Recipient Biography

Terese "Terry" Tarlton Hershey


Terese "Terry" Tarlton Hershey (1923-2017) received the Pugsley Medal in 2003. She has been described by her peers in Houston as "a force of nature." She has made conservation her life's work. Her contributions have made a difference at local, state and national levels. She is an indefatigable advocate, imaginative visionary thinker, and a catalyst/mediator with a capacity to bring different interests together to resolve conflicts and reach consensus.

Hershey's commitment to conservation was nurtured by her family. The family home comprised a half-block of property in Fort Worth. After her parents' deaths, she donated the property to the city of Fort Worth and it is now Wright-Tarlton Park -- Hershey's parents' family names.

Her first advocacy venture into the parks and recreation field occurred in the 1960s when she learned that Buffalo Bayou, the main river in central Houston on which her home is located, was being straightened and stripped of vegetation. The next morning she gathered some neighbors and went to visit the site. They saw nine acres had been flattened with all the existing tree cover removed and rubber tires were being burned on the site. At that point, there was a natural meander in the Bayou. It had been removed and the channel had been straightened as a "flood control prevention" measure. It made no sense to Hershey to straighten a river and concrete it. This only resulted in flood transference, not flood alleviation. It seemed obvious to her that this merely created flooding downstream and that a coincident consequence was destruction of the ecosystem.

In 1969, after a year of unsuccessfully fighting the Corps of Engineers and local officials, she took the case to their local congressman. He looked at the photographs, listened to their case and pledged his support. He arranged an appearance before the House Subcommittee on Appropriations in Congress. Hershey presented the case. The Committee chair incredulously asked, "Congressman do you not want us to spend money in your district?" Such an action was almost unprecedented. Congressman George H. W. Bush responded, "That is correct. There has to be a better way of managing storm water than straightening and concreting rivers." They said that was fine with them. The elected and business elites in Houston were apoplectic. In subsequent years when Mr. Bush became vice president and president of the United States, he appointed Hershey to various environmental boards including his Advisory Committee on Environmental Quality.

This episode led to Hershey activating the Bayou Preservation Association (BPA), because at that time in the 1960s there were no conservation groups established in Houston (e.g. Sierra Club, Audubon, et. al.) which could support the cause. Environmental legislation emerged in the 1970s and with it came enhanced awareness of the environment and the formation of additional groups in Houston. Hershey played a central role in the development and effectiveness of many of these groups. For example, the League of Women Voters started an Environmental Resource Committee and Hershey was the first chair. She was a founding member of: the Houston Audubon Society; the Sam Houston Resource Conservation and Development Board; Urban Harvest (which stimulated development of community gardens); the Memorial Park Conservancy; the Park People; and the San Jacinto Air Conservation Committee. In addition, she was an original member of Billboards Ltd.; Green Ribbon Committee; Trees for Houston Committee; and many other similar groups.

As an influential member of those groups, by the early 1980s Hershey was able to identify approximately 40 such groups in the city with an environmental focus. She recognized the importance of coordinating their efforts and so became a driving force behind the formation of Citizens Who Care, which evolved into the Citizens Environmental Coalition (CEC). Today there are over 90 groups in this coalition. The coalition's mission is to facilitate communication among constituent groups so they are better informed on what other groups are doing, and to increase their political influence by concentrated action. In 1973, the CEC persuaded the flood control division in Harris County to establish a citizens advisory committee. This was a major step forward, because it was a vehicle that enabled conservationists to participate in the flood control dialog and debate. Previously, the flood control engineers deliberately had made themselves inaccessible so they could avoid addressing environmentalists' concerns. The CEC lobbied the county judge and commissioners to establish this committee. They also persuaded Mr. Bush to support such a committee.

Hershey was appointed to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Commission in 1991 by Governor Ann Richards. This is one of the state's most prestigious commissions, but it was not a position that Hershey had sought. Indeed, it is typical in that throughout her life positions have sought out her rather than the more common alternative of individuals seeking appointments to prestigious leadership positions. As a TPWD commissioner, Hershey organized a conference on conservation easements in Texas. To the surprise of many, it attracted 300 delegates and was an important launching pad for encouraging more extensive use of conservation easements in Texas. TPWD appointed a specialist person to foster land trusts and conservation easements. After that conference in the early 1990s over 30 land trusts were established in Texas in the next decade, many stimulated by the potential of easements. Hershey remains convinced that in Texas where 94% of land is privately owned, conservation easements and access to private lands has to be a central part of the conservation movement's efforts.

Another of Hershey's state/national roles was becoming a founder member of the National Wildflower Center in Austin which was launched by Ms. Lady Bird Johnson. She had earlier been a member of Ms. Johnson's Committee on Highway Beautification which gradually evolved into the Wildflower Center project.

Hershey was on the board of NRPA for 9 years in the 1970s and 1980s, and then agreed to serve on it again for 3 years from 2000-2003. She was vice chair of the board from 1979-80. She was a board member of the National Recreation Foundation from 1989 to 2008. There are three other national boards of conservation organizations on which she has served: Trust for Public Land (TPL), the Audubon Society, and the National Association of Floodplain Managers Foundation. In addition, she established a family foundation committed to environmental causes, the Jacob and Terese Hershey Foundation.

There is an unrelenting high energy level about her. She never seems to tire. The intellectual and physical stamina and the intense commitment to the conservation cause are an inspiration to all those with whom Terry Hershey interacts. People quickly recognize the sincerity of her commitment. In her view they also recognize the "rightness" of her causes. When these qualities are combined with her strong personality and keen intellect, there are few who are capable of resisting her will.

In 1991, in recognition of her conservation work in Houston, the Harris County Commissioners renamed an existing park, Terry Hershey Park. Appropriately, it is linked by Jake Hershey trail to George H.W. Bush Park. She received numerous awards recognizing her contributions. In Houston she was featured in a Houston City Magazine story, "Houston's 20 Most Influential Women" and in a Houston Post Tribute to Houston's 150th Birthday, "25 People Who Changed Houston."