It's with a heavy heart that I report that one of the best friends animals
have had, Norm Phelps, has passed away at the age of 75. He died in Meritus
Health Hospital in Hagerstown, Md. on December 31, 2014. Norm is survived by his
loving, devoted wife and fellow animal advocate Patti Rogers, along with their
Many in the animal protection movement knew Norm as a thoughtful, pragmatic
advocate and the author of three influential books, including The Longest
Struggle: Animal Advocacy from Pythagoras to PETA, as well as two important
books on major religions and their views on animals. A list of his books and
essays is available on his Web site.
Norm was a founding member of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians
and served during his retirement as volunteer outreach director for The Fund for
I first met Norm when he began volunteering for Compassion Over Killing in the
mid-1990s, and then I was honored to become his coworker in 1998 at The Fund for
Animals. He acted as a mentor to both young and old in the office, and he
exhibited such a deep empathy that when a member would call to express their
despondence at some horror that was afflicting animals, they would always be
transferred to Norm so that he could comfort them. Norm was widely beloved by
those who knew him, and even those who may have occasionally disagreed with Norm
respected him tremendously for his integrity and intelligence.
For decades Norm was a fixture at major animal protection events: the Hegins
pigeon shoot in Pennsylvania, conferences at which he spoke about the history of
the animal protection movement and faith-based issues, vigils, leafleting
events, and more. While the first part of his life was spent, as he used to
joke, as a government bureaucrat at the Department of Transportation, the latter
portion was devoted to creating a kinder world for animals. You can read about
Norm's transformation on
his web site. He even retired early from the federal government so he could
devote more years of his life to full-time animal advocacy.
The final years of Norm's life were lived at the mercy of an illness that
prevented him from engaging in much physical movement. However, this challenge
led Norm to devote himself to his writings on behalf of animals. Were it not for
the selfless and loving care of Patti, who provided for Norm with great devotion
during this cruel chapter of his life, many of his essays and books that
contributed so substantially to the animal protection literature would have
never been written.
There's no shortage of positive adjectives one could use to describe Norm:
gentle, erudite, compassionate, empathic, and dedicated all come to mind. But
perhaps humble is the word that's most fitting for him. Norm was always giving
credit to others, regularly open to the possibility that he could be wrong, and
constantly seeking to shine a spotlight on what others were doing to give
animals a voice. It's in that spirit that he dedicated The Longest Struggle "to
the unknown animal activist." Norm wrote of them:
"They do not seek recognition, and certainly not money—often they donate
themselves into perpetual poverty. They seek only to relieve the suffering of
the weakest, the most defenseless of those who live at the mercy of our
merciless societies. They are the pride and hope of the human race."
Norm requested that he not have a funeral, but that people remember him by more
fully devoting themselves to the work of ending our species' domination of the
rest of the animals on the planet. Per the request of Patti, if animal advocates
would like to make a donation in Norm's memory, they can do so by contributing to
Compassion Over Killing.
I'm honored to have called Norm a friend and colleague, and very much hope he's
resting in peace.
Above written by
Paul Shapiro, the founder of Compassion Over Killing and vice president of
farm animal protection at The Humane Society of the United States.