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September 15, 2014

Papa John Wakefield - The Grand Old Man of Kabini


It is not very often that we come across people who have seen the world through a myriad window with experiences that transcend time. Colonel John Felix Wakefield passed away at the age of ninety five years had done all this over his long and chequered career. He has been a hunter and a soldier, also being a diplomat and working in a corporate venture for some time.

But what makes him so special in the conservation history of India is that he has been passionately involved in ecotourism based conservation over the past 30 years. For the past twenty five years, he has been on the board of JLR. He was the Brand Ambassador of JLR, always hard at work in his second home Kabini. John Felix Wakefield was born in Gaya on the 21st of March 1916.

While sitting over an evening drink with Colonel Wakefield, one was struck by the vast amount of historical wealth he possesses. His modest living room in the Viceroy Lodge at the Kabini River Lodge was stacked with books of all sorts – from wildlife to travels to cookery show tips. He also had an assortment of knick-knacks, ranging from a singing fish to a highly rusted Swiss army knife. Above all, he had an envious array of liquor, found nowhere else but in his den.

He needed it all for his guests ranged from Hollywood legends to high profile businessmen. Amazingly, he disappointed no one and even an unknown visitor was treated to his warmth and welcoming attitude to which there was no parallel.

At an advanced age, he oversaw that state of affairs of the largest property of JLR and did it with élan. Every evening, the office boy would come over with the guest list for the next day. After each safari, the naturalists described in detail the sightings of the evening. The manager constantly took guidance from him. The Colonel was the axle around which the professional ethic of Kabini revolves. Papa John as the world calls him was a living encyclopedia who shared his wide experience with all. As a noted author wrote once, 'John is not just the brand ambassador of Jungle Lodges and Resorts. At the alert and clear-thinking age of 93, he is the brand.'