Jean Hastings Witmeyer Hocker

August 29, 1939August 22, 2019
Obituary of Jean Hastings Witmeyer Hocker
A city girl and widowed middle-aged mother named Jean Hocker came to Jackson Hole some 43 years ago for the love of a man. But in no time it was the valley that captured her heart — setting Hocker on the path for a distinguished career in land preservation that eventually led her away. Early in her 11-year Teton County tenure, along with Story Clark, she founded the Jackson Hole Land Trust, an institution that’s responsible for rural character and open viewscapes that persist today through much of Jackson Hole. Jean’s husband, former Sierra Club volunteer Phil Hocker, recalled how his wife overcame their last name, which smelled in that day of his sometimes-thorny brand of environmental activism. She got the Land Trust off the ground with “guts and determination,” he said. “It was Jean going and meeting with ranchers in their own kitchen,” Phil Hocker said of his late wife, “and talking with them, hearing their fears and gaining their trust.” “You can’t imagine a better person to do that,” he said. Jean Hocker, 79, died Thursday in Arlington, Virginia, with her family at her side. It was an unexpected bout of cancer diagnosed in March that took her away, and she “wasn’t ready to go,” though she did so peacefully, Phil Hocker said. Longtime resident Hank Phibbs didn’t downplay praise for a departed friend: “Jean was a gentle, very fierce and compassionate warrior in the mold of Mardy Murie. “That’s the best thing I can say about anybody,” he said. Phibbs’ wife, Leslie Peterson, recalled that Hocker, along with Clark, assembled a groundbreaking paper about the critical nature of wildlife habitat along the valley floor, an importance that was then sparsely understood. Then, she convinced landowners of that importance, and in a “respectful way” started creating conservation easements. “We feel honored to have known her — there was never anyone who was more kind and smart and brave,” Peterson said. “She was just one of the great conservationists of Jackson Hole. So gentle and kind.” Moving from Syracuse, New York, to Jackson Hole to be with Phil, who was a “confirmed bachelor” and avid outdoorsman, was an adjustment for Jean, Peterson recalled. Phil Hocker confirmed that, but noted that his wife of 43 years took to northwest Wyoming’s landscape with passion and gusto. “She fell in love with the valley,” he said. “This is what made our marriage an unexpected miracle.” In her first years in Jackson Hole, Hocker worked for Teton County to help the public understand its first major land-use planning process. She then went on to advocate for federal legislation to create a protected “Jackson Hole Scenic Area,” which would have provided $200 million in federal funds to buy private land easements. The legislation passed the U.S. House, but was blocked in the Senate by Sen. Clifford P. Hansen. Forming the Land Trust in 1980 was a Plan B. Co-founder Clark looks back on her friend and colleague as a soft-spoken, but sharp and effective leader. “Jean was very nurturing, of people and of organizations,” Clark said. “She was always selfless and cared tremendously.” Jean Hocker, she said, was a person who, in hindsight, she realizes made all the difference. “I definitely thought about Jean,” Clark said, “but I don’t think people were quite aware of her effectiveness.” The Hockers’ departure from the valley came in 1987. “People gave us a fabulous going-away at Nora’s,” Phil Hocker said, “and we didn’t really go away.” They came back for weeks every summer, sojourning out of a Snow King condo. Both Hockers stayed involved in the local issues, and are still today. What brought them away from the valley full time was Jean being offered a job to become the executive director of the Land Trust Exchange, which later became the Land Trust Alliance. She ran the show until 2002, a rare female executive on the national nonprofit conservation scene for years. “Jean was an inspiration to a whole lot of other women moving up,” Phil Hocker said. “She led by example.” In retirement, she kept active, and sitting on the boards of the University of Wyoming’s Ruckelshaus Institute, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and the Wilderness Land Trust. (Phil Hocker requests that any gifts made in Jean’s honor be mailed to the Wilderness Land Trust, at P.O. Box 11697, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110.) In her leisure, Hocker went on extended backpacking trips from the Sierra Nevada, to the Wind River Range. In her 50s, after surviving colon cancer, she backpacked deep into the Teton Wilderness’ Thorofare region. Descending Thorofare Peak, she fell and busted a wrist. “I had to field-splint it, and we came out,” Phil Hocker said. “Just to show that she didn’t scare easy, the next summer we were out for three weeks clear north of the North Pole, canoeing in the Canadian islands. “Once or twice I got her in situations that I shouldn’t have, and we got out,” he said. “She was hardy and she was plucky.” ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ **Kind words written by French land conservationist, Max Falque on September 8th 2019** Jean Hocker : une grande dame As a consultant to the French Conservatoire du Littoral in the late seventies I was asked to introduce environmental easement as an alternative to fee simple. Of course as early as 1970 I read William White’s “The last landscape” advocating easements and explaining how they were experienced and implemented by some US land trusts. I first met Jean near Washington alone with a computer in a small apartment, back from Jackson Hole to develop a federation of several land trusts under the name of Land Trust Exchange and later Land Trust Alliance From then on I attended four LTA Rallyes where I met dedicated young militants and a seasoned top lawyer Kingsbury Browne. Jean was of course the organizer and master of ceremony with grace and competence. She succeeded beyond hope to get cooperation of some 1200 small and big land trusts. Of course this fruitful success encouraged me to invite her and later Philip, her husband, to participate and speak at several conferences and meetings set up in Aix en Provence and Paris by the International Center for Research on Environmental Issues ( Our common plea for private environmental easements did not fit the French bureaucracy and the Romano/Germanic legal setting which preferred some kind of regulatory easement. We became close friends and met several times in Washington and in France. It happened that Jean passed away few days before Professor Ann Louise Strong; my professor and mentor at Penn. A double loss of top American ladies advocating environmental conservation and liberty through the adaptation of property rights ~Max Falque ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Wilderness Land Trust Saying Goodbye: ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Facebook link to Mountain Journal post: ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Tribute to Jean: ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ In Memoriam: ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Information about Jean's Jackson Hole, WY services: ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Award Recipient: ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ February 2000 article on Jean's work:

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