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CEO on How to Chase Love at 58

Tom Ogilvie-Graham
Tom Ogilvie-Graham. PHOTO | COURTESY 

When you read Tom Ogilvie-Graham’s resume you are left bereft with a question; what is good ol’ Tom chasing? Because he studied the Grevy’s zebra for his doctorate in Animal Science. Before that he had done a diploma in law. Before taking up the current post as CEO of African Wildlife Foundation, he managed an eye clinic in a 240-staff hospital in Jerusalem for five years. He has been a visiting professor in wildlife behaviour and conservation in a university in Scotland. He was in the British Army for 30 years; a lieutenant-colonel at 36 right up to a brigadier-general in 2007. He has been to Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Bosnia, Jordan and Rwanda at the tail-end of the Genocide. He has been aide de camp for the Queen. He trained for the Israeli’s martial arts—Krav Maga, one of the oldest people to get a black belt. He loves horses (and they love him back). Through all this, he miraculously found time to get married, get three children, get divorced and then fall in love again, this time head over heels. (He talks about his fiancé a lot!) So, yes, pray, what’s this good ‘ol Scotsman chasing? JACKSON BIKO asked him.

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You have led quite a charmed life, haven’t you?

Charmed? (Chuckles). I was brought up in Scotland and from an early age I was keen on the idea of animals, or rather Africa appealed to me. I also had many relatives especially my father who spent a lot of time in Africa. The idea of doing something in Africa, working with animals was pretty ingrained and later led on to a veterinary degree at the university. Outside all that I do some running, tennis and hiking, anything outdoorsy I’m open to. Then now I have a fiancée who's with the UN based in Bujumbura. She is very much interested in running and outdoor sports so I try and keep up with her.

How was the divorce?

I got divorced last year. I am friendly with my ex-wife, which is quite nice. I spent five years in Palestine and Jerusalem and there was just not enough time to nurture the marriage and make it work. I met Virginia {fiancée} after the separation when she was working in Palestine.

How old are you and how old is she? Is marriage in the cards or you just want to wait it out?

I’m 58 years old and she’s 43. We were planning a wedding in September, but we are very busy so we’ll do it in April next year.

So how's that going to play out - you are over here and she is over there...are you guys going to live together or are you still going to do the whole long distance marriage thing?

We've known each other for over three years now and other than a brief period of about two to three months where we lived together in Jerusalem, that's the longest we've actually been able to be together. Other than that, we meet up every opportunity we get. We're hoping that maybe two years from now she'll come to Nairobi.

After doing all this; living in different countries, doing different things, are you going to say okay, I'm going to retire and have a quiet life, just me and Virginia?

No. (Chuckles) Not interested in that. My father carried on working full time until he was 78. He spent a large part of his life in Africa. That's kind of in my makeup, I'm interested to know what's around the next corner and see if I can have some sort of part to play in that.

The retirement thing isn’t for me, after two days I would start to wonder what was the point of things. If I wasn't doing this job I would be saving up all my money and my time to come to Africa, maybe canoeing in Sierra Leone, hiking to get into the middle of DR Congo.

What's the meaning of life, according to you?

(Chuckles) I think you get more out of it if you put more into it. I think if you cruise through life, if you're just trying to get by, you're gonna end up resenting things much more. I've never wanted a job. I've always wanted something that was a career, and ideally a vocation. There's a lot more to the meaning of life. People say you shouldn't mix business and pleasure, and I would say, why not?

What have you learnt about humans, about yourself, having worked in these hardship and sometimes dangerous areas?

Life is not supposed to be too straightforward. Very often, you have to get used to the fact that you're working in an imperfect world. That's a lesson that becomes useful for all of us at a very early age; that life is not fair. When you remind yourself frequently throughout, it makes things a little bit easier to cope with situations.

I learnt that sometimes despite your best efforts you're not always going to succeed. I have also learnt, and I think it also applies to the business context, occasionally you need to know when to step away.

What's in your bucket list?

Guess it's got quite a few things that I'm doing now which is going around to parts of Africa. Getting married a second time is another one. I can't let that one go. She's certainly worth holding on to. (Big smile).

Do you see yourself having children or being a father again at 60?

(Laughs aloud) Good God! Let’s put it this way, if it happens it happens. Well, if there's a child I think she'll be extremely capable. I'd be more engaged as a father than I have been in the past because most of the time I was absent.

I'm meeting a lot of guys in your age bracket having a second go at marriage...

Well, every case is different but maybe part of that is living longer, we're still in reasonable health so why not? Maybe we were never designed to be with the same person for 30, 40, 50 years, I don’t know.

There’s society to pressurise people to stay married even though you’re in a miserable marriage and it’s actually not helping anybody at all. I think that’s probably one of the worst things that can happen. I think it’s a good thing if there’s opportunity in life to get second chances in life.

Incidentally, how do you plan to hold on to her?

How do I plan to hold on to her? That's a good question, I need some advice on this one. (Laughs).

Oh! not from me.

Well, I still then got to convince her that I'm sort of interesting and worth holding on to as well.

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