Keith Bellows was a luminary. In 17 years as Editor-in-Chief of National Geographic Traveler, he pushed his writers to write better, dream big, and allow themselves to be moved by travel. He also took a stand as a staunch advocate of family travel, writing books and essays about the importance of introducing kids to the world.
I never had the privilege of working with Bellows as an editor, never worked up the courage to pitch him a story. But I always dreamed of the day when I would.
Then a funny thing happened. We both joined the board of the Family Travel Association (FTA). Suddenly, we were equals with the same mission: To change lives through travel. We sat in on the same calls, opined on the same issues, even chimed in on each other’s Facebook pages about desultory stuff.
We were starting to become friends. Then Bellows died Saturday after a battle with liver disease.
To say I was shocked by this development would be understatement. I didn’t know he was sick, didn’t really know he was suffering. I also didn’t *really* know the guy at all. Reading the kind eulogies our mutual friends wrote on Facebook was almost voyeuristic—our colleagues poured their hearts out, and with each piece, I got a slightly more complete perspective of the man Bellows was.
Encouraging. Spontaneous. Free-spirited. Worldly. These are just some of the adjectives I took away from the essays. The list could go on for screens.
Fellow writers shared stories of Bellows enabling them to report travel features from just about anywhere, anecdotes about Bellows helping kickstart their careers because he valued hard work and determination.
Some of our mutual colleagues also shared stories of Bellows on the road with his kids—here, there, just about everywhere in the world.
One friend reminded me of this piece Bellows wrote for the FTA’s own Website.
Indeed, above all else, Bellows was a true family traveler. He cherished the relationship he had with his kids, and was committed to taking them places to put them in the position of experiencing the unfamiliar. He was undaunted in this perspective—perhaps his own upbringing in foreign countries cemented in him a love for the magic and wonder of traveling the world. In this belief, this unflagging support of exploring as a family, Keith Bellows inspired me to be a better writer, better father, and a better family traveler myself. I’m just sorry he won’t be around to read these thanks.