In memoriam: Bob Chitester

Bob Chitesters In Memoriam post

Atlas Network celebrates the life of a dear friend and intellectual titan of the movement to advance human freedom.

The movement to advance human freedom and flourishing has lost one of its most effective communicators. Bob Chitester (1937-2021), a kind and gentle, persistent and persuasive advocate for liberty, has passed away after a seven-year battle with cancer.

“Bob Chitester popularized so many ideas, but he did so by giving the stage to others,” said Atlas Network CEO Brad Lips. “The ideas of liberty are much more widely understood because of his decades of passionate creativity in communicating—across cultures and borders—the principles we all have dedicated our lives to promoting.”

In 1980, the Free To Choose documentary series that Bob Chitester produced brought the insights and clear economic logic of Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman to millions of television viewers. Chitester built on that foundation with the Free To Choose Network and continued to create new documentaries and programs, including the programs for school children. “No one I know has done more to deepen the appreciation of free enterprise and voluntary cooperation than Bob Chitester,” added Atlas Network Executive Vice President for International Programs Tom G. Palmer. “He was never angry, always polite, and like his friends Milton and Rose Friedman, he helped us all to appreciate the goodness that liberty brings forth.”

Through the Idea Channel and Free To Choose Network, Chitester helped produce award-winning documentaries such as India Awakes, Trailblazers: The New Zealand Story, Power to the People, The Power of the Poor, and Sweden: Lessons for America?, in addition to making accessible the research, the insights, and the wisdom of leading economists. Among those whose ideas he helped audiences to explore were Milton Friedman, Friedrich A. Hayek, Gary Becker, James Buchanan, Walter Williams, and Thomas Sowell, as well as public intellectuals such as historian Johan Norberg, Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg, and humorist P. J. O’Rourke.

“Bob has proven that the beauty of liberty can be conveyed in sophisticated visual documentaries that earn attention among diverse audiences,” said Lips when Atlas Network recognized Bob’s vast contributions to the movement with the Sir Antony Fisher Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.

Late last year, Atlas Network was honored to host Bob Chitester for an 80-minute interview in which he explored the relationship between the philosophy of liberty and human creativity, reflected on his career and on his friendship with Milton and Rose Friedman, and explained how good storytelling can impact society's future.

A special episode of the AtlasNexus podcast, in which Bob Chitester shares his thoughts on the medium he helped to pioneer, on his love of poetry, and on what he learned over more than 50 years working to advance awareness of classical liberal philosophy.

One of the most telling anecdotes from Bob Chitester’s long conversation with us was the power of explaining ideas through stories that people could see. Free to Choose did that for millions of people around the world. For example, in the early 1980s, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were on a worldwide tour in the royal yacht and they came to San Francisco. Milton and Rose Friedman were among those invited to a reception with the royal couple. As they were formally announced when going through the reception line, Prince Philip responded “Oh yes, of course I know you. I’ve seen you on the telly.”

As Chitester elaborated in the interview, “He didn't say ‘I read your book.’ And the point is he probably didn't and wouldn't … [in this he was like millions of others who don’t read books by economists] but they got the message because Milton was able to take them all over the world and show them stories of people that had either benefited from free-market capitalism or had been suffering because they weren't able to take advantage of what a free society offers.”

Chitester’s legacy now lives on in the work of Free To Choose Network, the global media non-profit he founded, and its satellite educational initiative, Free To Choose Network has established a page to collect tributes and memories from Chitester’s many, many friends and admirers. Atlas Network joins them in saluting a life well lived in the pursuit of reason, poetry, beauty, and liberty.

Please visit Free To Choose Network’s tribute page if you’d like to share a memory of Bob or if you’d like to read more about his impact.