news and special events for radio and television. With the growing popularity of game shows, he segued into the role of host. Trebek was first noticed by American viewers in 1973 when he hosted the NBC game show “Wizard of Odds.” After several other hosting roles, Trebek was chosen as host of “Jeopardy!” and quickly became a pop culture icon. He has been honored with a coveted star on both the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the prestigious Canadian Walk of Fame in Toronto, making him one of only a handful of people honored by both the United States and Canada.

Trebek has won five Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Game Show Host and is nominated for the award again this year. In 2011, he received the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. In 2012, he received the Peabody Award, one of the most selective awards in the industry.

In addition to his hosting duties, Trebek has a long-standing commitment with numerous charities and educational organizations. With World Vision, he has traveled to many Third World countries, taping reports on the group’s efforts on behalf of children around the world. In Zambia, Trebek and his family adopted a village and helped build a school, three homes for teachers and a medical facility.

Edward O. Wilson

Edward Osborne Wilson is generally recognized as one of the leading scientists in the world. He is also known as one of the foremost naturalists in both science and literature as well as a synthesizer in works from pure biology to the social sciences and humanities. He is acknowledged as the creator of two scientific disciplines (island biogeography and sociobiology), three unifying concepts for science and the humanities jointly (biophilia, biodiversity studies and consilience), and one major technological advance in the study of global biodiversity (the Encyclopedia of Life).

Among the more than 100 awards he has received worldwide are the U. S. National Medal of Science, the Crafoord Prize (equivalent of the Nobel, for ecology) of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the International Prize of Biology of Japan; and in letters, two Pulitzer Prizes in nonfiction, the Nonino and Serono Prizes of Italy and COSMOS Prize of Japan. For his work in conservation, he has received the Gold Medal of the Worldwide Fund for Nature and the Audubon Medal of the Audubon Society. He is currently Honorary Curator in Entomology and University Research Professor Emeritus at Harvard University.

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