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Laurel Hoctor Jones – Outspoken Champion of Birds

December 31, 2017

Laurel Hoctor Jones joined the board of Santa Monica Bay Audubon Society in May, 2014. She immediately jumped right in, taking on the task of Education Chair, doing communication and outreach with local schools and various levels of government. She became avidly involved in our Snowy Plover protection efforts, censusing the birds at several locations and attending annual range-wide Snowy Plover conferences. This led to her becoming Conservation Co-chair, after which she represented us at several state and national Audubon conferences. She wrote blogs on Snowy Plovers, egrets and herons. She was very energetic and willing to share her opinions. Yet she was also a private person, and outside of her activities for the chapter, we didn’t know much about her personal life.

Over the months and years we gradually learned that her health was not good, but she rarely spoke of it to most of us and we assumed the problems would be resolved. The one thing we knew, she never let her illness slow her down.

So it was with surprise and dismay that on December 9, 2017, we received this message from two board members, Grace Murayama and Larry Loeher:

Fellow SMBAS Board members,
(in case you hadn’t already received this sad news)
Last night I received some devastating news from Laurel’s husband, Kevin.
This to let you know that Laurel died yesterday, a heart attack resulting from her long-term health problems.  There’ll be some sort of commemoration but nothing’s set yet.

This is so sad, awful, and and just plain unfair. Take care, Grace & Larry

We all were stunned. A great many messages quickly passed; some are included below. We asked Kevin, her husband, if he would write a few words we could share with our chapter members and readers.

Laurel & Kevin Hoctor-Jones

A native Californian, Laurel received a BA in theatre from UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television and a masters in English Literature from the University of Glasgow in Scotland, where she was a Rotary Foundation scholar. While in Scotland she married Kevin.

She worked in the entertainment industry, variously as assistant to Hollywood agent Arnold Sank, as a reader/editor for Yorkshire TV in England and Universal studios in Hollywood, and in administration for the MPAA.  She worked for 8 years as a writer/editor for the Shoah Foundation, Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust archive and documentary project, which she considered her most rewarding job. She also worked extensively as a freelance editor for screenplays and novels.

She had a love of the ocean and the wilderness dating from childhood vacations in Yosemite, Yellowstone, Colorado, Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula and California’s Central Coast. As a child she loved to get up before dawn to explore tide-pools.  She was involved with various environmental groups over the years, including the American Oceans Campaign, the California Wildlife Center and the Audubon Society. Lately she worked extensively on shorebird monitoring and preservation programs.  —  Kevin Jones

It’s odd but true that we in the Audubon Society, who are so involved in our passion for birds, often know very little about the personal lives and histories of those with whom we share our passion. [Chuck Almdale]

Here are some of our thoughts and emotional reactions which ensued.

This is very sad news.  Laurel had often discussed her medical situation with me although I never gave her my thoughts on its severity but I am sure she knew.  When we get details of the memorial we should do something as a Board to recognize her contributions.  She will be very much missed.  —  Adrian Douglas, M.D.

Laurel loved the egret colony across the street from the lagoon, and fought to save it. (From “Summer of Heron Love Part II,” Laurel Hoctor Jones, 9/14/14, Malibu)

(The next comment came from young birder Charlotte Maddela, whom SMBAS helped to start a Young Birder’s Club. After the club was formed, Laurel often worked with them at the beach.)

I appreciated the time that Laurel spent with me. She taught me a lot about Plovers and Laurel was the first person to inform me about the Snowy Plover citizen science program with Audubon. I enjoyed the time she spent with me at Malibu Lagoon, not only seeking out plovers, but also identifying all kinds of species. Laurel often told me that she didn’t only look at birds. She liked looking at everything!  Laurel cared about the environment and conservation, and so do I. Since her Snow Plover training, I’ve been involved with volunteering for the citizen science program for the last three years. I’m glad she was able to pass her knowledge on to me.  —  Charlotte Maddela

Wow, that is shocking news. We agree with Adrian we should do something to recognize her contributions to the board and conservation in general. Grace and Larry, thanks for letting us know.  —  Lillian Johnson and Chuck Almdale

Very upsetting. She was truly committed to the cause of bird conservation. We could consider a Laurel Hoctor Jones Memorial Fund, for specific causes that she championed.  —  Liz Galton

Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron in the egret-heron colony in Malibu (From “A Summer of Heron Love Draws to a Close,” Laurel Hoctor Jones, Malibu, 9/12/14)

WOW. Whenever I drove her to meetings, we talked quite a bit about her on-going health issues, but she seemed to be doing much better after recovering from her surgery. I’m so, so sorry to hear this. 😦  —  Kirsten Wahlquist

Shocking and sad news. Although we did not know Laurel well, what we did know of her was that she was a fighter for that which she believed would better serve and benefit the birds, and wildlife. We were impressed by her passion, her tenacity. Doug and I are in favor of recognizing her contributions in some way as well.  —  Joyce and Doug Waterman

Very sad to hear this. Laurel found and worked with so many people and projects away from those of our  immediate chapter. This terrible event makes us see her active schedule, work and dedication as even more admirable. A year and a half or so ago she recommended Rachel Carson’s “Under The Sea Wind.” If you read this you probably won’t be disappointed. It also speaks to Laurel’s love of the tough, beautiful and complex ocean and beach environment, and her dedicated work to help preserve it.  —  Chris Lord

Whimbrel with an itch (From “Malibu Lagoon, April 27, 2014,” Laurel Hoctor Jones, 4/27/14)

Laurel’s very heavy schedule on behalf of the environment and our chapter gave me no indication of the depth of her health issues. Many of us are retired but Laurel also had a “real” job which made her efforts even more remarkable. I will miss her wide-ranging and educational reports at our board meetings. I will also miss our more prickly exchanges – Laurel had ideas and was not shy about expressing them. In short, she was the kind of  truth-teller and friend we all hope to have. Ave atque vale, Laurel.  —  Chuck Bragg

I agree with all of you that losing Laurel is heart-breaking, especially for Laurel’s husband.  I think we are all lucky to have known her and benefited from her passion for environmental education and advocacy. I think a Memorial Fund in her name would be an excellent way to honor her.  —  Cindy Schotte

We are laden with sorrow for one of our most active board members who, despite long-term physical handicaps, was constantly reaching outside our own little circle to find support for the birds and natural habitats in our area. I could not tell that Laurel was in any impending difficulty just a week ago when we last met at the Snowy Plover volunteer brunch. I looked forward to fighting the good fight with her for many seasons to come as we attempt to improve the fate of our shorebirds. A voice extinguished should not lessen our resolve, and we will remember Laurel with warmth and admiration as we continue the struggle for nature’s own.   — Lu Plauzoles

Young & joyous Double-crested Cormorants (from “Creature from the Black Lagoon: Halloween Edition,” (Laurel Hoctor Jones 10/31/14)

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