Terese T. (Terry) Hershey, one of America’s most influential conservationists, passed away peacefully on her 94th birthday at her home in Houston. Called a “Force of Nature” by former president and friend George H.W. Bush, Hershey’s impact on the landscape of the United States stretched from the banks of Buffalo Bayou in Houston to every state in the Union.
Terry Hershey was born in Fort Worth, Texas, on Jan. 19, 1922, one of two children of John and Elizabeth Tarlton. She was preceded in death by her brother and a niece. Terry attended Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., and graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in philosophy in 1943. She returned to Fort Worth and established the city’s very first art gallery on the family property which, following her parents’ deaths, she donated to the city of Fort Worth. Today it is known as Wright-Tarlton Park in their names.
In 1958, Terry married Jacob W. Hershey, CEO of American Commercial Barge Lines. For more than a decade, they sailed the Atlantic and Caribbean from Maine to Tobago, ultimately leaving their life on the sea for their beautiful Four Mile Ranch outside of Pagosa Springs and Hershey Ranch at Stonewall in the Texas Hill Country. For years, Terry has supported a well-regarded children’s outdoor education program at Four Mile Ranch in partnership with Audubon Rockies, and with the support of the local Weminuche Audubon Society, which she helped found.
Jake and Terry made their home in Houston along Buffalo Bayou and it was there that her life’s work in defense of the environment began. Shortly after their marriage, the U.S. Congress approved funding for the Army Corps of Engineers to clear all natural vegetation from the banks of the Bayou, straighten its meanders and line it with cement. Incensed at the prospect of the destruction of its natural beauty, with help from oilman George Mitchell, Hershey convinced then-freshman Congressman George H.W. Bush to ask that funding be withdrawn.
From this now legendary conservation victory, Terry Hershey founded numerous organizations dedicated to environmental protection, including the Bayou Preservation Association, Citizens Who Care, The Citizen’s Environmental Coalition, The Park People and Urban Harvest. Additionally, she and Jake founded the Jacob and Terese Hershey Foundation which is largely dedicated to conservation.
Terry Hershey’s dedication and skill was recognized by many elected officials including Houston mayors Kathy Whitmire, Bob Lanier, Lee Brown and Bill White, all of whom appointed her to successive terms on the Houston Parks Board. Gov. Dolph Briscoe appointed Hershey to the Texas Conservation Foundation and Gov. Ann Richards named her the second woman ever to be appointed to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, considered to be among the most prestigious appointments in state government. She was a founder of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, along with her friend and ally, Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson.
Not content to confine her great passion and energy to Texas, Terry Hershey was a leader in many national organizations dedicated to parks and the environment, serving as a trustee of the National Recreation and Park Association, The Trust for Public Land, The National Audubon Society, The National Association of Flood Plain Managers and The National Recreation Foundation.
For her lifetime of service to the environment, Hershey received many awards including the prestigious Chevron Conservation Award, the Frances K. Hutchison Award from The Garden Clubs of America, the Cornelius Amory Pugsley Medal from The National Recreation Foundation and many more. She was the first person to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from Houston Wilderness and she was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame in 1991. In 2015, Audubon Texas established the Terry Hershey Women in Conservation Awards, which recognize the outstanding contributions to the environment made by women in Texas and support the development of the next generation of women in conservation.
Surely, Terry Hershey’s principal impact was on the landscape, as she literally launched the modern conservation easement movement in Texas that allows private landowners to remain on the land while protecting their property in perpetuity. Thanks largely to her leadership, there are nearly 40 land trusts in Texas preserving private lands across the state and hundreds of thousands of acres protected by conservation easements.
Terry Hershey was preceded in death by her husband, Jake, in 2001. She is survived by cousins Amie Rodnick and Sissy Farenthold, by several generations of Jake’s descendants, her cat Maggie and loving caregivers Janet Spencer and Veronica Garcia.
Donations in Terry’s name may be made to the Weminuche Audubon Society, Ruby M. Sisson Memorial Library, Humane Society of Pagosa Springs, San Juan Historical Society, Planned Parenthood or the charity of your choice.