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
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
One daughter is vegetarian and her three daughters
are too. One of those granddaughters, Rachel, became
at age 12 (she was the first in our family). My
sister is also vegetarian. I often apologize to my
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
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 could not control my weight while consuming
it and I found it hard to digest. At that time I
it was a good source of nutrition. My education
on this issue started when we became involved in
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
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
we were living in Arizona. I returned to Montana,
my birthplace, with my children and went to work
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
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
children, and hard work consumed our lives. There
was no job I shied away from: seeding, rock picking,
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
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
VN: What has been your most positive or rewarding
experience of being involved in your husband’s
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
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
of our life. There is a movie in the making too.
There should be three books coming out in the next
a dull moment with my husband!
VN: It sounds like an exciting year for you.
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?
interview was conducted by Joseph Connelly, Editor,
VegNews, in April 2003 and first appeared in VegNews,
May/June 2003. Reprinted with permission.
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