One of the icons of the educational travel industry passed away last Friday. I first met Gil Scott Markle in 1975. A pioneer in educational travel, he started ALSG in 1965 out of Clark University in Worcester, Mass. As a Yale graduate student and Fulbright Scholar, he had found a niche that was to occupy and excite him for 50 years. He was a larger than life figure – a cool and hip addition to the educational travel scene. When I first bumped into Gil in Rome at the ALSG summer HQ, I remember this long-haired hip character who walked with an intensity and spoke in a measured voice that intimidated the hell out of me. I was one of his Tour Managers (“couriers” we were called then) and I was summarily invited to his favorite seaside hangout in Fregene just outside of Rome where he camped out most afternoons during those summer campus months.
We got to know each other during that brief time and he invited me to come to ALSG and work for him. I jumped at the idea. It was the start of a long relationship that was one of the most influential business and personal relationships I have ever had. I met my wife through Gil. I pursued a life in travel because of Gil. He took us all with him on his ride – and his journey, even though it ended far too early, will be felt in all our endeavors in the years to come.
From the early days of charters and 5-week programs, Gil caught the imaginations of the hipper parts of the exploding piece of a new business in teacher-led programs. They spanned all of Europe and students spent weeks on university campuses pursuing meaningful academic programs. For a college professor whose passion was philosophy, travel and music, this was a dream fusion of great wave, great surfer syndrome. Gil surfed the wave and amazed us all at his ability to catch the right moment. He had a unique ability to gather a group of tuned-in folks around him. We all loved his energy and his intellect. He was an inspirer, an influencer and when you went through the “Gil factory,” you were touched with his stardust. I still remember the fun evenings at the Farm, where he practiced his other passion, music, at his recording studio for the stars. We got to hang out with a rock star or two in between stints on the telephone with teachers who wanted to travel to Europe.
We all went on to pursue our own dreams, but few forgot the early influence that Gil had. He was just one of those guys that made you think in a good way. He was just so damn smart, and he shared this smartness by gently nudging you to make the decisions you hadn’t even imagined. He was a kind man. A generous man, and like all pioneers, he was a great innovator and inventor.
To a really groovy guy who taught us all that it was possible to hang onto our coolness and our dreams as we strived to be in a better place. What a crazy journey we all had. What wonders we got to see. What a life! And how lucky I was to have bumped into him.