I arrived back from an overseas trip yesterday, and upon landing learned the news that my dear friend Gretchen Wyler had died. At The HSUS, we had known for some time that Gretchen was failing from the effects of metastatic breast cancer. We held to the hope that if anyone could overcome the odds, it was Gretchen, with that indomitable spirit of hers. But it was not to be, and now we grieve.
In the days and weeks to come, you can expect to read much more about the life and legacy of this amazing and wonderful woman. Enough for now to say that Gretchen was among the greatest figures of the animal protection movement, and one of the most admirable people it has been my privilege to know.
© Long Photography
Gretchen Wyler at the 20th Anniversary Genesis Awards.
I had the lucky circumstance to meet her two decades ago, and not long afterward to begin working closely with Gretchen at The Fund for Animals, where she served as vice chairwoman of the board of directors. It was under the banner of The Fund, in 1986, that she had launched the Genesis Awards—her inspiration to encourage the media and the entertainment industry to incorporate animal protection themes in their works. She had a gift for friendship, and somehow made each person among her legion of admirers feel a special tie. When she joined with The HSUS in 2002, and became vice president of the newly created HSUS Hollywood Office, it was as if a family member had moved back home.
During her rich and full life, she was a star on Broadway, and later in films and television as well. When I told my father about my friend Gretchen, he said he went to the Broadway shows that Gretchen starred in after his Army service, and he said she was just fabulous—dancing and singing and dominating the stage. That was not hard for me to imagine, since every move and expression of hers had the refinement and sparkle of theatrical training.
As a star of the stage, Gretchen could have lived out her days content with the success and adulation that came with that achievement. But as accomplished and celebrated as she was for her acting, the performing arts were not enough to satisfy the spirit of this remarkable woman, who came from humble beginnings in Oklahoma City and scraped to find her way to New York and Los Angeles. Her greatest passion and her true vocation were to protect animals from cruelty.
© The HSUS
Gretchen with her rescued horse Gypsy.
Gretchen loved animals—and not just in the abstract, but with the warm and personal touch she brought to everything. She delighted in their company, and never turned away from any creature in need. She abhored cruelty in any form. And whether she was fighting pound seizure, steel traps, horse slaughter, or the inhumane captivity for elephants, anyone who mistreated animals had a formidable foe in Gretchen Wyler.
In everything she did, Gretchen was relentless—a force of nature to which we at The HSUS learned to give wide latitude. I’ll miss her calls at all hours of the day, that constant flow of good ideas for new plans and projects and passions. I’ll miss her commanding presence at Genesis Awards dinners, and the perfectionist touch she brought to that annual affair. Above all, I think I’ll miss her company—the warmth and sheer joy that she brought to the work we shared.
If "unreplaceable" can be used to describe anyone at The HSUS, it was Gretchen Wyler. Gretchen’s legacy—The Genesis Awards and the work of The HSUS’ Hollywood Office—will be carried into the future under the direction of her friend and successor, Beverly Kaskey.
We admired her, we loved her, and we’ll always miss her. We’ve lost a figure like no other in the animal protection cause. And the animals of the world have lost one of the kindest and bravest friends they ever had.