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  • Veteran of the global National Trust movement, William Zuill

    Posted on October 4, 2016

    We were all very sorry to hear of the passing of William S. Zuill, a stalwart supporter of the global National Trust movement and regular participant at the International Conference of National Trusts (ICNT), attending nearly every one until Delhi in 2007.

    William Zuill became the first Executive Director of the Bermuda National Trust in 1972 and while others will recollect his huge contribution as an author, historian and conservationist on the island, we of course remember him for his involvement in and support of the international National Trust movement.

    The Bermudan group had ‘shivered a bit in the English summer weather’ in 1986, William wrote in his history of the conferences, but the cocktail party they hosted (!) seemed to win over fellow delegates and the fifth ICNT was duly held, much to William’s delight, in Bermuda in 1989.  He continued that this ‘was the first one at which I remember there being a discussion of the Trusts keeping in closer touch between conferences’.


    I recall receiving William’s comments on my draft strategy back in 2008 when I had first started at INTO.   His assessment was elegantly and robustly delivered.  He found it ‘an overly cold document’ and his suggestions for warming it up included the liberal use of the word ‘comradeship’: ‘We aim to achieve this through co-operation, co-ordination and comradeship.’   ‘INTO was founded as a result of the comradeship and the spreading of information among the National Trusts.’  ‘The biennial gathering focuses on comradeship and inspiring employees and volunteers with the spirit of the National Trust movement.’

    I think this says a lot about William Zuill, a man who prized warm friendship and solidarity, and definitely understood the value of reaching out around the world to learn and share.   Needless to say, ‘comradeship’ still features in all our official documentation.

    William Zuill was the unofficial historian of the International Conference of National Trusts. Having been part of so many of these gatherings, his recollections have gone down in the INTO annals.   (His musings over the ‘grim nights in a church retreat centre in Waltham Massachusetts – rooms with bare concrete walls and bed which were a slight cut above camp cots’ still raise a wry smile when I think about more recent ICNT accommodation standards!)

    By the time of the 9th ICNT in Alice Springs, the idea of establishing a permanent focal point for the international National Trusts movement was gaining real momentum. William missed this conference as his only brother had died suddenly but felt he’d left things in the safe hands of his friend Rodney Davidson, who was a ‘prime promoter  of an international national trusts organisation’.

    ‘The desire to develop some form of unity found much greater expression at the tenth conference’, he wrote ‘which appropriately was held in Scotland where the first one had taken place. Under the leadership of Robin Pellew, the Edinburgh Declaration was put before the delegates and acclaimed.  The Declaration stressed the importance of the preservation of open spaces and culturally important buildings, and gave it the full value of the world’s national trusts and allied organisations speaking in unity, providing the opportunity to help each other fight against deleterious developments.’

    Next stop Washington DC in 2005, when William joined the inaugural committee and became a fully-fledged founding father of the International National Trusts Organisation. He continued to contribute along with Bill Turner, Simon Molesworth, David Brown and myself over the ensuing years to the wording of the INTO constitution, location of the Secretariat, role profile of the Secretary-General and, as mentioned above, our early strategic direction.

    INTO has grown and achieved much over the past nine years and I hope we are enacting William’s vision for a dynamic, warm and comradely international National Trust movement in a way that he would recognise and be proud to have been a part of.   We thank and honour him for his contribution to INTO and the wider conservation movement.    Our thoughts are with his family and friends.  William Zuill will be missed by many but he has left a great legacy.

    Catherine Leonard, INTO Secretary-General

    You can read William Zuill’s 2007 Memorandum on the history of the International Conference of National Trusts here

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