Feature: February 5, 1997
Conserving Values and Wildlife
Samuel Small died in 1969 and left the property to his brother, who had been only an occasional visitor to Africa. But recognizing that he had "one of the most beautiful ranches in East Africa," George Small decided to keep and preserve it. Six years ago, he established the Mpala Research Trust to lead research and conservation efforts on the ranch.
He also bequeathed the entire property to the trust. Small, a lifelong bachelor, has no children, and he spent a long time thinking about how to preserve the ranch once he passes on. He could have set up a trust run by a law firm, he says, but "I put more faith in a place like Princeton. One of the most foolproof ways to perpetuate something is to put it in the hands of people who are most likely to have the same ideals as you."
Small grew up in Baltimore and attended Gilman School, which sent more than a dozen graduates from his class to Princeton. When the U.S. entered World War II, Small was a junior. He enlisted in the Army and spent three and a half years in the field artillery and intelligence. Following the war, he went into his family's grocery business-PA&S Small Co., based in York, Pennsylvania-eventually becoming CEO.
In the 1960s, Small saw the need for more supermarkets in the inner cities of Baltimore and elsewhere and financed the creation of the nation's first black-owned grocery chain, now known as Super Pride. The idea nurtured black entrepreunership while making profits for his company. "It was self-serving, probably, as well as helping solve a social problem," he says. Small became friends with many of Baltimore's black business leaders, which was unusual for white businessmen of that era. His concerns for the black community can also be seen at Mpala, where a Baltimore foundation has recently established a school for at-risk inner-city boys.
Retired from the grocery business since 1988, Small plays tennis and fishes at a family home in northern Ontario. He keeps a close eye on Mpala, making several trips a year to Kenya, each lasting some six weeks. A visitor to his home in Baltimore finds few reminders of the ranch, but tucked behind a table in the den is a quiver of poison-tipped arrows (the poison, he is quick to note, has lost its potency). Dressed in a denim shirt, he is low-key and reticent by nature, but his gravelly voice takes on a new pitch as he describes how poachers recently stole some of Mpala's cattle. The ranch's anti-theft unit tracked the poachers for 25 miles and ended up in a shoot-out with them. "We got the cattle back," he says.
-Thomas W. Waldron