About Mike Hackett
Mike Hackett is an unassuming man with an easy smile. His passions run deep, but he never comes across as dogmatic or ideological. He has found an ethical resolve that propels him, and an engaging nature that brings others with him. His wife, Carolyn, makes it clear, though, “He’s Irish. He’s scrappy” she says with a smile. Mild mannered, yes; a pushover, never. When he puts his mind to something, he sees it through.
Mike grew up in a Catholic family in Chehalis, Washington, a small lumber and dairy town in the southwest of the state, and took to the outdoors as everyone did in that area. Camping, hiking, building forts and loving the forest for the beauty and expanse and for the peace of being in nature.
He was a small kid growing up, a good athlete with social skills, but not a lot of confidence. The confidence would develop through his career, as he discovered his strengths and what he now sees as his purpose.
During his college years, his dad, a railroad engineer, announced to the family that he had purchased a new Cessna 172. This was surprising for a middle class family but, as an avid fan of Lindberg and other pioneering pilots, it had long been his father’s dream. Mike took to flying like a duck to water and during his later college years, worked as a sports and all-around reporter for the local newspaper, doing aerial photography. He claims it also helped his social life a bit (“Hey, wanna take a plane ride?”)
Rather than wait to be drafted into the Vietnam War Mike signed up to be a Navy pilot. Already being a private pilot, he had a head start in learning to fly military aircraft. From this training experience, he also learned more about himself and how people flourish. He learned that encouraging and guiding people toward success was more beneficial than warning and threatening them.
After the Navy, Mike became a commercial pilot, working with Hughes AirWest and the airlines that acquired their operations. As a line pilot, he could have worked until retirement in that role, but senior pilot management tapped him to be a training pilot, where he was responsible for the skills and success of junior pilots. He regarded that as an honor and, recalling his Navy training experience, adopted an approach that was positive, encouraging, confidence building, and focused on success. “I found I could be more effective by building people up than by managing by fear. People become successful when they look forward to learning and know they can overcome their mistakes.” Mike’s leadership and mentorship style flourished in this role.
He married his high school sweetheart while in the Navy and started a family. They came to the Napa Valley at a time when there was an influx of people with similar values. There was an enthusiasm for hands-on winegrowing and producing high quality natural products while living sustainably with nature. These were people who were progressive in outlook, practical of mindset, and aware of their responsibility to manage nature respectfully. From1978-2004, Mike and Carolyn lived in west Napa and ran a Christmas tree farm. They now have two grown children and a pair of grandchildren. Their son and his family live in a cottage adjacent to them, and their daughter lives in St. Helena and is on the business side of the wine industry.
Through Mike’s career as a pilot, he and Carolyn had seen much of the country, and had the opportunity to visit and explore many areas and communities. In 2004 they moved Angwin to after his commercial aviation career. Angwin sits on Howell Mountain, east of St. Helena. “It’s right up from the beautiful Napa Valley and wonderful wine culture, and in the forests I love.” To them, it the most beautiful place in the country.
He also became aware that Howell Mountain is a key watershed, providing water for St. Helena’s Bell Canyon Reservoir and Napa’s Lake Hennessey. Development, whether housing or vineyard conversions, has a risk of reducing the water security of the communities that depend on that watershed. His beloved forests were providing for the downstream communities.
For the last 12 years, Mike as been a member of Save Rural Angwin, and the last several years served as its chair. Through the SRA, he met and was befriended by Volker Eisele, long time environmentalist and influential Farm Bureau and Napa Valley Vintners member. He says that Volker clarified what he needs to focus his energies on. In 2014, shortly before his death, Eisele said to him, “ Mike, we saved the Ag Preserve nearly 50 years ago, now we have to save the Ag Watershed.”
I pull out my camera to capture a shot of Mike, and he’s visibly uncomfortable. “I don’t want this thing to be about me. It’s not about personality or politics. This is about our grandchildren and the kind of example we set and the world we leave them.”
Note: I showed up at Mike and Carolyn’s home to capture his story. Gracious hosts that they are, they offer a local wine, which is always hard to refuse, given where we were. He produced a bottle of 2010 Winter Cabernet. The winegrower, Rob Winters, was a long time friend and tennis partner who had recently died. Opening the bottle was a bit of a remembrance for his friend and a generous offer to a visitor. Offering a personally significant wine to a visitor is the mark of a classic Napa gentleman.