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Patrick Parkes: The Luck of the Irish, and the Animals

A native of Sligo, Ireland, Parkes served The HSUS in its fledgling years and acted as de facto chief executive in the late 1960s

  • In the late 1960s, Parkes was the de facto chief executive of The HSUS.  HSUS

  • Parkes served the fledgling organization as vice president for field services and investigations. HSUS

  • Parkes' legacy to protect animals includes federal legislation and reforming the use of animals in science fairs.  HSUS

by Bernard Unti

Patrick B. Parkes (1922)
Years at HSUS: (1961-1989)
Major Accomplishments:  Led Service Department; co-edited HSUS News; drafted early legislation and fundraising letters; managed regional office network; worked with HSUS founder Fred Myers. 

Patrick Parkes can vividly recall his job interview with Fred Myers, founder of The HSUS. It was 1961, and Parkes remembers that, after a brief exchange, Myers put him at a table cluttered with literature on the high altitude decompression chamber for euthanasia. The humaneness of the chamber was then being fiercely debated, and Myers told Parkes to write a recommendation for or against its use.

A half century later, Parkes recalls the assignment as “a fearful test for an applicant whose technical knowledge was just slightly above zero.” In his essay, Parkes advised against use of the chamber, an answer, he would learn, consistent with The HSUS’s position. A few days later, Myers hired him as director of the HSUS Service Department. 

Standing in the gap

At the time of his hiring, Parkes, a native of Sligo, Ireland, was a district manager for the Singer Sewing Machine Company. But he was looking for a job with greater personal meaning. He found it in the Service Department, which handled The HSUS’s membership correspondence and provided technical assistance to local humane societies and animal control agencies. Frequently, too, Parkes went into the field, taking part in investigations of rodeos, Tennessee Walking Horse exhibitions, dog dealers, slaughterhouses, and pet shops.

In December 1963, Myers died from a heart attack. “Fred’s death was a major shock to the staff and a calamitous loss to the struggling HSUS,” says Parkes, who along with colleagues Dixie Morgan, Marcia Glaser, Dale Hylton, and Frank McMahon, and HSUS President Oliver Evans, bore the burden of moving forward without their leader. 

Parkes remains an admirer of Myers’s vision. “An important part of it,” he says, “was strong emphasis on aggressive field work, properly publicized … and leavened with a moderate, practical approach that avoided extremism and gradually won credibility among [those] whose influence was essential to securing better treatment for animals."

Parkes assumed many of Myers’s writing and fundraising duties, and with Glaser, co-edited the bi-monthly HSUS News. He also worked on federal legislation to protect animals, the establishment of the National Humane Education Center at Waterford, and the reform of animal use in science fairs. Of the 1960s, Parkes recalls, “there was too much work, too many demands for immediate action, too many emergencies, too many horrific animal situations, and too little money and too small a staff for us to do all that needed doing.” 

Despite the practical and financial pressures of those years, Parkes says, “It was a very harmonious work environment. Working conditions were poor but so was the fledgling HSUS and we understood and accepted that fact. We were also optimistic about the Society’s future.” 

In the late 1960s, Parkes was the de facto chief executive of The HSUS. After John Hoyt joined as president in 1970, Parkes became vice president for administration. Later, he served as vice president for field services and investigations, supervising the regional office program as well as the investigative work of The HSUS.  He also worked closely with board members, serving on the resolutions committee at annual conferences. Today, well into his 80s, he can recite many HSUS conference resolutions from memory.

“winnable solutions and practical applications”

Upon his retirement in 1989, Parkes moved with his wife to Corpus Christi, Texas. His keen memory made him an invaluable source for Protecting All Animals: A Fifty Year History of The HSUS

Parkes remains an admirer of Myers’s vision for the organization. “An important part of it,” he says, “was strong emphasis on aggressive field work, properly publicized … and leavened with a moderate, practical approach that avoided extremism and gradually won credibility among legislators, government officials, law enforcement agencies and organizations whose influence was essential to securing better treatment for animals.”

Just as important, Myers and other HSUS founders, Parkes says, “wanted the new organization to be the chief instrument of unification in a movement, which, at that time, was so badly fractured.”

“Even our annual meeting was named The National Leadership Conference because the intent was to gather together, once annually, humane leaders from across the country, give them the benefit of new thinking and technology, inculcate support for national issues of primary importance to HSUS, and exchange workable ideas and successful programs that could be used throughout the country.”

Parkes, the last living former staff member to have worked with Myers, is certain that The HSUS’s founder would have been pleased but not surprised by the success of the organization’s pragmatic idealism. “Fred always maintained that an effective national humane society should create ideas and ideals with winnable solutions and practical applications.”  

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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