Discovery Communications founder and chairman John Hendricks will retire in May after 32 years at the helm of one of cable’s pioneering programming companies.

Hendricks will formally step down on May 16, at Discovery’s annual meeting. Discovery CEO David Zaslav, hailed his legacy in creating a clutch of channels designed to inform and enlighten as much as entertain.

“He is a true visionary, a man of enormous integrity and one of the world’s great entrepreneurs,” Zaslav said. “On behalf of the 5,600 employees of Discovery Communications, I want to thank John for all that he has done, and all that he has stood for, as Founder and Chairman of Discovery for more than 30 years, and believing the world needed a different kind of media company – a purpose-driven media company.”

Hendricks founded the company in 1982, while the flagship Discovery Channel bowed June 17, 1985. Discovery was a trailblazer for the industry in launching spinoff channels, embracing high-definition programming and in aggressive expansion overseas. Hendricks’ personal interest in environmental and educational issues influenced the focus of Discovery programming and has brought him many accolades.

Hendricks stepped down as CEO in 2004. Zaslav took the reins in 2007 from  longtime Discovery exec Judith McHale.

Here is the letter Hendricks sent Thursday to Discovery board members:

My thanks to all of you on the Board of Directors for supporting my request for early retirement effective with the Annual Meeting of the Shareholders on May 16, 2014. This year marks my 32nd year (nearly a third of century!) of service as Chairman of the Board and as an executive of the company.

Ten years ago in 2004, I decided it was just the right time for me to step down as CEO. Now, 10 years later, with Discovery on such a strong growth path under David’s able leadership and a strong Board of Directors, I likewise feel this is the perfect time to depart from the Board and from my role as Chairman and as an executive of the company. For over three decades now, I have somewhat envied the legions of documentarians that we have employed who have traveled the world to bring great stories and experiences to our viewers. It is now finally time for me to go exploring! I plan to spend the next few years traveling the planet and discovering the questions and mysteries that intrigue us all. And, as you all know, I want to find a compelling way through in- person retreats and online learning initiatives to nurture our natural human curiosity in a very substantial way. I am committed to building a lifelong learning academy operating within the private sector that offers deep dives into our curious questions about science, technology, civilization, and the human spirit. So, please wish me luck in the years ahead as I implement Curiosity Retreats and the online Curiosity Club through my new company, Curiosity Project, LLC, that I publicly announced last month on February 10.

I wanted to share with all of you on the Board of Directors my warm and grateful thoughts for making these past 3 decades of Discovery such an incredibly marvelous and rewarding adventure. Because of your steadfast support for the company I founded on September 8, 1982, Discovery has achieved enormous impact and scale all across the planet. It has truly been a team effort.