“The best thing about being human is the moral sense of awe that connects us to the web of life.”
– Lamont (Monty) Hempel, “Eye to Eye with Whales: Environmental Thought in a Divided Brain.”
Whether you knew him as Professor Hempel, Doctor Lamont Hempel, or just Monty, this revered University of Redlands professor set a gold-standard in every line of work he pursued. As a pioneer of Environmental Studies at Redlands, Monty connected with his passion and committed to it regardless of who had set a precedent before him. Alongside long-time colleague, Tim Krantz, Monty worked tirelessly to found the Environmental Studies department at the university in the academic year of 1998-99 when he was hired at 48 years of age.
Besides the research projects he lead outside of his teaching practice at the university, Monty founded a nonprofit organization called BluePlanetUnited with his spouse of 32 years, Marilyn Hempel. Prior to his passing, Monty planned on retiring from the U of R following this Spring semester and putting more of his time and energy into the conservation and environmental activism that BluePlanet is actively advocating for.
While Dr. Hempel’s efforts were to conserve any and all wildlife, the energy and resources he put into many of the 16 films he made over the course of his lifetime were dedicated specifically to exploring the depths of the marine. The most popular of these was Eye to Eye with Whales, a film about the spectacular miracle of varying forms of consciousness being able to interact in the depths of the ocean. Another covered the life mission of Desmond Tutu, a civil rights leader in South Africa during the Apartheid, and was made following Dr. Hempel’s stay aboard a ship with Tutu during a semester at sea as a guest lecturer. Along with BluePlanet, he founded AESS, or the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences, a program designed to help strengthen the education process Environmental Studies students and educators have been using for decades.
Truly a leader in so many intersections of life, Monty’s adventurous spirit carried these programs into existence and continued to as they began thriving, with the support from his spouse, two sons, and four grandsons (the oldest continuing his grandfather’s legacy, majoring in Environmental Studies at Pitzer College). In all of the programs he started,others have picked up the passion that he put into motion and hope to continue his legacy.
His lasting memorial is actually on our campus today; Lewis Hall, which was built in 2003 and then opened to the public for use in 2005. As one of the esteemed leaders of construction, this LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building was one of the first influential structures in global green roof building techniques and was his passion project on this campus. Dr. Hempel deciding everything down to what type of carpets were on the floor and the chemical builds of the glue used to adhere various aspects of the building’s design.
Besides being called to his impressive professional achievements and fulfilling family life, Monty’s heart drew him to global travel, scuba diving (which aided in his documentary process), and immersing himself in other cultures. His spouse, Marilyn, characterized her husband as adventurous, respectful, and an adaptable person because of the way he brought compassion for the earth and other people into what he cared about and fought for.
Monty Hempel was an exemplary scholar, environmentalist, and educational advocate, however I don’t think he would ever hold himself to such a high esteem. The work Monty began, perpetuated, and follows in his footsteps now, is that of interconnection and unity of humans and the earth together; something that humbles Monty in my eyes and the eyes of so many others inspired by his dedication and work.