History of the Fries Foundation
In Autumn of 1987 Jim was attempting his first Himalayan peak, Makalu I, the fourth highest mountain in the world, at 26,500 feet. After packing in some 165 miles over two weeks to Base Camp at 18,500 feet elevation with 12 climbers and 150 porters at one point, the team set out to provision the mountain and establish the higher camps. Hard work, but it was proceeding fairly well until October 17, when the 'Storm of the Century' hit Tibet and the high Himalaya, bringing all activity on the mountain to a complete halt. Over ten feet of new snow, drifting to depths of 20 feet and more, made life in a three foot high tent difficult, first because you had to keep clearing your tent to avoid snow build-up, and then because although the snowing had stopped, it was very hard to visit an adjacent tent and impossible to leave the camp. In the U. S. the stock market crashed, presumably an unrelated event.
||The camp after the storm. The tent peaks
that show are as high as 12 feet from the floor. Other tents
are buried under the snow.
As concern gave way to boredom the team took to passing around
the various paperback books in camp, one of which was titled 'The
Prize', which was a fairly steamy and contrived plot about the winners
of the Nobel Prize and their various adventures. Jim had several
new thoughts while reading this rather bad book. First, the existence
of a Prize could alter lives and catalyze major human achievements.
Second, the Nobel set of five Prizes neglected what arguably could
be the noblest Prize of all, a Prize for improving human health.
Third, major achievements in health improvement were often under-recognized,
and the achievers thus could not easily serve as role models for
others. Finally, this suggested an approach to improving the human
condition which potentially had great leverage; the ability to effect
change with relatively little force.
Jim thought that day that if this seemed like as good an idea after
return to sea level as it seemed to him while the air was extremely
thin, we would save our money, establish a Foundation, and offer
such a Prize. The idea survived the descent, as did Jim, and the
Foundation was incorporated in 1991 and the first annual Fries Prize
for Improving Health awarded in 1992.
The subsequent group of recipients is a proud and worthy one, the guidance of a wise and committed Prize Jury has been of inestimable help to the Board, and the processes of the Foundation have been a source of real satisfaction to all who have participated. The Foundation endowment is sufficient and growing, and perhaps there has been a little bit of change in the world, here and there. Perhaps there will be more in the future.