On Friday the 2nd of November, over 300 people gathered at the Royal Geographical Society in Kensington, London, to commemorate Paul Richard Blelock Samuel.
Paul died tragically in June, after an avalanche unexpectedly fell on Alpamayo, a peak in the Peruvian Andes. Before his death, we here at whitefox were lucky enough to know Paul, and work with him on the creation of his beautiful book Find Your Own Mountains.
Our CEO, John Bond, said a few words at his memorial. We publish them here to celebrate his life.
I first met Paul Samuel at one of those cafés in Shoreditch in East London that always seems to be trying slightly too hard. He arrived, somewhat unusually clutching his small dog, Toller. We talked for well over an hour about his writing, his aspirations for a book he’d been writing and about the whole process of turning what he’d created so far into something he would want to make public.
My memory of that first meeting is that Paul looked at me straight in the eyes a lot. Very Paul. Direct. Considered. During that first encounter, I sometimes felt he was trying to peer quite deeply into me, challenging me to see if I was the sort of person who subscribed to his code of being and would therefore be a good person to do business with. He wanted to understand, I realise, not just about publishing or my team but about my character.
Here is Paul Samuel in his own words from his book on the subject of character.
Character is about values, for sure. But it is more than that. Character is what is left when the music stops, when there’s nothing to hide behind, when we’re so beaten-up or pressured that the real self comes out – when how we act defines who we really are.
What I picked up during that initial face-to-face became a consistent theme during the project that came to be called Find Your Own Mountains. Here was a man who was fundamentally intellectually curious, who wanted to completely understand what every stage and process of publishing a book entailed. He wanted the people putting the book together to be a team all pulling in the same direction. He wanted absolutely zero bullshit and total honesty from any professional editorial feedback.
But then, as Paul himself puts it in his own words, do you want to be a driver or a passenger? And I was never left in any doubt that Paul was very clearly a driver.
It has become something of a cliché to say that between the covers of some books, all life is there. But that is what I got from reading Paul’s prose, his diaries, and eventually his letters. Here was a life being lived to the full. The wanderlust. Journeys in extreme heat and brutal cold. Climbing the world’s most challenging mountains and sailing the South China Seas. Running with the bulls in Pamplona, all written in such a visceral style you could almost smell the adrenaline.
I challenge any one not to hear Paul’s voice when they read this book. The humility and integrity. Always in awe and wonder at the power of nature. His sense of morality and fairness which framed so many incredible friendships. The self-knowledge that many strive for but few truly achieve.
I asked the editor who worked on the book what her abiding memory was of the project and she said that when you read what Paul had written, it all seemed so do-able. It made you want to challenge yourself and not waste a single second before you were tested and braved a new frontier of endurance.
She is right. Find Your Own Mountains is a short, life-affirming, passionate book.
The journey of actually creating what we have today I would describe, in keeping with the subject of much of the book, as a bit like negotiating a climbing wall. Sometimes we went sideways or even backwards in order to get to the top. Sometimes, Paul was a stubborn driver.
The hardest part was the structure. How do you knit together a scattergun of diary entries and allow space for other thoughts and visions to breathe? From the outset, Paul was very clear who the book was for. The book was for his daughter Kate on her 18th birthday in September. That dictated our time frame. That was our mutual commitment and contractual obligation. That was why there was a sense of urgency in the process which gave the project the momentum to get it over the line. The idea of a structure including 18 letters I think liberated him and gave him a framework into which he could pour his wisdom. Wisdom inspired by physical journeys as well as the psychological and philosophical ones too. The brushes with death and the insight they gave him into how to live your life. Understanding what you can and what you cannot control. Sometimes even imagining the worst.
Paul Samuel was an adventurer in a slightly old-fashioned sense of that word. Someone with a finely tuned sense of honour. A word that is peppered throughout his book. It mattered to him. And for whitefox, it too has been an honour to work on the book and for this to be a small part of his legacy.