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April 23, 2012

Remembering John Hoyt, a Leader for Animal Protection

Since its founding in 1954, The HSUS has had just six chief executive officers―and that stability at the top has been a key factor in the organization’s sustained growth, program achievements, and influence in American culture. For nearly half of that time span, John Hoyt was president. John’s name and good deeds are writ large upon the annals of our history, and also in our hearts.

Last Sunday, April 15, John died at his home in Fredericksburg, Va., after a long infirmity, just several weeks after celebrating his 80th birthday with family and friends. 

John Hoyt, former HSUS president
John Hoyt

Fred Myers and our other founders had a powerful vision for a new kind of organization, and between 1954 and 1970, they established The HSUS as a new and vibrant and distinct force for the good. They achieved some remarkable things―including the passage of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act in 1958, and the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act in 1966―but they lacked the resources to bring their vision to full realization. 

It was John Hoyt who, more than anyone, developed The HSUS and built a solid organization, extending its reach into all 50 states. Leaving the ministry and his position as pastor of the prestigious First Presbyterian Church in Fort Wayne, Ind., he came to The HSUS and brought together a talented group of professionals in a burgeoning field. They, in their own ways, pushed the ideals of animal protection into legislative bodies, corporate board rooms, and the consciousness of the American public. He and Paul Irwin, also a minister and the man who immediately succeeded John, built the organization into the biggest and most powerful animal protection organization in the country. John also helped to found the World Society for the Protection of Animals and Humane Society International, and through them, he extended a message of compassion and mercy throughout the world. That work is being felt in thousands of places across the globe every day. 

Today, The New York Times published an obituary that conveyed some of the richness of John’s legacy. The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal carried similarly evocative accounts of his great life, last week. Inevitably, the passing of a dear friend and colleague triggers a profound sadness. Still, to see John justly recognized for his formidable achievements and his purposeful life was a comfort to all of us who knew and loved him. Like so many of us here at The HSUS, I would not be here without him, and the work we do today builds on the foundation stones he laid. 

John’s wife Trudy and their four daughters, Anne, Julie, Karen, and Peggy have given so much of themselves to our cause, and we will forever be grateful to them for supporting and helping to make possible John’s many contributions to our work.  

Even with the retirement or loss of tremendously influential individuals, a social movement must have the capacity to endure. John knew that meant building an institution that could stand the test of time and deal with adversity. He left so much to us, and it’s our solemn responsibility to take our cause to the next level, to fight cruelty wherever we see it, and to confront institutional exploitation, no matter if it’s done by the most powerful forces in our society. John saw things just that way. RIP.

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