Longtime advocate for animals & vegetarian living
John Stockwell, 85, an advocate for animals and vegetarian living whose involvement dated back to the very beginnings of the late twentieth century animal rights movement, died on November 23, 2020 in Berkeley, California, his home off and on since 1961 and continuously since 1982.
Born in Superior, Nebraska, Stockwell lettered in basketball at Park High School in Minneapolis, graduated with high honors, and went on to Yale University, where he lettered in both basketball and baseball before graduating magna cum laude in 1957 with a bachelor of science degree in geology.
A self-described rockhound since childhood, Stockwell spent several summers assisting at dinosaur digs in Utah. He won a three-year graduate fellowship in geology at Stanford, but was drafted, spending three years with the U.S. Army Security Agency. After attending the U.S. military language school to learn Vietnamese, Stockwell was thereafter stationed primarily in the Philippines until his discharge in 1960.
Briefly resuming his graduate studies in geology, Stockwell became distracted by what he recalled as “the political excitement at Berkeley in 1961,” spending most of the next seven years engaged in student activism on a variety of fronts, chiefly at the University of Minnesota.
After studying philosophy, Asian history and culture, comparative government, and international relations, all far removed from his previous interest in geology, and marrying for the first time, a relationship that lasted seven years, producing his daughter Nicole, Stockwell in 1968 joined the staff of the San Francisco-based American Humanist Association. The job offered considerable opportunity for travel, but came to an abrupt end when the American Humanist Association closed the San Francisco office in 1969.
Teacher & staff geologist for BP on the Alaskan North Slope
Stockwell next spent several years teaching elementary school science at a variety of institutions, put in three years on the Alaskan North Slope, 1974-1977, as a staff geologist for BP Alaska, Inc., and then returned to teaching science at the elementary school, high school, and university levels until his retirement in 2002.
Stockwell married for the second time in 1982, raising two children, Mieke and Loren, with wife Meg.
Exactly when and how Stockwell took up animal and vegetarian advocacy is unclear. A 1965 visit to Pondicherry, India, may have been influential.
Between the Species
By 1978, however, Stockwell was occasionally lecturing on the topic of “The Humane Community: Animal Liberation, the Protection of Nature, and the Renewal of Public Life,” and in 1982 lectured in Germany about vegetarianism.
From 1985 until 1996, Stockwell and Hayward State University professor Steve Sapontzis co-edited Between the Species, a quarterly cross between a scholarly journal and literary magazine that published poetry, fiction, art, and papers from meetings of the Society for the Study of Ethics & Animals, an organization meeting concurrently with the American Philosophical Association.
Continued by others in electronic form, Between the Species is accessible online at https://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/bts/.
Berkeley Humane Commission
In addition, Stockwell in 1987-1988 chaired the Berkeley Humane Commission, an advisory board founded circa 1971 to urge, successfully, that Berkeley should become the first U.S. city to stop killing pound animals by decompression.
In 1995 and 2006 the Berkeley Humane Commission controversially recommended ordinances to mandate sterilization of pit bulls. Neither ordinance was approved by the Berkeley City Council.
In between, in 2002, the Berkeley Humane Commission recommended that the Berkeley community animal shelter should adopt a no-kill operating philosophy, which it did.
Stockwell’s tenure as chair, however, appears to have been relatively quiet.
Walk to Rome
Stockwell subsequently organized an Animals, Ethics, & Social Policy Conference for the Albert Schweitzer Center in 1990, and participated the same year in a 16-day Walk to Rome that followed a Conference on Animal Rights & the Souls of Animals in Ober Wolfach, Germany.
Crossing from the Black Forest region of Germany into Switzerland, over the St. Gotthard Pass through the Alps to the Italian border, the marchers thereafter traveled by train to Milan, Assisi, and Rome.
Along the way, the marchers posted declarations of animal rights in Strasbourg, France, at the church whose clock inspired the philosopher Rene Descartes to assert that animals operate like instinct-driven clockwork, having no souls; and at the church in Wittenburg, Germany, where Martin Luther posted his “Ninety-five Theses or Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” initiating the Protestant Reformation; and at St. Peter’s Basilica, global headquarters of the Catholic Church.
After retiring from teaching, Stockwell devoted most of the remainder of his life to rockhounding, at last earning his master’s degree in geology in 2013.
Assessed Action for Animals founder Eric Mills, “A very decent guy, and good friend.”