Having just passed away on Tuesday, we remember long time big boat racer and North Sails owner Terry Kohler today. Having cemented his legacy in the sport of sailing when he bought North Sails from Lowell North back in the 80s, and over his remaining years, this larger-than-life Wisconsin character continued to touch thousands in our sport and millions outside of it in both good and bad ways.
Kohler’s actions and activism show a conflicted soul; despite being born with a straight-up gold spoon in his mouth as a scion of Industry, Kohler spent thousands of hours rescuing cranes and swans and millions of dollars trying to save and protect the environment.
At the same time, he was in bed with the Koch Brothers and donated millions upon millions of dollars to elect conservative politicians bent on raping and destroying that same environment. He funded numerous programs dedicated to strengthening marriage and family, at the same time calling homosexual behavior “aberrant and immoral.”
He grew Windway (North Sails and other businesses) with great success and won almost every major big boat title in existence, but suffered humiliating failures in politics and was voted down from a position on the Wisconsin Board of Regents, never quite measuring up to his ex-governor progenitors. He was a private and quiet man who mostly shunned the limelight, even as he was known as the single most important power player in Wisconsin politics for decades.
Terry Kohler loved sailing and his generosity with sailors and support of the sport – especially in the Midwest – was legendary. For that, we honor him.
For his part in the rise of the Religious Right and the election of George W Bush, his nasty statements on homosexuality and the ugliness that goes along with those things…well, he was from another era, and we’ll all just hope his “Judge” is more lenient than some of the judges and politicians he supported for all those years.
Fair winds, Terry, and we hope you all enjoy a short anecdote from Brian Hancock about a fun time with Kohler. For those who just want to read a bubblegum obituary from a right-wing pub, here’s that.
I am sad to hear that Terry Kohler has moved on to wherever good people go after they have left this planet. I only met him once although I see his name numerous times on my morning ablutions. So here is my one and only Terry Kohler story.
Quite a few years ago I did the Chicago Mackinac race on the boat owned by the then editor of Sailing Magazine – great magazine by the way. Micca Hutchens had asked me to do the race with her but I was on a bit of a time crunch. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I will organize a ride off Mackinac Island after the race is over.”
Now the thing about the Mac race is this. Mackinac island is (I think still today) a car free zone. No cars. Just horses and buggies to get around. Very quaint in fact quaint beyond belief. So we approached the finish line in a thick pea soup fog I had no clue where we were but the navigator assured us that we were close. Then I knew he was not kidding. All of a sudden there was an overwhelming smell of horse shit. Yup we were close indeed.
So the island is car free. Supplies are delivered to restaurants in the morning by horse drawn carts. It’s just so awesome; almost something that you would see in Europe. I was told that I was getting a flight out on Terry Kholer’s private plane – a Lear Jet if I remember correctly. I was told to meet the plane at the air strip at a given time and I remember it was early in the morning. So I called their version of Uber – yes a horse with a buggy – and we left just as dawn was breaking.
The pony trotted down narrow lanes toward the outskirts of the island. To the small airstrip. As we got close to the runway I saw a jet and some sailor types hanging around so I asked the horse rider guy if he could just take me out onto the runway. Which he did and sure enough it was Terry Kohler’s plane and the great man himself was there. “Right then,” he said. “Jump on board.” And I did. I jumped out of the buggy feeling like I had been caught in a time warp, and stepped onto one of the most beautiful planes I have ever been in. The horse and buggy pulled away, the pilot gunned the engine, and with almost a supersonic boom we reentered modern life. What an experience, and so I want to thank Terry Kohler not only for the ride of my life but for all he did for sailing. Terry was after all the owner of North Sails and an avid sailor.
– Brian Hancock.