A life spent making a difference
Houston vegan & animal rights activist Shirley Wilkes-Johnson dies, but hermentoring legacy lives on
"Some things are so wrong they cannot be tolerated," vegan blogger Rhea Parsons writes, quoting Shirley Wilkes-Johnson.
I can't say that I knew Wilkes-Johnson well. What I do know, is that she appeared to be omnipresent in all and every conversation that revolved around doing the right thing. Though our interactions were mostly limited to thoughtful and sometimes humorous conversations via social media channels — always encouraging as I continued to adapt to veganism, developed recipes and shifted paradigms — her passion came through clearly, befriending those making similar journeys and creating allies with others who didn't quite see the world her way.
On the occasion that we serendipitously met while she and her husband Ben were campaigning at Pepper Tree Veggie Cuisine, we made an instant connection and knew that I needed to learn from her.
She had a knack for being successfully and pleasantly persistent, making becoming vegan easy and natural, always speaking on behalf of those that couldn't speak for themselves.
It was as recent as early last week that we were speaking and scheming on making a vegan cuisine video and being a guest on her popular Vegan World Radio show on KPFT FM 90.1. So it came as a shock when I learned that one of my mentors had suffered a stroke and passed away on April 9. She would have been 74 on April 11.
A Native Texan, Wilkes-Johnson's became vegan in 1984, shifting from 23 years living a vegetarian lifestyle. She was director of the Lone Star Vegetarian Network (LSVN) for 13 years, director of the South Texas Vegetarian Society for seven years, board member of the Houston Vegetarian Society for two years, board member of the Houston Animal Rights Team for two years, radio talk show host and newspaper reporter in the mid-1970s, vegan cooking teacher from 1987, public speaker and co-host of Go Vegan Texas! on KPFT Pacifica Radio. For 22 years, she sponsored a statewide vegan chili cook-off.
Survived by her vegan husband of 44 years, her daughter, granddaughter and great granddaughter are also following in her vegan footsteps.
Wilkers-Johnson was in the midst of preparing for the release of a 300 recipe vegan cookbook with the help of Carol Adams, author of The Sexual Politics of Meat. She had a virtuosic reputation for veganizing any recipe and teaching anyone how to eliminate animal products from their lives and diets.
Adams writes on her blog that Wilkes-Johnson said "that creating a vegan world is the most important social justice change in the history of this planet. Vegan activists are kindred souls to the abolitionists who worked to end slavery. I think that meat eating is the foundation of violence on this planet. Like Alex Hershaft, founder of FARM told me in an interview, I too can never stop being an activist until the world goes vegan or until I die — whichever comes first.”
A memorial celebration took place Saturday at Niday-Fairmont Funeral Home in Pasadena. In lieu of flowers, her family is requesting donations on her name to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
A memorial dinner hosted by the Houston Vegan Vegetarian Lifestyle Meet-up group is also scheduled for Saturday at 6 p.m. at Loving Hut, the vegan restaurant on Kirkwood. Fitting, given that it was Wilkes-Johnson that requested Supreme Master Ching Hai bring her chain of restaurants to Houston during an interview.