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Patricia Forkan: A Leviathan Legacy

Forkan's tenure at The HSUS was marked by her optimism about progress in humane work and her diligent campaign on behalf of whales

  • HSUS President John Hoyt (right) and Vice President Patricia Forkan were pleased with the case presented against Edward Taub in 1981 by Assistant District Attorney for Montgomery County (Maryland) and Montgomery County Detective Sergeant Rick Swain (left). The HSUS

  • John Hoyt, model Yolanda Boot, and Patricia Forkan at a rally against fur in New York City in 1988. The HSUS

  • On a whale watching expedition in 1983. Patricia Forkan, Sir Peter Scott, Walter Cronkite, and David McTaggert. The HSUS

  • Patricia Forkan and John Grandy, vice president of wildlife at HSUS, listened to English translations of speakers at the CITES meeting in 1994. The HSUS

  • Humane Society International President Patricia Forkan, speaking with Harrison Ford and HSUS board member Patrick McDonnell at the launch of the World Bank’s Tiger Conservation Initiative in 2008. Michelle Riley/The HSUS

by Bernard Unti

Years at HSUS: (1976-2010)
Major Accomplishments:  Launched core HSUS departments, including public relations, legislation, and video; played a central role in securing the global commercial whaling moratorium; and campaigned tirelessly against wearing fur and other animal abuses.

If any single quality distinguished Patricia Forkan during nearly 35 years with The HSUS, it was her optimism about progress in humane work. A realist to the core, Forkan had a meticulous sense of history that reinforced her engagement with contemporary issues as well as her confidence about prospects for future advances.

With Forkan’s retirement in August 2010, The HSUS said goodbye to a longstanding and distinguished member of its leadership team. As an executive vice president, Forkan was an exceptional administrator and manager who launched several departments central to The HSUS’s humane agenda, including public relations, legislation, and videography. She was an exemplary mentor to many staff members, and leaves behind a working legacy in a number of core program areas.

Accomplishments at Home and Abroad

A veteran campaigner, Forkan played a central role in the long struggle to secure and preserve the global commercial whaling moratorium, against many threats. She was a tireless worker in the effort to protect dolphins from death in purse seine nets, as well as in campaigns against wearing fur and the use of leghold traps.

Forkan was instrumental in extending the work of The HSUS abroad through Humane Society International, and prescient in her estimate of the threats to animal welfare posed by global trade agreements. She was a principal architect of the organization’s anti-shark-finning initiatives in the United States and abroad. She was also involved in the passage of many laws affecting animals in the U.S., including the Humane Slaughter Act, the Wild Horse and Burro Act, and amendments to the Animal Welfare Act. Most recently, Forkan led The HSUS’s comprehensive strategy to engage the many agencies of the federal government working on animal issues.

Forkan championed interdepartmental collaboration at The HSUS, introducing multidisciplinary “pods” (a word used to describe cetacean social groupings) to tackle the most challenging and complex issues facing the organization.

Forkan seemed destined for a career in animal welfare: both of her parents worked closely with The HSUS in the 1960s and 1970s, attending training sessions at The HSUS’s National Humane Education Center at Waterford, Virginia, and her mother, Elaine, founded an animal shelter in Sayre, Pennsylvania. After meeting Cleveland Amory at an HSUS conference, Forkan took her first job in the field at The Fund for Animals.

In 1976, Forkan came to work at The HSUS, recruited by John Hoyt to help with program expansion. With a talent for campaigning, she pioneered such vehicles as the "Close-Up Reports," which combined analysis of humane issues, an accounting of The HSUS’s work, and an appeal for funds into one compelling package sent regularly to supporters. Forkan championed interdepartmental collaboration at The HSUS, introducing multidisciplinary “pods” (a word used to describe cetacean social groupings) to tackle the most challenging and complex issues facing the organization.

A Strong and Constant Defender of Whales

Forkan’s great passion was the plight of whales, and her devotion to their cause defined her career.

In 1973, she spoke at her first meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC). In 1977, she testified for the first time on the Marine Mammal Protection Act. More than three decades later, in 2009, her peers selected her to address a plenary session at the IWC meeting in Madeira, Portugal, at a time when the global moratorium on commercial whaling was under renewed threat.

The 2009 speech was a fitting career capstone, and a reminder of the tenacity, vigilance, and endurance that humane work requires of its advocates.

Bernard Unti, Ph.D. is senior policy adviser and special assistant to the CEO of The HSUS. He is the author of Protecting All Animals: A Fifty-Year History of The Humane Society of the United States, and is currently writing a book on the 19th century animal protection movement.

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