Douglas was born in Long Beach, California in 1947, the third child of Robert and Jean Saunders Gillies. The family moved to Canada when Douglas was six months old. He and his brother and two sisters were raised in Galt, Ontario, a picturesque manufacturing town where their uncle, Allan Holmes, was publisher of the Galt Reporter.
Douglas wrote an essay in the fifth grade and was selected to represent Galt in the Waterloo County contest, where one student would be chosen to spend the summer in Norway as a foreign exchange student. He wrote a fine speech, faced his first live audience, forgot the opening line, and didn't say a word until the judges suggested that he return to his seat.
His family moved back to California when he was 15. Douglas kept a low profile until the principal of Tustin High School, John Duncan, addressed the student body in 1964 in a well-intentioned but short-sighted effort to ward off a growing cultural tsunami, now fondly remembered as "The 60's."
"Ninety percent of you kids are good students," Duncan said. "You make this a great school. You get the good grades, you join the clubs, you play on the teams. It's the ten percent who are causing all the trouble. Don't let them ruin it for the rest of you."
The following day, campaigns began for student government and signs appeared all over campus introducing a pale student from Canada who had only five friends. The signs attached to grape stakes lined all the sidewalks on campus GILLIES 10%. After an impromptu speech in front of 3,500 students extolling the virtues of the unappreciated, downtrodden ten percent, Gillies was elected senior class president of Tustin High. Thus, he learned his first rule for success NEVER WRITE A SPEECH.
Douglas went to UCLA Law School to learn how to ask questions and then practiced law in the Bay Area. He participated in one of the largest lawsuits in U.S. history, a case involving 72 corporations, 60 years of disputed facts, tens of millions of documents, and damages of $20,000,000,000. After the case against his client, Peerless Insurance Co., settled two weeks before trial for less than a million dollars, he realized he was just fighting over other people's money. He set out to explore solutions to the conflict between rising levels of consumption and shrinking natural resources as he began writing books and making documentaries.
As a facilitator, he conducted his first town meeting in 1979 for 300 senior citizens and service providers, which resulted in formation of the Seniors Council of Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties. He started teaching two-week leadership trainings in 1986 in Jamaica, Peru, and Bali. In 1991, he began producing corporate retreats, summits, and think tanks using Common Law principles to find solutions to complex problems.
His attention turned to global problems in 1994 when he produced "The Big Picture Summit" hosted by Tom Van Sant at La Casa de Maria in Santa Barbara, California. Tom's question: "How can we speed up the shift to holistic thinking from linear, reductionist, compartmentalized thinking?" In other words, how can we get people to see the big picture? Participants released a report to the United Nations with 72 strategies for speeding up the shift to holistic thinking. One year later, Douglas produced "A Matter of Life & Death" at La Casa, hosted by Robert Muller, former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations. He then released Passion, an audio program in which Muller discusses the meaning of life and the meaning of death as he reflects on lessons learned while serving at the United Nations for 39 years. In 1996, Jean Houston hosted "The Grail," where eighty participants searched for elements of a new story that would lead humanity out of the wasteland and point the way to a positive future.
He has produced six documentaries.
On the Edge features former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Jane Goodall, Ted Turner, Lester Brown, Oren Lyons, Huston Smith, and Carl Sagan discussing the need to make a concerted effort to restore a healthy balance to Earth's resources before it's too late.
Douglas's biography of Robert Muller,
Prophet--the Hatmaker's Son, tells the story of a young man who escaped the Nazis during World War II and left home to become a peacemaker at the United Nations. According to Ted Turner, Robert Muller "is one of the greatest men to come along in a long time."
Paradise Earth was published in 2008. 101 Cool Ways to Die was released in 2009.
Douglas has conducted retreats and meetings for Hospice,
JS Bower Foundation, American Riviera Bank, Affinity Bank,
Granada Theater (Center for Performing Arts), National Institute for Urban Search and Rescue, and World Unity Flag.
His blogs are posted at QuestForHope.com and StupidRules.us
During his first interview with Robert Muller, Douglas asked, "How can an ordinary person like me think like a global citizen?"
Muller said, "That's easy. You just multiply everything you do by six billion."
So Douglas takes cloth shopping bags to the grocery store, drinks filtered water out of reusable glass bottles, heats one cup of water at a time for tea instead of boiling a full pot, and turns off the light when he leaves the room.