Geoff Gosling writes:
Received this article from our friends Tony & Di. Interesting reading. 😎
“” I had read about him and I had heard so much about him that I already felt like I knew him, but when I first met him in Buxton in 1984 I confess that I was intimidated. It has never happened to me with a mountaineer; that same day I met Chris Bonington and other British mountaineer Olympus characters and I found myself, as always with the mountaineers, in good comrade company. Don had a singing expression in his celestial eyes and mouth folding in the corner free from the gum and he didn’t seem to take me seriously when I asked him to interview him. ′′ It’s already written everything in my book,” he said. But his book – this, which we now publish in Italian – was now exhausted and untraceable. I had searched for it in vain in London in all the Oxford Street books and English friends who owned a copy were reluctant to separate it even for a short time. ′′ I wish he would tell me about Gary Hemming too,” I said, ′′ Do you remember? I wrote to her that I’m collecting testimonies of who met him…” She remembered. ′′ Let’s meet and talk about it,” he said, but I didn’t see him for every day that lasted the conference organized by the British Mountaineering Council. ′′ It’s going to be in the pub,” they replied when I asked one or the other if they knew where I could find it.
After the conference was over, Ken Wilson, a precious friend among the most precious, made me an appointment at Don’s house in Wales. He put me on a train and also lent me his recorder because mine went haywire. Upon my arrival there was a smiling Don Whillans waiting for me, accompanied by his wife Audrey, a gentle lady with reserved air.
The house was full of books – in contrast to the image of the crude and illiterate man that Don seemed to want to give of himself. Mountain books, mostly, and I realized that Don really knew a lot about mountain. He spoke willingly, without waiting for the questions, and the sweet and slightly singing voice for his accent of the Middle Earths completely dissolved the unforgettable impression of the first meeting. The thing that struck me most was the generosity with which he talked about other mountaineers and the unreserved appreciation of his rope mates.
The next year he came to visit me in Italy, with a young friend recently known, with whom he was headed to the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. They came from England with two giant bikes and installed at our house as if they had lived there forever. It seemed like he wasn’t in a hurry to climb and preferred to contemplate the mountains by sitting quietly smoking in the garden, surrounded by empty beer bottles. ′′ Are you sure you can make North of the Great without training?” my husband asked him. And he added worrying: ′′ With that belly you have!” Don smiled mischievous smiling at celestial eyes. ′′ In the Dolomites the belly goes away,” he said calmly calmly.
Casimiro Ferrari and Daniele Chiappa came to visit him in Patagonia, and there was an epic feast in his honor by Gigi Alippi, in his refuge at the Resinelli, with asados and rivers of wine. We left late enough, but the party was still going on and this time Don was surrounded by empty grappa shots.
The next day they left early morning to go climbing the cigar. They made two string, Don with his friend and my husband with our son. Don tied with his waist rope without harness, lit a cigarette, placed the package under the cap where he got it from, and attacked the wall with the gum between his lips. He had sweated and puffed to climb to the base of the cigar, but as soon as he put his hands on the rock he turned, he became agile and light and climbed with the grace of a teen dancer.
They left the next day for Lavaredo, with the big rumbling bikes and the promise to come back to visit us the following year. None of us knew this was Don’s last summer.””
(M. M. Tenderini – book preface DON WHILLANS – PORTRAIT OF A ALPINIST “”

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