"VegNews Interviews Willow Jeane Lyman"
April 2003

VEGNEWS: Tell me a little about how, when, and where you met Howard?

WILLOW JEANE LYMAN: Howard and I attended the same high school. I was a year older and in his brother’s class. I knew Howard, but we ran in different crowds, so I didn't have anything to do with him. He and his brother were football players so everyone knew who they were.

Three years after graduation I married Joseph Wilkins. We moved to the Denver area and then to Phoenix.

It wasn’t until 12 years after high school graduation, when back in Montana, that I met Howard again. We have been married 35 years.

VN: Do you have any children?

WJL: Howard and I have two daughters, Jennifer, 33, and Molly, 31. Our three older children are from my first marriage: Jeanine, 45, Laura, 43, and Michael, 41. We also have a foster son, Minh Nguyen, 38.

VN: Are your family gatherings vegetarian? Do your children support or embrace Howard and your lifestyle?

WJL: Yes, our family gatherings are vegan. Not all our children embrace our lifestyle, but they respect it. One daughter is vegetarian and her three daughters are too. One of those granddaughters, Rachel, became vegetarian at age 12 (she was the first in our family). My sister is also vegetarian. I often apologize to my children for the way I fed them when they were young. I did not understand what I was doing to them.

VN: I would guess that you were not vegan when you first met. Speak a bit about how and why you transitioned to this lifestyle. Whose idea was it? Who or what were some of your greatest influences for kicking the meat habit?

WJL: Howard and I have also been fortunate as a couple to have grown together. Sometimes one of us is ahead of the other but we manage to come out at the end together. I have been careful with my diet since I was a teenager, for health and weight control reasons. I stopped eating red meat long before I became vegetarian. I realized I could not control my weight while consuming it and I found it hard to digest. At that time I still believed it was a good source of nutrition. My education on this issue started when we became involved in the Beyond Beef Campaign. I read Jeremy Rifkin’s book and the light came on.

I began reading everything I could find on the issue. This is another instance where Howard and I ventured down the same path, sometimes one ahead of the other. I think I started the change, Howard joined in and forged ahead, then I finally caught up by giving up dairy.

VN: An inspiring story. Thank you. Let me change the focus slightly and learn more about you. Tell me a little about your life and career. Have you always worked with Howard? Have you worked elsewhere? Were you blessed enough to stay home with your children?

WJL: I was a stay-at-home Mom for six years with three children. My husband died at age 28 of leukemia while we were living in Arizona. I returned to Montana, my birthplace, with my children and went to work for the Federal Probation Office.

VN: Is that where you met Howard?

WJL: No, it was three years later when I met Howard again. We were married three months after that. Imagine! I shudder to think of it now—what was I thinking!?!

We immediately started life together by building our home on the farm. For the next 20 years the farm, our children, and hard work consumed our lives. There was no job I shied away from: seeding, rock picking, harvest, branding, calving, construction, pouring concrete, gardening, as well as the usual household chores and raising children. I also cooked for the hired farm crew, as well as for anyone who stopped by for “a meal at the Lyman’s.” Later on I also held several secretarial jobs in town.

VN: Wonderful. Obviously you worked closely with Howard before he changed careers. Since then, Howard has been with the Beyond Beef Campaign, the HSUS, EarthSave, and now his own organization, Voice for a Viable Future. How involved are you, if at all, with this work?

WJL: Howard’s first job in Washington, DC [after retiring from farming] was with the National Farmer’s Union. My employer in Washington was the Inter-national Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. These two organizations worked together frequently in a coalition to get legislation passed to benefit their members. This was rewarding work for both of us.

I guess you can say I have always been involved with Howard’s work. How could I not? While we were on the farm, we were never separated. After we started our new adventures away from Montana, we were separated frequently as Howard had to travel. Now that I am retired, I can travel with him more. The work he does now requires a lot of time at the desk. That is one of my skills.

VN: What has been your most positive or rewarding experience of being involved in your husband’s career?

WJL: The most rewarding experiences have been meeting all the wonderful people in this movement. These are compassionate, unselfish, loving people—and there are so many of them.

VN: What has been your most challenging or difficult obstacle to overcome?

WJL: I am a private person. I cherish my anonymity. This is hard to achieve with Howard.

VN: Fill me in on what‘s happening in Howard and your life right now. Are there any special projects or exciting events that you are currently working on?

WJL: The exciting current project on the table at the moment is the documentary. This documentary is the story of our life. There is a movie in the making too. There should be three books coming out in the next year. Never a dull moment with my husband!

VN: It sounds like an exciting year for you. We’re just about out of time, so let’s have some fun with this final question. Tell me one thing people would be surprised to learn about Howard Lyman?

WJL: You would be surprised to learn that Howard is a very private person. He really doesn’t talk very much. Are we talking about the same person?

[This interview was conducted by Joseph Connelly, Editor, VegNews, in April 2003 and first appeared in VegNews, May/June 2003. Reprinted with permission. Subscriptions to VegNews are $20/year and are available at http://www.vegnews.com or by emailing: subscriptions@vegnews.com]